I was watching the latest musical episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, in which one of the principal characters, Nyota Uhura, considers what her role is on the starship Enterprise. It’s a banger of a number and the actress Celia Rose Gooding kills it.
It hit me right in the feels, not only because it’s sung so well and it’s a pivotal moment in the show’s plot. More importantly, I felt a personal connection to Uhura and her realization of her gifts.
“That’s what I do, I keep us connected”
Connecting people and building systems that help people communicate with each other is something I have done over my entire career.
At the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court, I was our communications coordinator, running our various systems that kept the hundreds of non-profits in our community connected to each other, collaborating effectively, and informed of what was happening at the intergovernmental level. So I published newsletters, sent out email news blasts, managed online forums, and facilitated in-person meetings among our partners.
At Yehoodi, I made our discussion forums into a central destination on the internet to connect with other lindy hoppers. If you wanted to find out the best place to dance in Boston on Saturday, or argue about the “correct” way to lead a swing-out, or geek out about a commercial that includes people doing the charleston, you went to Yehoodi’s forums. Many dancers talk about Yehoodi as a “lifeline” in their life as a lindy hopper, in our heyday.
At KQED Education, as the manager of online learning, I’ve built digital spaces for teachers to connect with each other as they develop their pedagogical and media-making skills. Our online courses are not just where you can come to learn on your own, but you can also find others doing similar work, ask questions of each other, encourage others, and get inspired by each other.
“I have to find the pattern”
Finding patterns and structure amidst a lot of information is something that I am pretty good at, particularly related to people and communities.
At Yehoodi, the articles and editorials I wrote were based on my observations of what’s going on in our scene right now, and connecting the dots between different situations, issues, and communities. I covered the emerging “safe spaces” policies for different dances and events around the world, how to uplift the Black history and current voices in our dance, and challenges and issues facing LGBTQ dancers in our scene.
At the California Academy of Sciences, as head of digital learning, I was often pulling together different digital creation tools and areas of scientific research to create innovative youth programs. For example, I co-organized the first national “Climate Game Jam” in collaboration with NOAA, the Smithsonian, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Hosting teams of game developers, local teens, and scientists for a weekend of science game creation was such a cool experience.
“Building systems, I strengthen ties that bind, so no one has to be alone”
Ultimately, a lot of what I have done is motivated by deep loneliness that I have felt in my life. As a young person, I never really had a clique, crew, or club that I felt strongly connected to. I did a lot of playing alone, inventing fantasy worlds and getting lost in sci-fi books. And I went through long periods as an adult feeling isolated and afraid of group situations.
In response to this, I tried to create the kinds of spaces and situations where I could connect with people who were like me — lindy hop nerds, human rights advocates, science geeks, media educators. Places to be with people who shared my interests, values, and ways of seeing the world. My tribe.
I suppose most people’s true calling comes out of some kind of trauma or hurt. As Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”