One Way to Add Love to Our World

A very close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. It was heartbreaking. I searched for ways I could help, but none seemed sufficient because my friend was 3,000 miles away. A few days passed, and a thought hit me: What if this isn’t about how I can help? What if it’s more about how I can add love? 

I knew exactly what to do, but didn’t know if it would work.

I’d heard about an amazing person named Hannah Brencher, who started a global organization called The World Needs More Love Letters. Anyone could share a loved one’s story with Hannah’s team, and said love one would receive love letters, notes, and inspirational snail mail from around the world.

I submitted my request, prayed, and hoped for the best. It worked. Everything happened so fast.

My friend’s story was posted to Hannah’s website (which I bet gets like a gazillion hits a year). Over the course of several weeks, I received over 500 letters. Some letters were simple, some spoke about other individuals struggles with cancer, but each letter was genuine. I got down to business. I read every single letter, and created a massive bundle for my friend. Some moments were filled with me thinking: Wow, a lot of people out here are hurting. Other moments were filled me feeling thankful for kind strangers. I’d cry. I’d laugh. And, I grew to feel even more empathetic for my loving friend who was – and still is – one of the most caring people in the world.

I found a way to add love.

Sometimes, we get so overwhelmed with all the sickness, hurt, meanness, and unfairness in our world. We might think: I don’t even know where I can begin to help. That’s real. There are no easy answers. I think what maters is that we take some type of action. It could be helping someone with their college application, or shoveling your neighbor’s car out of the snow. It could be organizing a fundraiser, or being more intentional about checking your own problematic ways of speaking.

A lack of options is not the issue. It’s often more challenging to have too many options. So, let me help you out by presenting you with one simple, yet meaningful way to inspire someone you’ve never even met,.

Hannah and her team are currently in the midst of a campaign called The 12 Days of Love Letter Writing. Each day, a new story is posted, and folks have the opportunity to rally their friends, peers, family, and loved ones, to send letters to the designated recipient.  Today marks day 8, and I’m happy to be promoting this particular story. My challenge to you is to not only write a letter to this person, but to get one or two friends to as well. You can share this email with them, tweet the campaign’s website, or just call them up and write your letters over a cup of hot chocolate.

Here’s the story:

Many individuals face tragic + difficult circumstances in life, and Lacey is no stranger to those types of circumstances. Her friend shared with us:

“Lacey is an incredible individual; she’s like a lightning bolt of energy, love, and encouragement. I met Lacey a few years ago and learned that she had been diagnosed with not just one, but four incurable brain, neurological, and spinal conditions. It’s been a long road for Lacey and her husband, as they’ve journeyed together through her three brain surgeries, consecutive recoveries, and day to day life.

Lacey has been a force to be reckoned with and continues to be a source of positivity and joy to those around her. This fall she began school again, to earn her doctorate in medical anthropology in hopes of helping others who have experienced similar life-changing diagnoses. There are still rough days for Lacey, both physically and emotionally, and I want to show her that she won’t be defined by her medical history, but the future she chooses for herself.”

Please join us as we send that same encouragement + love to Lacey that she so readily spreads!

PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:

Lacey’s bundle

℅ Beeta L.

519 S. Anaheim Blvd

Anaheim, CA 92805

USA

There it is. It’s an opportunity for you to add love and inspire hope for Lacey. Will you join me in sending her some uplifting snail mail?

 

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It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

We can have everything we need in life, and still feel like crap. Our bills can be paid. Our jobs can be awesome. Our friends can be the most amazing people in the universe. But, we can still find ourselves feeling unsettled, upset, or depressed.

This isn’t about being ungrateful.

It’s about watching everything in your life fall into place while negative messages float through your brain…

“This is great, but I want more.”

“I feel like I’m not doing enough.”

“I don’t deserve any of this.” 

“People will think I’m weak if I step away from all this. But, I really need a break. I can’t keep this up.”

“I have so much now, but if I make one mistake, this will all go away. I can’t mess this up. I can’t.” 

So many of us are silently suffering. Some of us our grieving. Some of us are working to heal our wounds. Some of us are just trying to get out of bed every day and be a person. But, people don’t always get this or take the time to understand. They’re confused when we’re not feeling okay, especially when our lives appear to be in good shape.

The reality is that our insides don’t always match our circumstances. They don’t have to. Mine haven’t.

Things have been going really well for me lately. Improv is awesome. Family life is great. My health is on the up and up. At the same time, I’ve had some intense moments with my anxiety. Between the shortness of breath, and racing thoughts, I have no idea of how I’ve been able to show up to life. Prayer has helped. Rest has helped. But, it’s been rough. At some point, I realized that it’s okay for me to feel successful and a little terrible at the same time. It’s okay for me to have bad days and bad weeks.

It’s okay to not feel okay.

It’s okay to be afraid of losing that new person you’re with, or gaining back all that weight you just lost. It’s okay to be doing well in school, and at the same time be experiencing family issues that have your mind in two places. There’s no such thing as perfection.

There is a such thing as beating yourself up for not being perfect.

You’re never going to be perfect. None of us are. Even on the best day of your life, things will still get messy and go wrong.

I’m the kind of person who overthinks so much that it’s difficult for me to even leave the house in the morning. I don’t want things to go wrong. I’m not comfortable with the fact that life is in constant flux

Part of me realizes that we get to show up to this messy world with frowns on our faces, tears in our eyes, and pain in our hearts. We get to come as we are, even on days when we’re called to smile and be positive, because no one should be expected to be happy all the time. No one should be expected to have it all together.

You don’t have to have it all together, despite what others say.

You don’t have to keep smiling and responding with: “I can’t complain” when someone asks you how you’re doing.

Be honest the next time someone asks you about your day. Don’t be afraid to bring the mood down. Allow the other person to make room for your energy, and be open enough to make room for theirs.

Part of what fuels the stigma around mental illness, is a culture that views anyone having a bad day as weak, abnormal, or in need of a stiff drink. We need to spend more time with our emotions, and with the emotions of others. We need to share more. We need to empathize with others more. We need to hear the stories of those who are hurting (which is most people you interact with on a daily basis).

We get to be real with each other, because real is what a lot of us need and want.

Your feelings are valid. Your hurt is valid. Your hope is valid. And you, all of you, is who we need to survive.

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Your Words Hold Power

“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” —Maggie Kuhn

 

Your words hold power. They do. Think about how impactful words told to you as a child were. Consider the stinging insults from the playground bully. Or, the advice from the family member who made you feel invincible.

Words hold power. Your words hold power.

And yet, how often are we called to use our words before we feel ready? How often are we called to speak up when no one else seems to care?  Our words still matter. They matter when we stutter. They matter when we overthink them before saying anything.

At times, unspoken words can have the greatest impact. They can do the most violence.

Your words matter.

You might be in a situation right now where you’re doubting yourself. Imposter syndrome has crept back in.

You’re being asked to present, teach, or proclaim, and you’re thinking: “They have the wrong person. I’m not ready for this. I’m not right for this.”  Let me tell you something: you were called to the table for a reason. You are right for this. Someone saw brilliance, answers, and better questions in you.

It’s your time to say what needs to be said. Offer up your opinions. Challenge the status quo. Say what only you can say: your truth. Don’t settle.

I know, it’s scary to be impeccable with our words. It can be frightening to tell others what we’re really thinking. What if we give them something to use against us in the future?

What if?

What if you say something that could help shift someone else’s story? What if your words are the difference between joy and pain for the person you didn’t even know was listening?  What if your words could liberate?

They can. They have. They will.

Speak up.

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Being Black in 2017: The Allyship and Understanding I Still Need! [Podcast Episode!]

I had the absolute honor to be a guest on Jamie Piperato‘s Social Justice and Inclusion Podcast for Higher Ed Professionals! I’m still glowing from this opportunity and am so happy to be able to share it with you. Listen here. 

Here’s the abstract: 

Sometimes people from marginalized groups feel like they are the spokesperson for their entire population. What we know is that this responsibility is both burdensome and unnecessary. If only people would do their homework more before asking things like “Why are Black folx so upset about police brutality” or “What’s the big deal with Trump being elected?” or “Can you explain micro-aggressions one more time?” These questions can often be well-intentioned, but the impact is often grating and frustrating. We need to be more informed about those to whom we call ourselves allies.

Here are some key points from the episode: 

  • The importance of doing your homework and research
  • How to approach allyship
  • How to stop letting fear keep you from using your voice

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Check it out. Share it with someone who needs to hear it. Learning to be an ally is a never-ending educational process.

 

 


Have you heard of Sinclair.ity? I send emails to wonderful and amazing people every single week. I do this because I appreciate it when someone speaks their truth. It helps me to feel a little more okay.  If you can use some real talk in your life each Monday, sign up here. Thank you for being you.

Fake Love: Letting Go Of People Who Bring You Down

I had a crappy middle school experience both inside and outside of the classroom. I told a snippet of my embarrassing story to around 700 people on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 with the Stoop Storytelling Series. After the show, several audience members came up to me, and briefly shared their emotional reactions and stories about bullying or feeling left out. What I learned is that we’ve all had some dark childhood moments, and many of us haven’t told a soul.

I also realized I’m holding on to toxic relationships. I’m still pouring myself into bottomless glasses. It’s draining and it’s unfair.

I turn 30 this year, and it’s causing me to re-evaluate many of the important things in my life. This month, my focus has been on friends.

Namely, I’ve been thinking about:

  • How often I try to hard to make friends – and keep them
  • The people in my life who seem to reject who I am, yet, I still try to get them to like me
  • The people who I’ve given so much to, yet, they provide so little in return

A former colleague recently reminded me to continue meeting people where they are. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s what helps me connect with my college students. But, there needs to be a line with it comes to personal friendships and the people I invest continual energy in. I can meet people where they are and love them, but I don’t have to stay where they are. I’m realizing that I do have some things I need from my friends, and not everyone is willing to give it (and that’s okay).

Here’s a list of my non-negotiables.

I want friends who:

  • Are adventurous and outgoing
  • Are willing to share some deeper parts of themselves
  • Aren’t afraid to ask themselves big questions
  • Give to others and serve others
  • Are aware of issues facing marginalized/erased/oppressed people and don’t just ignore them
  • Love me for who I am and respect me
  • Want to make roots in or near Baltimore for the next several years

They don’t need to:

  • Have everything figured out
  • Be anywhere near perfect – no one is
  • Be enlightened
  • Be successful
  • Be a completely open book

I encourage you to take some time and make these list too. 

Some would say I’m being too picky, and I’d agree. We get to be selective.Think about it: we can’t pick our family, our co-workers, or the dude sitting next to us on the bus. But, we have a say in who we call friends.

I have been too open and too afraid to choose the people I want in my life. I’ve been under the impression that I need to take whoever shows me love. This has been damaging.

I’ve also been trusting people too quickly out of desperation. I need to take more time to let the relationship build. This means sharing a little less of myself, and not putting in so much investment after one meet up. At the end of the day – if I’m being honest – I’ve been lacking consistent connection for the past several years. It has a lot to do with attending college in Jersey, volunteering in three different cities in Oregon, moving to Pennsylvania, and then living two different places in Maryland.

That’s a lot of good-byes. So, now I’m wanting to be more grounded.

I’m realizing it’s worth it to take new relationships more slowly. If they don’t want me, I can’t make them stay, and I don’t need to make them stay.  It’s worth it to be mindful about the people in my life. Jim Rohn said we’re theaverage of the five people we spend the most time with.  

Here are my goals for friendship for the rest of 2017:

1. Befriend more men of color – especially Black men
2. Set better boundaries with people who are taking life away from me (mean people, jerks, those who threaten my Blackness, people who are myopic, people who intentionally make life harder for others, etc.)
3. Position myself to meet the people I’m wanting to find by volunteering, attending fun events in the community, and hosting more dinners/brunches.
4. Continue to connect with pen-pals and long distance friends
5. Pour more into my marriage – Tyensha is my BESTEST friend of all.

So, what about you?

Are you holding on to toxic relationships? Have you honestly been feeling a bit lonely or desperate to connect with others? Know that you’re not alone.

No one has it all figured out – stop believing what you see on social media. We move to new places, we leave home, we marry, we go off the grid, we take time to find ourselves, and sometimes all our friends just up and leave. We all have reasons why we are where we are. We also get to choose the people we keep in our lives. So who are you wanting to keep?

Who do you need to let go?


Have you heard of Sinclair.ity? I send emails to wonderful and amazing people every single week. I do this because I appreciate it when someone speaks their truth. It helps me to feel a little more okay.  If you can use some real talk in your life each Monday, sign up here. Thank you for being you.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh: A List Of Scary Things I’ve Done In 2017

I’ve internationally done some scary things this year. The hope was to feel more alive and shake things up. It worked.

Some activities helped me build new healthy relationships. Some adventures taught me about myself. Some pursuits were just for the sake of fun. My conclusion: going through scary and uncomfortable experiences can lead to growth.

Here are a few notes about the list below:

  • I’ve added the negative thoughts I had before each scary event/venture. I’m a real person. You’re a real person. We all have insecurities and irrational thoughts. It’s important to look at them and not just tuck them away forever. It’s also important to stop acting like we’re never afraid. You know you get scared.
  • I recognize that I have the funds to do all these things.
  • I have the time to do these things. Better yet, I made time.
  • I didn’t just sign up for many of the items. It took forethought, planning, calendar skimming, getting ready to sign up, backing out, and then going ahead and pushing through fear.

Aight, here it is.

The Fear List: Jan 2017-May 2017

  1. Took two hip-hop dance classes. –*Negative/fear-filled thoughts are written in italics* What if I’m bad at this? I mean, I’m Black…I have to be good at this! Also, I hate learning choreography. I’m going to forget all the moves and make a total fool of myself.
  2. Took three improv workshops. — I’m never going to get this money back. What if it’s totally awkward?
  3. Went to a national convention and presented a few times. I challenged myself to let people introduce themselves to me. Furthermore, I challenged myself to not reach out nor try to make connections. It took some time, but everything worked out. I am still in touch with a several of the people I met! — This will never work. No one is going to talk to me, except for the people I’ve met on Twitter – never mind, they might ignore me too. And those conversations won’t have any depth to them. No one’s going to be that interested in me. There’s a reason I say hello to people first – it’s so I’m not ignored. Ugh. I’m going to be invisible. 
  4. Found a local Black male therapist. We had one session last week, and we hit it off. I felt accepted, welcomed, understood, taken seriously, and heard. I was able to connect in a way I haven’t been with therapist that identify as white women. Those counselors have helped me immensely since I was in undergrad, but it’s time to work on some other aspects of my identity and story.– A Black male will never accept me for who I am.  I’m going to be so awkward and silent. And when I speak, I’ll say things that make no sense. You know what, I don’t even need counseling. I have plenty of self-help books at home. 
  5. Started asking people if they had any prayer request via social media. This one is scary because I’ve often been afraid scaring people away with my Christianity and spirituality. There have been people I’ve wanted to reach who have told me these aspects of myself turn them away. Well, I’m done hiding. I believe in the Holy Trinity. I talk to God all the time. I’m happy to be humble enough to take on someone else’s burden and pray for them. I believe prayer works. I’m here to love as best I can. — Gah! I’m gonna scare everyone away. 
  6. Told my nutritionist that I’ve fallen off my plan and need help. I lost 30 lbs last year and did this by adding healthier options into my day, working out, being mindful, and talking about it all. I’ve been stressed and busy AF this year. It’s been hard to stick with my routines. I’ve had to switch it up, and it’s been difficult. On top of it all, I’ve tried to find clever ways of hiding this all from my nutritionist. If she doesn’t know, I’m all good, right? Wrong. I’ll still be gaining the weight and feeling bad physically. So, I told her everything, and I’m slowly getting better. Let’s just say, the chips, the late night binge eating, the burgers, fries, and milkshakes have been calling and I’ve been answering way too much. — If I tell anyone the truth, they’ll think I’m a sham and a fraud. They’ll say “He’ll always be a fat kid.” It’ll hurt. 
  7. Owned up to my mistakes and failures at work, in relationships, and in life. This has been the biggest area of growth.There’s been nothing scarier than asking “What do I need to improve on?” People have had no problem telling me. — I’ll say I’m sorry, and people will come down on me. I’ll be seen as the imposter I really am. There’s no room for mistakes or failure. There is only room for success. I need to be perfect.I need to be perfect. I need to be perfect. I’m not perfect. This is hard to admit. Ugh.

It’s empowering to read over this list. Make your own Fear List and find out what I mean. I feel like I’m stronger and braver than I’ve been giving myself credit for. This list shows me that I’ve been doing a lot (too much at times). It reminds me that life can be so much sweeter when we get outside of our comfort zone.

When was the last time you intentionally did something scary? Who helped you to get through it? Was it a solo mission? It could have been showing up for that blind date, registering for that big test, or calling someone and having the heart to heart you’ve been needing to have. It’s all valid.

If it’s frightening to you, that’s real. Don’t downplay your emotions, and don’t let anyone tell you that what you’ve made it through is meaningless. Find strength and power in the times you’ve dared to be you, dared to move forward, dared to go against the grain, and dared to leap.

If you’re reading this and thinking: “Dang, I don’t do anything like this” get outside of that thinking. This isn’t a comparison game. Take time to do a self-inventory into what your year has been so far in the fear department. I’m sure you’ve been facing some scary things, and working through them as best you can. All things considered, you’re always doing the best you can. Give yourself the credit you’ve been needing.

And, if you’re looking for a new adventure, steal an idea or two from my list. Or check out this website. Michelle Poler is friggin’ awesome, and I dropped her video below for your convenience.

I hope you continue to get out there, get uncomfortable, and shake things up. I hope you get to feel more alive.


Have you heard of Sinclair.ity? I send emails to wonderful and amazing people every single week. I do this because I appreciate it when someone speaks their truth. It helps me to feel a little more okay.  If you can use some real talk in your life each Monday, sign up here. Thank you for being you.

How I Stopped Comparing Myself

I’m 29 years old and I feel like I should have it all figured out by now. You could blame this thinking on a few things:

1 – The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world who start and do cool stuff at young ages. I can just see my self-esteem melt away after every 30 before 30 list I read.

2- All this potential I have that people tell me about.

3 – There are so many things that need improving and fixing in this world, and I’ve finally accepted what my strengths are. So, now I’m like: “Let’s do the darn thing already and make this huge impact I’m supposed to make.”

Can you relate to any of this?

Do you feel like you have the resources, skills, talent, insight, and energy to help others, but feel frustrated because you’re not Oprah, the President, or in the position you feel was created for you?

Perhaps your negative feelings stem from elsewhere. Maybe you’re in deep with imposter syndrome. Do you feel out of place no matter where you land? You get the promotion or the new job, but you don’t feel like you deserve it. People come to you for advice and perspective, and all you can think to yourself is “Who do these people think I am? I don’t have what they think I can give. I’m just average.”

“Who do these people think I am? I don’t have what they think I can give. I’m just average.”

You find yourself wishing that you were there. You cross your fingers and hope for that time machine to be invented, so you can be the person you’re meant to be – whoever the heck that is. This struggle is too much. The feedback you get on the work you do hurts. You’re supposed to be good at all this. The feedback hurts a little more when you take on this thinking.

Some of your friends are living the life you wish you had. They’re going places you wish you could go, but you’re not. Success feels like a word only reserved for everyone else. You’re upset with yourself.

Truth is: You’re not alone.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had people telling me that I’d be an influential leader one day. I was sure I’d grow up to be a pastor, teacher, or well-traveled person who touched lives. I didn’t know how I’d get there, but that didn’t matter in my childhood mind. I had some real rough patches as a kid, and one day I decided that I’d take those hardships and use them to help others with their hard stuff. I was content with this thinking, I knew what my purpose was and what my impact could be, and I left it alone.

I’m 29 now, and I feel like a failure on some days. I’m so thankful to be able to do things like write my Sinclair.ity weekly emails and I appreciate the ability to be able to share messages on social media. But, I get upset when I see others my age (and younger) blow right by me. How are they getting booked solid for gigs? How are they starting these amazing things that end up on the TODAY Show or Ellen? How is it that they seem to have their dream job already? What’s their secret?

You know what, that last questions has been tripping me up for far too long. And, I’m over it. I have a new focus and I’m going in a new direction. Now, I want to:

See who I am and what I can offer more clearly. Appreciate the impact I’m already having. Identify the fears that are keeping me from stepping up my efforts.

You are already enough.

I’m exactly where I need to be. Are you?

I’m confident that you or someone you know is going through the exact same thing. It’s as if some unspoken charge was put out into the world for everyone to measure up, step up, and do more. That’s all well and good, but if you’re already doing the best you can, if you’re already trying to improve some parts of yourself, and if you’re showing up a little braver each day, it’s enough. That’s right it is enough. You are already enough.

It’s a myth that our efforts need to viral. You don’t have to create the next trillion dollar app, have your PhD, or be the CEO even the director. You don’t have to do it right now. You don’t ever have to do it.

You still matter. Right here. Right now.

Now, if the time comes when you’re called to do it, that’s a different story. But, if that’s NOT where you are right now, there is so much richness and opportunity right here where you are. You could be working at the worst job in the world, and you still can be making something better or someone’s life better. You could be surrounded by the meanest people in the world, and you could still hold fast to what you believe in and show up as who you truly are. You could have only five people who know about the good you are doing, and it still matters. You still matter. Right here. Right now.

It’s hard for me to believe all this myself. But it’s imperative that I do for the sake of hopefulness, gratitude, and every person in my immediate circle who is counting on me to be who I am. People are counting on you too. You might be aware who some of those people, and I guarantee that you have no idea of the other people who adore who you are and what you do. They could care less that you aren’t there yet. They are happy and supported just because of who you are and what you bring.

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Identifies as a Woman

This is to anyone who identifies as a woman.

I’ve been hearing things that aren’t okay. They shouldn’t have been said.

It’s not okay that you’ve been made to feel unsafe. It’s not okay that you so often feel unsafe.

I’ll admit, I was slow on the uptake. I should have gone to the march. I should’ve encouraged my wife, Tynesha, when she told me she wanted to go to the march.  I was afraid for her safety.  But, I’ll handle my regrets some other time. This letter is about the unacceptable, that which breaks my heart, and what I now see needs to be done.

It’s not okay that some have written these things off as “locker room talk” or “just the way things are.” Apathy and lack of honesty are significant parts of the problem.

I, too, used to say terrible things. I still slip at times and I probably will again. But, I’m clear that your bodies are not objects. They belong to you.

It’s more than okay if you don’t want to be approached by a stranger on the street.

It’s more than okay if you ever say no. It’s more than okay for you to feel empowered to make decisions you feel are right to make. No one else gets to make those choices for you. No one.

I’ve been seeing things that aren’t okay.

But, know, that these actions are on watch – indefinitely. Too many of us are too awake to let anything go. I’m not letting anything go anymore.

They’ll tell me I’m oversensitive. They’ll tell me it’s not my fight. They’ll tell me I’m making something out of nothing. They’ll say they don’t believe me. You’ve heard similar messages.

We’ll here’s my response to those messages: thanks for sharing, but there’s work to be done.

I’m not here to tell you anything you don’t already know. I’m not here to re-explain anything you’ve already said.

I’m just here to let you know that I’m one day closer to better understanding how I can better support you. I’m one moment closer to learning about the violence of my own actions, and how to hold others accountable when they cause harm – intentionally or unintentionally.

I’m not perfect. But, I’m trying. And, I’m committing to give it more than I have in the past. It’s time out for the foolishness. No one gets to make you feel small, inferior, or less than. When they do that, they affect us all. Hatred affects everyone.

So, in every way possible, your liberation is my liberation and my freedom. I’m committing to work harder for it by listening more, speaking out more, and being their more when you say: it’s time to fight.

Know that you have one more person who takes you seriously. I know you matter and are worth it because you are. I know there is nothing you need to change to be loved. You have one more person that realizes that this is an everyday thing.

So, I’m here every single day, right alongside of you, to do the next right thing as best we can. And, when you need space – because there are some spaces that I don’t need to occupy – I’ll back off.

I want to do better.

Thank you for your continued patience with a continuously imperfect ally.

With Eyes Wide Open,

Sinclair P. Ceasar III

Finding a Reason to Smile

It seems like the week before a break is always the hardest. So, naturally, I felt like our campus community could use a little boost. I headed to Canva and created a business card sized design to deliver a simple message:

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Next, I challenged myself to randomly hand several of these positivity cards to people I came across while heading to meetings on campus. I wished each person a nice day, and kept it moving. There’s no way of telling where the cards ended up, but I’m happy just knowing this spontaneous project could have:

  • made someone’s day
  • helped someone feel less invisible
  • done a small but important part of creating a sense of belonging

Like what you’re reading? Well…bring this to your campus or wherever you are. Download the template here! Print it. And spread joy!

 

 

How to Start a Successful Campus Wide Note Writing Project

Last week, we launched a note writing project called Hound Notes, here at Loyola University Maryland. It’s really taken off, and has added a positive buzz in our college community! While this project can be a lot of work on the front-end, it’s not so bad once you get started.* Plus, I’ve outlined most of what we’ve done, so you’re already halfway there. I’m hoping the following guide will assist you in bringing this same project to your campus.

*If you’re wanting more tips or information after reading this, send me a quick email to hello@thesapronextdoor.com and I’ll get back to you!

I. Highlights of the Project

We emailed a link to a sign up form to our commuters, residents, and administrators in our division. Then, we had information about the project posted in the online campus bulletin that’s emailed to the entire campus each week.

  • Within the past 6 days, 200+ students, faculty, staff, and administrators have signed up to receive anonymous and positive notes in their campus mailbox. 65 first year students have signed up. Commuters will get their notes mailed home.
  • One goal is to write 300+ notes during the 2016-17 year. 20+ students, faculty members, administrators have officially signed up to be note writers on a weekly, monthly, and semester basis.
  • Another goal is to form a student club by May 2017, help them to raise funds for material costs, and continue to have an organized recipient database and system.This adds sustainability and added potential for growth for the project.
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The first few notes we sent!

II. Boosting Engagement, Inclusion, Retention & More

Our division of Student Development has been charged with connecting and engaging with “every student”. In addition, our institution is moving towards being an university that  is more intentionally anchored in its surrounding community. Hound Notes hopes to meet these aims by: 

  1. Engaging students who are and aren’t part of other student organizations by inviting them to write notes to other students.
  2. Fostering a more inclusive environment on campus through late night on-campus letter writing parties at our on-campus Starbucks (between 8pm-11pm) and bundle nominations. Note: Our on-campus Starbucks stays open late if we request it in advance.
  3. Discovering ways to give back to the Baltimore City community through letter-writing campaigns for local agencies and organizations.
  4. Helping students who study abroad for a semester or more, to still feel connected to campus through a post-card letter writing campaign in collaboration with International Programs. Note: A large amount of our students study abroad during the second semester of their junior year.
  5. Creating and cultivating a sense of belonging with first year students, and other class years.
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Notes on their way to commuters and employees at satellite campuses.

 

III. What We Did

Hound Notes was largely inspired by Hannah Brencher and More Love Letters. We made it our own and gave it a name our university community would love (our mascot is a greyhound). This section will outline everything you will need to get started. The most important things to know are to be organized, get your office’s/department’s buy in, and to be careful not to over-complicate things. After all, it’s supposed to be fun and meaningful. 

Materials and Supplies Needed: Each note writer receives a Hound Note Pack that includes a sharpie, pre-labeled envelopes (saves time and prevents the campus post office from having issues with legibility of handwriting), notes, and a note writing guide. Target had a great deal on notes + envelopes: 200 count for $14.99, Spritz. 

Note writers can sign up to write on a weekly, monthly, or per semester basis. To make for easier workflow, we send each note writer their Hound Note Pack through campus mail. Next, the note writer completes each note, and returns the finished and unsealed notes to our central office for review. Once that’s done, someone will seal each envelope with a sticker and send them to the recipients via campus mail or outgoing mail. Here’s a preview of the note writing guide. You can see the rest here.

Quick Start Guide Example.png

Organization + Files: We used a system called Qualtrics to create our form and download all pertinent data. But you can use Google Forms, Wufoo, or Typeform to capture the information you need. All data is stored in a Google Drive folder so any Hound Notes team member can access it.

A few tips… 

  • Make sure to have separate forms (or use skip logic if you’re fancy like that) for students and for faculty, admin, and staff. Also, make sure there is a way for you to accurately attain each commuter’s mailing address. Here’s are some key snapshots from the form. You can see the rest here (just make sure NOT to submit it): 

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  • Test the form several times before you send it.
  • We used tinyurl.com to shorten the link to the form. This was great because it looks good (tinyurl.com/houndnotes), but some students had issues when they clicked the hyperlink in their Outlook email. So, make sure to add something like: if the link doesn’t open, copy and paste this URL into your browser, or sign up on your laptop. 
  • Create a new folder in your email specifically for this project, and then create rules for each folder. For example, I have the following folders: Hound Notes Form Submissions and Top Secret Note Writers. 
  • Make your Excel spreadsheet work for you. Here are the fields we use to keep us organized:

Spreadsheet Example.png

Bundles and Letter Writing Parties: Each person who signs up, has the option of submitting a nomination for someone to receive a bundle of 20-30 notes. Recipients of the bundles are typically people who are experiencing a tough time, are sick or injured, or who are just really in need of a pick-me-up. As of the time this posting, 50+ heartfelt and detailed nominations were submitted by students, faculty, staff, and admin. Each semester, we will hold 1-2 letter writing parties. During this time, attendees will have the chance to hear the nominations, and write notes specifically for the recipients (people who sign up for to receive just one note typically only get a generic but uplifting message; bundle recipients get something that caters more to them because the writer knows more of their story).

Marketing and Getting the Word Out: Before this project launched, I spent several months getting my co-workers on board with it, asking students if they’d be interested in this project, working with our marketing/communications office (who provided over 200+ temporary tattoos with our school mascot – they had extra), and learning the culture of the school. If you already know the culture of your institution, and are confident that your community will enjoy the project, you can move a little faster.

Things to note…

  • The subject line of the email blast to the campus was: #HoundNotes: Happiness in Your Loyola Mailbox. It’s super catchy and probably helped with our email open rate, though we didn’t track this.
  • We created a simple powerpoint slide to be shown on the digital signs that are located in our student center. The advertisement is simple: “Make Your Loyola Mailbox Happier, Sign Up for Hound Notes Today at tinyurl.com/houndnotes”
  • We designed our logo (below) on Canva. I use this website for most simple graphic design projects because it’s super user friendly and it’s free to sign up. Here’s the logo:

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Funding: I recently submitted a proposal to get this project funded…and it worked! Here’s what helped, as well as what to do if you don’t get any funding:

  • We started by launching the project, then asking for funding after were able to show that a lot of students were interested in it. Plus, we used some of the stories from the bundle nominations to show how much of an impact the project could have.
  • Develop and create a clear, succinct, and thoughtful proposal that speaks to your institution’s/department’s missions, goals, and aims. We are focusing a lot on first year engagement, late night programming, inclusion, and our investment in Baltimore City.
  • If you don’t get funding, don’t sweat it. Get creative. Have students write positive quotes on post-it notes and stick them around campus. Encourage a student organization to pick this project up and use some of their funding to purchase envelopes and notes (it could just be a one time writing project). Write notes to you co-workers and leave them in their work mailboxes (smaller project but still impactful).

Next Steps: If you’re ready to get started, do it! Think about how good it feels to receive something handwritten in the mail – that’s the feeling you get to re-create with your campus community. It can be a one time thing, a semester long project, or a year-long initiative. Workshop your ideas from people in other offices. Have coffee with various student leaders to see if they’d be interested in a project like this, and then go and make awesome happen!


If you’re stuck, have questions, or would like to talk through your ideas, contact me anytime at hello@thesapronextdoor.com. I’m here for you, because we’re all here to help our students live a better story!