After Army, young mother finds new inspiration as a Public Ally

Graduation from Basic training 2003

Ingrid Hachmeister, center, with father Kevin Osborne and mother Nancy Randall.

When Ingrid Hachmeister signed up for the U.S. Army after high school, she scored so high on the military’s aptitude test that the recruiter told her point-blank: “You can do anything you want. Your options are wide open.”

An adventurous 20-year-old woman who felt the pull of patriotism in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ingrid signed up for one of the military’s most dangerous jobs — explosive ordnance technician — the same work dramatized in the film “The Hurt Locker.”

She approached this new challenge with gusto. “When you come in, you have this great ideal of how life is going to be,” says Ingrid, who is now a mother and an AmeriCorps Ally serving in Central Florida. “I was like, ‘I’m a woman, and I’ll show what women are made of!'”

“But then I started to get the first experiences of not being an equal — or rather, of not being seen or treated as an equal.”

Ingrid had joined the Army’s explosive ordnance program just as it began accepting female soldiers. The job of handling unexploded bombs, land mines, and “highly classified things that can kill you” was stressful and the technical challenges were big. What’s more, she hadn’t fully developed the coping mechanisms necessary to succeed inside of what had until then been a male-only environment.

“I experienced a lot of undue negative attention,” says Ingrid, who in 2012 was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of military sexual trauma (MST) she experienced. “I was a great soldier, but [explosive ordnance technician] was not the job for me.”

Six months into the training, she asked to be transferred. Yet a new setback came when she was re-assigned by superiors to train as a truck driver.

“I went from scoring so well I could choose anything,” Ingrid says, “to doing something that anyone could do.”

She was stationed in South Korea for the remainder of her military tenure. “I look back now and can see that I didn’t have any coping mechanisms to fall back on,” Ingrid says. “I loved my co-workers, and I wouldn’t change anything because I learned a lot about myself, but I felt very isolated.”

Ingrid had joined the Army out of a sense of adventure, a willingness to serve her country, and because she saw it as an opportunity to have a steady paycheck while earning money for college. But those years left her feeling, in some important ways, more lost than before.

When she returned to the United States and reentered civilian life, Ingrid floated a while. She had a child inside of an abusive relationship that would hit bottom, and she decided to move to another state when her son was still an infant. “When my son was born, it was like a wake-up moment.”

With the help of her parents, she rebuilt her life and worked toward getting her college degree at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, then the University of South Florida in Tampa.Ingrid Operation Palmetto Punch

Ingrid’s desire to do more, and to make a greater contribution to her country and her community, led her to Team Rubicon. That’s a volunteer coalition of military veterans and emergency medical service workers who serve communities hit hard in emergency and disaster situations.

In October, Ingrid joined them in South Carolina after the severe flooding that affected thousands of homes.

“My military experience was a challenging one, but working with Team Rubicon, it’s made me realize that what I love most about the military are the people in the military,” says Ingrid, who in the last year has returned to regular therapy sessions with the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs to help heal from the MST. “The community of veterans is an amazing one. They want to help the community and help make people’s lives better. In that way, these ideals align perfectly with those of Public Allies.”

Another important step in Ingrid’s leadership journey began last year when she was accepted as an AmeriCorps Ally at Public Allies Central Florida.

“I never expected to get inspired by people younger than myself,” says Ingrid, who is completing her year of service as an emergency manager for the City of Longwood. “Public Allies has really opened me up to this idea of collaborating with other people who are different than you, and understanding how these relationships can bring great reward.”

Nilmarie Zapata, Executive Director of Public Allies Central Florida, says she’s been an asset to the group of Allies. “Ingrid has been able to tie together all of her experiences and her skills and bring them into our space so effectively,” Nilmarie says. “And she got right away the value of our mission and the importance of seeing the assets that others bring to the table.”

Ingrid would love to see more veterans applying for programs like Public Allies that prioritize inclusivity and truly seeking and finding the value in everyone.

“When I imagine justice, I imagine a world where everyone is judged based on their character, not their past, their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. I imagine a world where your abilities define you, where everyone has the same opportunities.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get there,” she says. “But I’m hopeful.”

Public Allies Leadership Development

One of her favorite sayings: “When you change one woman’s life, you change the world. All you have to do is change one mind to have a ripple effect. Teach a woman. Make her an equal. Change her world.”

 

Power of murals and art for social change

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Murals like this one by Francisco “Enuf” Garcia, an AmeriCorps Ally at Public Allies Arizona, are transforming streets into art galleries in Phoenix, Arizona.

To Francisco “Enuf” Garcia, an artist, author, and AmeriCorps Ally serving at Public Allies Arizona, painting a picture on a wall is a deeply primordial, highly influential act. “When you paint a picture on a wall, as our human ancestors did in caves 40,000 years ago, it helps you to see what it is that you want to accomplish. In the same way when we write things down, when we paint images we establish our goals and our visions.

“When people paint public murals of the change they want to see,” Francisco continues, “people are going to believe it.”

Born in Los Angeles and having lived in Phoenix since he was a teenager, Garcia was recently honored with the Dr. Eugene Grigsby Visual Artist award by the Phoenix Center for the Arts and Mayor Greg Stanton. Over the last decade, Francisco has produced a steady stream of socially conscious, visually stunning murals throughout the city. His pieces are as much a tribute to past social justice heroes as they are a celebration of culture and diversity, and a call to solidarity for today’s population.

Francisco’s body of work also has a very explicit goal. “My hope is to make Phoenix the capital of murals,” he says. “Not just graffiti, but I want to see more murals with messages. Murals that bring people together and educate people about their culture and where they come from. I want to see young people paint for a change, for something positive.”

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Francisco was influenced by the Chicano murals he saw growing up in Los Angeles, but he never thought he’d one day be producing — and teaching about — the same kind of art.

Influenced by the wave of Chicano muralists that in the 1970s transformed Los Angeles boulevards into public galleries, as well as by great Mexican muralists of the last century like David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera, Francisco joined Public Allies Arizona last year because he wanted to “be inspired by people who are trying to create change in the country.”

“Public Allies has a big network,” he says, “and it’s powerful when we come together.”

Francisco is currently serving at Phoenix’s Tumbleweed Center as a Youth Development Specialist for unaccompanied minors in their Casa de Sueños program. There, he is meeting and helping young people who have faced harrowing intercontinental journeys to escape rampant violence and hopeless poverty in places like Central America.

aaaLearning their stories of pain and hope will give Francisco even more reason to continue on his mission to change the minds and the hearts of people through art.

“Art can make people think,” says Francisco, who contributed an article to the critically acclaimed book When We Fight We Win!. “I believe art is a tool to voice justice and other ideas that are not really voiced in media and society. It’s a way to express the love of God.”

Learn more about Francisco on his Facebook and Instagram page.

When I imagine justice the first thing I see is racial equity

Listen to an interview with Milagro about his work created by 88.9 Radio Milwaukee.

Listen to an interview with Milagro about his work with Public Allies Milwaukee by 88.9 Radio Milwaukee.

Milagro Jones, an AmeriCorps member with Public Allies Milwaukee, is serving the homeless community with Project Homeless Connect — the same organization that helped him when he was a homeless and “invisible” youth in the city. Below are Milagro’s reflections — in his own words — on what it means to #ImagineJustice.

Labels such as race and gender will not define us, nor be used to measure our ability, judge our value, or calculate our worth. None of these labels define us as what we are, which is human.

The color of my skin will not predispose what geographical location I live in, nor which economic class I will be relegated to.

I imagine a world where the resources of the earth are no longer pillaged and raped, but instead conserved for the sake of harmony between the earth and its inhabitants. I imagine a world united and no longer fractured by wars of greed and envy.

I imagine a day when honesty is appreciated instead of silenced.

In a just and equitable society every little boy and girl can come home to love, food, water, clean clothes, hygiene products, and security. Everyone in America should have a safe place to live. Too many children come home to violence, alcohol, drugs, hunger, neglect, molestation, or rape. The children that runaway are often the victim of worse experiences on the streets than what they experienced within the walls of their broken homes.

It is only now that I am an adult and have found AmeriCorps that for the first time in my life I have a safe stable environment to call home. I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with the housing insecurity and fear of coming home that I had to face as an obstacle to my achievement.

In a just and equitable society the mental and physical health of the people is comprehensively taken care of. Drugs are good for those that need them as treatment or medicine. However in a just and equitable society a child shouldn’t have to come home to see drugs and alcohol being abused in the home by the family.

Yet, when I try to picture a just and equitable society, my imagination is pierced with the sorrow of reality. Mankind is unjust and the quality of life one receives here on earth is unequal. The most one can do is accept his or her lot, enjoy his or her toil, seek wisdom, and in moderation enjoy his or her own self indulgences.

I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a Public Ally and learn how to apply the values of the program in my community, city, and world. I truly will make a difference in the lives of others and continue to better my own life.

However I have no illusions as to the state of the world we are living in, and I will not waste time with any idealistic visions of reality. The only thing that is changing is the seasons and once you figure out the pattern you realize that those, too, stay the same.

Before we can imagine the justice and equality of the future we must address the injustices and inequalities of the present.

— Milagro Jones

A world where hate won’t win

After the Charleston A.M.E. massacre, the Simmons sisters chose to forgive, and to challenge everyone else to show love in the face of fear

When Alana Simmons stepped up to the courtroom microphone and looked into the face of the young man who a night before had murdered her grandfather and 8 other people in a Charleston, South Carolina church, she didn’t curse him. She didn’t cry for revenge. She didn’t show anger.

Alana forgave him instead. And then she uttered words which would give her family a newfound purpose.

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate,” Alana said, “this is proof — everyone’s plea for your soul is proof — that they lived in love. And their legacies will live in love so hate won’t win. I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”

Hate won’t win.

As the shooter stood motionless, one by one family members of the people he murdered forgave him. None knew that their words were being broadcast live on CNN to an audience of millions of people.

Two months after their grandfather Daniel Simmons, Jr. lost his life at the A.M.E. Church in June, Ava and Alana Simmons traveled to Milwaukee to deliver a keynote at Public Allies’ National Leadership Institute dinner, where hundreds of leaders from across the country listened to their message of forgiveness and love. The sisters were presented with Public Allies’ “Living Our Values” award for their courage in living out their values.

“I challenge you to lead by demonstration,” Alana says. “It’s so important for people to see people loving each other regardless of their differences. It’s really important that we do the groundwork to motivate people, and facilitate that community and diversity our country lacks.”

The Simmons sisters — Ava and Alana — have made a conscious choice to use the media attention the murder bestowed on them to launch a new social campaign: #HateWontWin.

They are asking people to show an act of love toward people who are different, and post about it on social media with the hashtag #hatewontwin. Hundreds all over the country have accepted the challenge, including a mother and a young boy who baked cookies and walked them over to a police station, even though the young boy was frightened of police from the stories he’d heard in his neighborhood.

“We believe that true freedom doesn’t rely on a change of a policy,” Alana says. “True freedom relies on the change of the hearts of the people. So we’re asking you to help us change the hearts of the people.”

You can follow their campaign on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/HateWontWin_

A young leader’s commitment to do right inspires an unexpected wave of support nationwide

In the face of skepticism, AmeriCorps Ally Ebony Butts organized a Girl Scout troop in an often-shunned neighborhood of Cincinnati. Then something amazing happened…

You can see Cincinnati’s glimmering downtown skyline from Lower Price Hill. But the tucked away neighborhood of about 2,000 people can feel like a world away from downtown’s fancy office towers.

Lower Price Hill has a reputation as a place with high unemployment, rampant drug abuse, and growing poverty. The average family income here is only $15,000 a year. So when Ebony Butts, an AmeriCorps Ally who grew up a couple miles away, began telling people she was going to found a new Girl Scout troop in Lower Price Hill, many simply couldn’t see the point of it.

“They’d tell me, ‘I don’t know if the girls there will be interested,’” Ebony says. “I couldn’t believe what they were saying! I’ve never met any girl who wouldn’t be interested in something like this.”

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In spite of the skepticism, Ebony moved forward and organized Troop 49632. But they soon faced a daunting dilemma. Most parents didn’t have money to pay for the girls to go to camp, so if they wanted to go, they needed to raise the money themselves. Ebony did the math: They needed to sell 1,500 boxes of cookies.

Again, Ebony was met with skepticism that they could succeed in selling so many cookies. And again, driven by her deep optimism, she vowed to make it happen no matter the odds. She wasn’t, after all, going to let the girls down.

“There is a lot of false hope in Lower Price Hill and East Price Hill,” Ebony says. “People say we’re going to do this and that. And then you’re waiting for it to happen and it never happens.”

Ebony began telling everyone about the girls in Lower Price Hill’s Girl Scout troop. And she started selling those cookies.

News of the project soon reached Sherry Coolidge, a reporter with the Cincinnati Enquirer who happened to be in the neighborhood. Sherry reached out to Ebony to talk. “She was such an awesome person,” says Ebony. “I was elated to have someone who really cared about what we were trying to achieve for these girls and this neighborhood.”

A few days later, the Cincinnati Enquirer featured their story on the cover of their Sunday issue, followed by more coverage in their online sections. When Ebony came to work at Community Matters, where she was placed as an AmeriCorps Ally, on the Monday morning after the story broke, she encountered “the best melee I’ve ever seen in my life… it was just bananas, the most beautiful thing ever.”

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What she experienced were a flood of incoming emails and phone calls from all over Cincinnati — and from as far away as Louisiana, Nevada, New York, and North Carolina — all wanting to buy Girl Scout cookies.

Ebony’s boundless and inspiring energy, her determination, and the commitment of the girls and parents of Lower Price Hill to make the troop a success, led them to sell more than 5,000 boxes of cookies.

For the girls and parents of the Lower Price Hill Girl Scout Troop 49632, Ebony’s efforts sparked rare expressions of community pride among residents.

“Before this, any time Lower Price Hill was brought up in the news, it would be for something negative,” says Ebony. “And we gave them something to be proud of. The neighbors, parents, and folk who live there, I’ve started to hear them say, ‘It’s good to see the girls have something to do, it’s nice to see girls in the newspaper.’”

“Slowly,” Ebony continues, “with the aid of the Girl Scout Troop, people will stop seeing Lower Price Hill as just a violent place you don’t want to live in.”

For her amazing leadership, and for reflecting the mission and values of Public Allies, Ebony was presented in August with Public Allies’ inaugural Ally Servant Leadership Award. She is currently completing her second year as an Ally, and is working on a degree at the College of Mt. Saint Joseph.

Public Allies CEO Adren O. Wilson, Ph.D., with Cincinnati AmeriCorps Ally Ebony Butts

She says she feels fulfilled to be working with community children and families near where she grew up.

“I tell my girls, ‘You don’t have to settle,'” Ebony says. “You can have a career, you can live that dream. It may not happen when you’re 25, it might happen when you’re 32, like it happened to me. When I wake up now, I do something that I’m passionate about. I’m right where I want to be.”

A second chance breathes new life for a man fresh out of prison

Roland Whitley had spent 9 years in prison, and it wasn’t until he joined Public Allies that he could begin to express his full potential and leadership in Connecticut

Every year about 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons. Two-thirds of them are rearrested within three years of release, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

When Roland Whitley walked out of prison for the third time recently, having done a total of 9 years on drug charges, he was sure he didn’t want to go back for a fourth time. But it wasn’t easy.

“I came home (to Bridgeport, Connecticut) and started my own business doing odd jobs, but I was still in the streets trying to get my life together,” Roland explains. “One day I told a friend, Steve Nelson, who is a police officer, ‘I need help.’ So Steve and Kingsley Osei, who founded Connecticut Against Violence (CAV), invited me to speak to a group of students.”

FullSizeRender (4)Roland accepted the invitation and, through CAV, he met Charlie Grady, the Bridgeport Project Manager for Project Longevity, a violence reduction partnership of law enforcement, social service providers, and residents.  When Charlie heard Roland’s story, he urged him to apply to Public Allies. Though the application and interview process made him nervous, Roland says he felt it was an opportunity that could lead to a fresh start.

“I loved that they didn’t look at me as an ex-felon, as someone who sold drugs,” Roland says. “They looked at me as Roland Whitley. I love that about Public Allies, they are the only one who truly gave me a second chance.”

Roland was accepted as an AmeriCorps Ally, and started serving at Stamford Academy, a high school that provides a supportive educational environment for students who have struggled in traditional school environments or have dropped out of school.

“When I first started working, I wasn’t used to computers, or to even really working,” Roland says. “Meetings, debriefs, deadlines – all these demands – I wasn’t used to it. The streets were my comfort zone.”

But with the support of his fellow Allies, things got easier.

“I’m blessed – I’m telling you, Public Allies brought a lot out in me and showed me that it’s in me, that there is positive in me,” Roland says. “Two, three years ago I could never have told you I’d be here, working in a high school, teaching students, being so positive.”

Every Wednesday, Roland teaches a popular life-skills class, but he has a unique approach. “Instead of having them just listen to me, I have the students interact with each other and I bring guest speakers,” Roland says. “The speakers let them know, ‘You’re not the only one going through struggles.’”

“I try to teach students that they are leaders,” he continues. “We have a different student lead the class each week. They can lead. They can do more than just sit in the class and listen.”

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Roland sees people in his neighborhood approach him much differently than before. “Before they’d say, ‘Roland, let’s go have a drink,’” he says. “Now they’re saying, ‘I know a friend who is going through some things, can I get your number?’ They’re looking to me for advice.”

The second chance Roland found at Public Allies didn’t just lead to a job he loves — his AmeriCorps placement at Stamford Academy has since hired Roland full time — but to a better home life.

“I’m still working on it,” Roland says. “But overall Public Allies helped me become a better father; to have a better relationship with Requelinda (his long-time partner Requelinda Cabral); and to be a better uncle.”

Roland has three children, daughters Kei’jai, 20, and Tatiyana, 18, both college students; and son Noah, 1 year old. “Public Allies allowed me to put my family in a better position, not just for today but for tomorrow as well,” he says. “Since I joined Public Allies and changed my life, Requelinda and I have been blessed with another child. Now I have a one-year-old boy. She and I have been together 20 years – she stuck with me.  She’s my biggest cheerleader.”

Roland, who completed Public Allies Connecticut in the summer, muses on what might have been if he’d missed this opportunity. “If it weren’t for Public Allies, I’d be somewhere totally different,” he says. “And it wouldn’t be good.”

Grammy winner, Public Allies alum Malik Yusef is a champion of change

He’s won five Grammy Awards and his friends include people like Kanye West and Common. But back in the fall of 1996, Malik Yusef The Wordsmyth was just one of 26 young Chicagoans who were starting their journey together as new members of Public Allies.

Malik has since gone on to great critical and commercial success as a producer, writer and musical artist, as his many Grammy, Emmy, Peabody, ASCAP and Tony awards attest to. But unlike a lot of other successful musicians, all of his work — starting with his debut album “The Great Chicago Fire: A Cold Day in Hell” — has always had a strong social component.

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Common, Malik Yusef, and John Legend.

In a keynote address at Public Allies’ National Leadership Institute in August, Malik credits his Public Allies experience with giving him many of the vital skills he’s needed to be an effective advocate for societal change.

“At the core of me is a champion of change,” says Malik, who was raised in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood known as “Wild 100’s.” “I don’t think I enter any situation in my life without thinking how it affects the majority of the people. And a lot of those skills I learned at Public Allies, being with a group of people who were all working toward the same goals.”

For Malik, those “same goals” mean being community minded and — as he puts it — “climate changing.” “By climate I don’t mean the temperature, but changing the environment that people have to exist in.”

Malik, who regularly rubs elbows with the music industry elite, gave many examples illustrating that to be successful at anything — or even to have a chance at success — talent simply isn’t enough. You need to work hard.

“When Kanye (West) was 15, 16, and 17 years old, he sacrificed three whole summers making five beats a day,” Malik says of his longtime friend. “I’m going to assume the first five beats he made weren’t that good. But he failed forward. He failed going toward the prize.”

“And that’s not the story you want to hear,” Malik continues. “You want to hear this guy is different than us. You want to believe in the Superman. We all do. That in case something goes wrong someone will swoop from the sky to save you. But you’re the salvation, you’re the hero, you’re the champion.”

Malik closed with a special message for everyone in the Public Allies network who works with youth or young adults. It boils down to having integrity.

“These kids are in tune, they’re looking, they need, they want, they deserve, they believe in what you’re saying,” Malik says. “People’s victories are dependent on your actions. And they’re going to hold you to what you said you were going to do. In this place, we have no luxury. There are no days off. There are no plays off.”