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Owning the Personal

By Karen Shirer, Associate Dean

On Wednesday, October 7, at the annual Extension Fall Program Conference in Bloomington, America Bracho, M.D., spoke at our center’s meeting about her work as executive director of Latino Health Access (LHA), a center for health promotion and disease prevention in program in Santa Ana, CA. As Trish Olson, director of programs, wrote in a Family Matters column in July, Participation Makes the Difference, a team of seven Health and Nutrition staff members visited LHA this summer, and we used the program conference as an opportunity to share Dr. Bracho’s message with more FD staff and faculty.

The morning after program conference, I had a pleasant surprise in my email inbox: a collection of the important “sound bites” from Dr. Bracho’s talk compiled by Mary Marczak, director of urban family development and evaluation. I would like to share a few of these sound bites with you, not only because they provide useful information, but because they give you a sense of the passion, dedication, and the creative, collaborative approach Dr. Bracho brings to her work in Santa Ana:

The present (or gift) we ALL deserve is found in community work, and that present (gift) is our ability/opportunity to overcome our prejudices.

When we, as professionals, think we have the solutions to a community’s problems, that's where the problem starts in creating meaningful and productive relationships. Community participants are leaders of their own lives and need to name and drive the solutions. We need to engage them as such.

As professionals, we are people before we are educational degrees. You don't connect with people “with a diploma” connect with others as bring your whole self to the table, not just your professional self. When you work on your personal self, you are working on your professional self. When we lack ownership of our personal side, it becomes our biggest problem in connecting with community people.

Your awareness and learning increase in the face of contradictions. So love contradictions. Seek out contradictions.

Often, the “thinking table” where solutions are discussed is a “privilege table”, excluding those who have little power. We cannot continue to reinforce this practice and need to open up opportunities for all to come to the table.

The messenger is the ask, “Am I the right person to deliver the message?”

We need SAFE places to unlearn, to become vulnerable, and to talk about things we are afraid to name.

Often, leaders and people in power have radical discourse...yet face great limitations in putting this discourse into action.

Over the next few months, we will be looking at way we can apply Dr. Bracho and LHA’s principles in our work.

And, in the spirit of opening up the personal side of my life, I wanted to respond to the many requests for new pictures of my granddaughter Lucia that I got last week. On the left is one of my favorites taken in late August. Lucia was to be a flower girl in her uncle’s wedding but ended up with a bad case of croup. So, here she is wearing her dress and celebrating virtually with Uncle Joey and Aunt Kate.


The picture on the right depicts Lucia loving her peas.  The expression on her face might be my all-time favorite — plus, she is wearing her Green Bay Packer colors.

Now, back to Dr. Bracho: Which “sound bite” strikes a chord with you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Editor’s note: You can learn more about Dr. Bracho and her work by viewing the following resources.

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  1. The soundbite that resonated with me most was

    "We need SAFE places to unlearn, to become vulnerable, and to talk about things we are afraid to name."

    I think that for those who have not been part of a discourse on race, gender, sexuality, disability, food justice, etc. for very long, or who are just entering for the first time, there is a lot of concern about not wanting to be offensive, or sound racist, sexist, ableist, etc. This might stop people from engaging in conversations that are critically important to creating an equitable society. The difference between someone telling you that something that you said sounds like one of those things, and saying that they think you are one of those things is not something most people are intuitively good at and requires practice.

    We are all already complicit in institutional oppression through the privileges we carry. Since a person can't change their identities (with a few outlying exceptions), there is no reason to be guilty for the privileges one has, but there is a need to acknowledge them, and use them to work together with, and elevate the voices of, those who have fewer. To that end, having spaces where one can grow which are always safe, if not always comfortable, is imperative to having a whole community of voices at the table, instead of only those who do not have the privilege to ignore these problems when they don't want to engage.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment to this principle. What you describe has been my experience as a white woman with lots of education and being raised in an environment was subtle and endemic (Milwaukee). I learned that I needed to take risks and admit when I was wrong. Still make mistakes and have had to learn how I use "micro aggressions." Hard work but well worth it.

  2. Dr America Bracho's presentation was by far the most powerful and meaningful session that I have ever had the opportunity to attend. I am so excited to put these sound bites that Mary pulled together to use with our staff, and our EFNEP community. Thank you so much for bringing her to us.

    1. Mary M. has provided amazing leadership for center in these areas. I am grateful to her and all of you for embracing this hard work.

  3. "Your awareness and learning increase in the face of contradictions. So love contradictions. Seek out contradictions."

    I really, really like organizing information and putting things in boxes. Thus, seeking out and embracing contradictions is not my natural, preferred activity. But I also really, really like increasing my awareness and learning. So there's my first contradiction to lean in to and learn from!

    1. Most of us like certainty and concrete but as we face and embrace contradictions, our comfort level for ambiguity increases. Hang in there and yes, lean in to it.


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