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Organizer spotlight on…Shane! September 29, 2010

Posted by RISE: Social Work to End Oppression in Uncategorized.

In its first year, the RISE Conference brought together over 150 attendees and 40 speakers at New York University. In October 2010, organizers expect a turnout of at least double that number in Harlem for the second annual RISE Conference [register now!].

Leading up to the conference, we’re introducing you to some of the organizers here on the blog. Today’s spotlight: Shane, a second-year core organizer.

Shane, tell us a little about your background and what led you to this work.
I’m originally from near San Francisco and am currently an undergrad majoring in social work and economics.

Before coming to New York for school, I spent some time in India. For my junior and senior year of high school, I attended Mahindra United World College of India (www.uwc.org), which is one of a chain of schools in 12 countries founded on the idea that the best way to create international understanding is for kids from different places to go to school together. The curriculum includes a lot of community service, which we call “community interaction” because the idea is that you’re not “helping” people, you’re learning from them. Sometimes I felt very useless because I didn’t have the training or experience to do much, so I chose social work because I wanted to gain skills that could be applied to things that I cared about.

What has it been like to help organize RISE while a student?

RISE has been a great complement to studying social work.  Sometimes, I’ve felt that there just hasn’t been enough discussion of larger issues and power dynamics and social justice in the classroom as there could have been.

So when I heard about RISE, I thought, “this is what I’m supposed to be getting out of social work school!”

How did that come about?
[Founding organizer] Kate sent an email out to a bunch of people: “I have this idea for a conference. Is anybody interested in working on this with me?” I just wrote back.

From February 2009 until later in the spring, there were just a few of us. We had a lot of meetings sitting in a bar in Prospect Heights. And then slowly others started coming more regularly, and applying to present, and getting more involved.

How did you move from brainstorming to strategizing and implementing? Or did it happen all at once?
Brainstorming was really exciting because folks had similar perspectives about what social work should be. Once people started coming to meetings regularly, we all picked up different responsibilities organically depending on our experiences and skills – Josie brought expertise with running conferences in the space that was hosting us; Heidi applied to present; Sarah got involved and started doing development; and Aliyah knows everybody in New York.

What are your memories of the day of the conference?

It was really hectic. People tried to come who hadn’t registered, and the space was packed to the gills despite our 50 person wait list. [We’re trying to avoid that this year in our bigger space; you should register now!]

Everyone seemed really excited. It was cool to see the energy that people brought, to meet some really awesome volunteers.

How did you feel at the end of the day?
Good. In need of a beer.

Why have you kept working on it for a second year?
I’ve gotten a lot out of RISE. It was so inspiring to find out that other people had the same visions for social work that I do. And this year, we’ve had so many new organizers join us, who are so committed and excited and can bring more to it than I can.

Sometimes I think I mostly want to be an attendee. I wanted to be educated in a more holistic way than my degrees in social work and economics were providing, so that was what brought me in to it in the first place.

But I’ve learned so much from this process – from reading all of the presenter applications and being exposed to these kinds of discussions, to seeing RISE as a clearinghouse for information about this community in New York City. At some point, somebody has to book the room in order for everything to come together.

What could RISE look like in five or ten or 15 years?
I don’t really know. Just having it be an annual conference in NYC is already huge. I met someone recently who told me about The Desiree Alliance, who organize a big national conference every year about sex worker rights. Through the conference, they ended up becoming a network and a meeting place and a movement, really. So far, we’re finding that the conference is our cornerstone. But whether RISE is held once in New York every year or grows to include chapters in different cities, I think it would be cool to expand.

Posted by Julia Smith, a nonprofit professional in NYC and a member of the RISE core team. Previously, she wrote a profile of Sarah, another 2009-2010 organizer.


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