One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for April 2016

Freelance Nonprofit Work: The Road Less Traveled

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This week’s post is part of Blogapalooz-Hour, a monthly effort by Chicago Now bloggers to post on a particular theme. It’s also ironic, because today I ended a short-term freelance position and submitted a piece for a benefit book. Ever since choosing freelance nonprofit work over a traditional position, I have to say that I did take the road less traveled…and it has made all the difference.

Without going into too much detail, my most recent freelance gig has been a challenge: an organization in transition, changes in personnel, and shifts in thinking around strategy. It’s the kind of work environment I am all too familiar with, having worked for nonprofits most of my professional life. In fact, my transition to freelance nonprofit work (with the occasional corporate client) was motivated by a desire to avoid repetition, to keep things fresh and avoid professional stagnation. My role as a freelancer has allowed me flexibility in schedule (helpful when dealing with an ailing parent), tasks (sometimes, my day would be filled with various meetings and tasks), but with the eventual knowledge that things would come to an end.

It’s a definite change from my past: dealing with ambiguity in the workplace would often be difficult. Although change is a necessary part of work and life, there is a difference between inevitable change or sudden change due to the whims of leadership. (Remind me to write a post about how Who Moved My Cheese? is a very malicious, misguided book). As a nonprofit freelancer, I can take the initiative in the shape of my work: change may be inevitable depending on client and circumstances, but it’s all on me. I have no opportunity to point the finger at any one else by myself. Doing the actual work – and doing the work that leads to doing the actual work – are completely my responsibility.

McCormick Elementary School

Much of my current career in freelance nonprofit work wouldn’t have happened had I not returned to Chicago. Although I do miss living in St. Louis (I’ll fight for the Cardinals over the Cubs and/or White Sox any day), the kind of provincial, almost backward thinking would not allow me to network and thrive the way I have in Chicago. Having family, classmates, and friends old and new within reach has provided tons of emotional support. (Although I have one or two really close friends still living in St. Louis…many of my former colleagues have moved out of the city. Some even to Chicago.) Chicago also has an extremely diverse range of great community-based initiatives driving social good – and excellent nonprofit events – that make nonprofit work exciting. (And you’re more than welcome to read my blog’s archives to learn more about them).

But this is a blog post about “Freelance Nonprofit Work: The Road Less Traveled.” I should probably stay on topic.

On a personal level, freelance nonprofit work has strengthened my confidence….after seeking a “proper” job for over a year and a half (which I also blogged about for Chicago Now), I felt frustrated despite doing everything “right.” It was not an easy choice, but I came to several realizations:

  1. Hearing how I am “too senior” for certain positions meant that I had expertise….but just might not fit certain workplaces; 
  2. Like it or not, the greater culture is moving towards a “gig economy”; and
  3. If I am going to face constant rejection in seeking work, why not focus on short-term work where I know the end is in sight?

Taking on freelance work doesn’t make leaving assignments easier (today was a bit tough for me, and as someone who hates saying goodbye…it was tough). But knowing an end is in sight enables me to feel grateful for the people I worked with – open to collaboration, willing to share enthusiasm, and who can be touchstones along the way. Freelancing is not easy, and I won’t pretend that it’s a work style that fits everyone. In the two years that I’ve been freelancing, I am finding myself increasingly engaged in my work. Yes, there are rough spots and difficult situations…but I have a stronger sense of self-worth, and I know that my freelance nonprofit work is actually bringing value to great organizations.

It’s not an easy road to take….but I’m glad I took it. Because it has made all the difference.

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Remembering Prince: Music & Social Change

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Consider this a different kind of reminiscence about Prince, who passed away yesterday. And trust me, there is a connection to social change – I promise.

For many in my generation, Prince’s Purple Rain was a ticket to cool – sure, I saw it when it came to the Brighton theater, but I also managed to secure a copy of the soundtrack. (Along with The Time’s Ice Cream Castles). For several months, I felt greater confidence, especially with female high school classmates – both were impressed that I had the album. If memory serves, one was a casual gathering; the other was during running of a retreat for underclassmen (and that classmate was impressed that I also knew the Rolling Stones “Shattered”).

But more importantly, it was Purple Rain that started me working backwards through Prince’s catalog, and I came across two albums that are not only my favorites (and I believe are underrated), but I think they demonstrate Prince’s philosophy…and how that philosophy influenced my thinking.

I’m talking, of course, about Controversy and Dirty Mind: two early albums where Prince solidified his sound and his backing band. In short, these albums are very remarkable in how the music rocks hard and swings easily at the same time. We might expect this from a veteran band of twenty years or so – from a relatively young man early in his music career, they’re revelatory. And let’s be clear – as an adolescent, some of the lyrics were very tantalizing.

But some of the sentiments were more than just prurient – Prince wrote lyrics that not only addressed social complexities, but also managed to promote a kind of utopian feeling – a sense of hope that permeated throughout his musical career.  Yes, he has a wide ranging body of work beyond that, and he managed to take on issues of ownership of creative works with glee and insight  (remember when he was “The Artist Formerly Known As…”?) But at the time, none of that existed yet – in the grooves were some radical ideas that affected my outlook.

Rather than skirt contradictions, Prince took them head-on in his lyrics. When a musician places lines like “Do I believe in God?/Do I believe in me?” and “Some people wanna die/so they can be free?” in the same chorus (much less the same song), it speaks volumes. His band was multi-racial and multi-gender at a time when it was not considered “normal.”

But within Prince’s lyrics were blunt, dealing with sexuality, urban life, and community in a way that very few artists could at the time. (Trust me, he swayed me away from my then-obsession, Paul Weller and the Jam). Part of it was how he mixed the secular with the sexual – in “Sexuality”, the second track from Controversy, he declared

I’m talking about a revolution we gotta organize
We don’t need no segregation, we don’t need no race
New age revelation, I think we got a case…
Reproduction of a new breed, leaders, stand up, organize

Now, granted, it’s easy to take at face value, but look beneath, the idea of creating new leadership? A willingness to wipe out social constructs? Had Prince released this song now, he would be automatically labeled “social justice warrior”….and he’d wear it proudly. And as a result, I learned that being a social change advocate could be done within a variety of contexts…and that I had the unique ability to make a difference simply through treating others with respect.

But Prince’s ability to describe tough situations with compassion had a powerful influence on me. Consider “Uptown” from Dirty Mind – on the one hand, it’s a description of two people having a moment. But as the song progresses, the story becomes one of seeing someone else’s humanity, and moving towards an idea where all humanity matters:

Said to myself, said
“She’s just a crazy, crazy, crazy little mixed up dame
She’s just a victim of society and all its games”
Now where I come from
We don’t let society tell us how it’s supposed to be
Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care
It’s all about being there
Everybody’s going uptown

Looking back, that might be the greatest influence Prince’s music has had on me – the idea that we can all share a common humanity, and can live as individuals who accept each other’s differences seemed a lot less radical to a teenage mind. It actually seemed practical, workable, doable…and even as I kept up with his music and his activities, it was that sense of hope and community that kept drawing me back into listening.

Plus, Prince wrote some killer tunes.

You’ll read many tributes to Prince. But I think the greatest tribute I can share is how his music influenced my philosophy of social change. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

But now, time to dig out my vinyl copies of Controversy and Dirty Mind

Please share your memories of Prince in the comments below or share them on our Facebook page.  (Please note – all comments are moderated, and trolling will not be tolerated) You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Written by gordondym

April 22, 2016 at 8:36 am

This Weekend: Kalapriya Dance Company Presents NAVARASA

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First, I realize this is sudden – work matters have kept me away from the keyboard. However, I wanted to quickly highlight a great event happening this weekend, and that I think you’ll enjoy.

The Kalapryia Dance Company is putting on their production of Navarasa: The 9 Emotions of Draupadi, an Indian classical contemporary dance presentation.  The show will be held on April 16 at 7:30 pm, and April 17th at 2:30 on the main stage of the Athenaeum Theater, located at 2936 N. Southport close to the Wellington Brown Line. Tickets can be purchased at

Based in part on Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra and the pic Mahabharata, the presentation portrays the nine moods of a woman named Draupadi, a princess who lives through times of great political and personal turmoil, and yet who manages to find her own inner voice and strength. Narrated by Dr. Pam Toler, University of Chicago, South Asian History, Navarasa relates an almost universal tale of personal growth, moving from negativity to inner peace.

It is also a great example of the work done by Kalapriya Dance Company, part of the Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts. The Kalapryia Center is a holistic and integrated performing arts institution in the city of Chicago committed to cultivating, producing, and presenting high quality performance art and education rooted in the diverse cultural traditions of South Asia. It is a nonprofit, federally tax exempt 501(c)(3) foundation. One of the foremost Indian arts organizations in Chicago, Kalapriya perpetuates the rich classical and folk traditions of the subcontinent, along with the current, contemporary, and hybrid innovations of our time. Kalapriya embraces multiple genres of the Indian performing arts and works through artistic processes to engage audiences, empower students, and build community. Kalapriya’s programs reflect the unique Indian aesthetic and grandeur that entertain the Indian Diaspora and global audience.

Hope to see you there!

Written by gordondym

April 15, 2016 at 7:16 am