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There are few professions (or callings) that are as dichotomous (my college education at work) in the American conscious as disability service. Almost all of us who is or has worked in disability service have heard some variation of “you’re such a good person,” or “god will reward you for your work.” We may indeed be good people and divine reward (which is always in some undefined future date) is appreciated, but we disability service providers do live in the here and now.

Here in lies the dichotomy (Professor Hamm would be proud!); the general public seems to feel (or express their) gratitude for the work that we do (sometimes in the most awkward way). After all, we provide services and support for some of the most vulnerable and powerless groups in the United States (perhaps a loved one or someone you know is a member of this group). We have cared for and taught (and learned from) these individuals. We have shared incredible triumphs and sometimes devastating loss both with and because of these folks. Indeed, I recall a “tough as nails” colleague shedding (more than a few) tears at a funeral for a resident of a home I worked at. Working in this field, I’ve also done things I would never have imagined. Indeed, one of my proudest moments (admittedly, I didn’t think so at the time) is when I became a full-fledged member of the PSC guild (NOT Professional Staff Congress but Professional SH*T Cleaner). That experience changes a person and for the better (though it takes a bit of time to recognize that).

Yet despite this, Direct Support Professionals (those who work directly with individuals with an intellectual/developmental disability) only earn about $12 an hour in NYC. This can be confirmed by a causal perusal (I may as well get some use out of my education) of employment websites. Let us use that figure of $12 an hour and say 7 hours a day for 5 days a week. That comes to $420 a week and I’m guessing $330 after taxes (where are the accounting majors?). This in turn comes to about $1320 or so a month for what is (truly) difficult physical and emotional work in one of the most expensive cities in the world. This poor pay forced many of my colleagues to work multiple jobs to keep ends in sight of each other (getting ends to meet usually meant someone was on vacation or sick and you got their hours). This of course not only impacts on job efficiency and job appreciation but it impacts directly upon the health of those we count on to ensure the good health of people with disabilities.

Admittedly, things get better as one climbs the ladder, but one should be under no illusion that wage equality exists. In general a person with an equivalent education, experience, and title will make less in disability service then in other fields.  According to the Pay Scale website, an executive director makes about $71,000 a year and mid-level manager around $40,000 a year. For a good cry, contrast with other industries to see the disparity.  The question is then why do people who care for people, are praised for the kind of work they do, then get the short end of the stick when it comes to being paid a decent wage?

Having said all this, I still love this field. Along with my wife (Hi babe!) and family, this field gave me direction when I had none. It gave me a purpose or as some would say; a calling. I’ve also been fortunate in that my work was noted by various supervisors (not all, unfortunately) and I’ve been promoted a few times with commiserate raises in wages. The field also largely funded my undergraduate and graduate educations. I’ve managed to stay in the field while changing focus. I recently left non-profit disability service and entered into the world of higher education disability service. The environment and the populations I work for (and with) are different but “the calling” remains the same.

Working in disability services can sometimes be difficult and often challenging (physically and emotionally) but all in all, it is an honorable field that one can be proud to be a part of. What I hope for is that one day; it can also be a field which yields wages where one will not have to work multiple jobs to support themselves or their families.

Daniel Chan is a belated student who took the 20+ year plan to get his Bachelor’s Degree. He recently received his M.A. in Disability Studies and is working on his M.S. in Disability Services in Higher Education. His proudest academic achievement is still his GED.

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“In my experience the motivation of black friends and colleagues isn’t to make white people feel guilty, to beat us up over our racial history, or to just complain about it.  What I hear is deep concern for their children and for their future, and the reasonable expectation that white people not defend themselves from the past but rather join efforts to build a better multiracial future.”  (p. 36)

That’s what Jim Wallis wrote in his book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America.  It’s a great read because of his compassionate, insightful, nonjudgmental, moral, theological analysis of where we are as a country.  Even though Wallis, a white man, talks about white privilege, it’s not an attack on white people, but more of an examination of a social construct of whiteness and its influence on America.  And he does not just pay lip service to multiracial America.  He goes further than the Black/White dynamic that dominates many race-related dialogues and discusses the history of Native and Asian Americans.  Wallis also provides a framework to think through issues of mass incarceration and immigration as well.

His conclusion is that when we genuinely begin to hear one another’s stories, we begin to understand one another, and then we’re able to do the work necessary to cross that “bridge” to a new America.  Every time an ugly incident happens, people start declaring that we need a conversation, a dialogue, a discussion.  The value of America’s Original Sin is that it brings some profound insights about why it’s been so hard for us to have that conversation and touches upon issues of segregation, isolation, and fragility.  Once we get over those issues we can move across that bridge.

“. . . the next bridge to cross is America’s transition from a majority white nation to a majority of racial minorities”. (p. 194)

It’s well worth the read.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Each year CUNY SPS asks graduating students to apply to be the Student Speaker at Commencement. As part of their application they are asked to submit their anticipated speech. At the end of the process only one student is selected, however, numerous speeches embody the spirit of the graduating class. We are proud to share some of these speeches here.

Adesine Murray is graduating from CUNY SPS on June 6 with a Master’s Degree in Business Management and Leadership and this is his speech:

I would have never imagined my journey of pursuing a tertiary education would have led me to this point. I started my journey of pursuing higher education many years ago at the University of Guyana in South America, where I gained my Associate’s Degree in Accountancy. Upon migrating to America, I decided to continue my educational journey at City University of New York, Brooklyn College campus where I was awarded my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Finance in the spring of 2012.

During my time at Brooklyn College my initial thought process was to just pass the courses and graduate in the targeted time I had set for myself. I cannot tell you much about my campus life since I did not have much of it. I, like most of the students, worked full time and attended school full time through evening and weekend classes. So, the campus experience and being part of student clubs and other activities that other students were exposed to was not part of my experience at Brooklyn College. However, I can say that Brooklyn College has one of the most beautiful campuses in CUNY—nicely manicured lawns, a pond, mini garden, and a nice combination of old historic and modern buildings. My favorite building was the library where I visited frequently for both undergraduate and graduate studies.

I must thank Baruch College for not accepting me as that gave me the opportunity to attend Brooklyn College which was an easier commute and walking distance from home in Midwood. During my time there, I was able to forge friendships and bonds with fellow students that I still maintain today, and I know they are all equally proud of me for finally catching up with them at the graduate level. My friend Patricia is probably smiling saying, “nerd.”

I was a little hesitant to enroll at CUNY SPS to do my master’s degree because I was not very familiar with the online education process. After doing research and attending one of the information sessions, and thanks to the presenters that day and the alumni who were there to answer our questions, I was sold and here I am today. Part of my reason for doing my graduate degree, apart from increasing my knowledge and attaining qualifications, is to make myself more competitive in the job market and to achieve my life goals. I also did it to serve as an example to my nieces and nephews to show they can achieve anything they want with hard work and dedication.

The journey with CUNY SPS has been challenging at times but also rewarding. One of the professors who helped to take away the challenge of learning math online was Professor David Hauser who taught me BUS 670 Quantitative Decision Making. Starting in the fall 2015 semester with this course I was very nervous, but after my first two classes with Professor Hauser, and learning strategies to complete the work, I was very encouraged. I think Professor Hauser was one of the best professors I have had at the School of Professional Studies.

The experience at all of the CUNY campuses is not one that I can replace and will always remember it as part of my unique journey through three schools earning three degrees. I have learned and was exposed to many new ideas and business concepts that I can take with me on my continuing journey. The CUNY SPS MSBML meet-up was a good way of allowing students to meet their fellow classmates and their professors, even though I attended only the first one and missed the others due to scheduling issues.

I must thank all my professors and advisors for guiding me through this enlightening journey, my family who has supported me through all these years, and my fellow classmates for their help in our classes when I needed it.

In closing, we have all achieved a great accomplishment, so may we all go forward proudly and enrich the world with our new knowledge and experiences and most of all make CUNY SPS proud.

Congratulations!

Roots will be broadcast on the History Channel from May 30 to June 2.  It’s not a rebroadcast of the original series made in 1977, but a brand new production.  I got a sneak preview at the National Action Network Convention.  The new series is just as powerful as the original.  An elementary school teacher told me that textbook publishers are attempting to whitewash American history by trying to imply that Africans immigrated to the United States like everyone else.  The truth of slavery must continue to be taught.  If the whole series is as promising as the sneak peek I got, people will get a glimpse into the unimaginable horrors of slavery.  African Americans endured a tremendous ordeal, and we should be proud of all the progress we’ve made since fighting for our freedom.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Aresenio Hall hosted a late night talk show with a segment entitled “Things that make you go Hmmm . . . ,“ where he’d point out some random thing or occurrence that most people ignored, until he made you think about it.

My own “hmmm” moment came during an exchange with the administrative assistant who took my copayment, via debit, for my dental visit.  She didn’t offer me a receipt to sign.  When I asked her about this, she replied “You’ve been here before, we trust you.”

Hmmm.

Signatures protect consumers.  If I noticed a fraudulent charge on my credit card, I could dispute it with the company by saying “Show me my signature!”  If they couldn’t show me proof that I approved the purchase, they would have to remove it from the bill.

What’s my protection now?

Another hmmm.   Increasingly, gyms want either a credit or debit card on file.  Hypothetically, let’s say I set up an appointment two weeks from now for yoga; then I change my mind and cancel in accordance with their cancellation policy.  What do I do if the company charges me anyway?  Since no signature is required, how do I prove that the company is wrong and get my money back?

The tables have been turned.  Years ago it was clear that the money in my bank account (or on my credit card) belonged to me, and if a business wanted to get at my money, they had to ask my permission and get my written authorization.

Now most businesses regard me as merely a steward of their money.  They don’t believe that the money in my bank account is really mine, but theirs.  They’re just letting me use their money for a while before they take it from me.

I’m retiring my cards and going back to cash.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

 

I attended a NASW Annual Conference workshop entitled Legislative Advocacy & Campaign Building.  Since presidential campaign season is in full swing and because New Yorkers have four chances to vote for a variety of offices this year, I thought to share the tips I gathered.  Some of you might have a “cause” you want to champion.

Register to Vote

Politicians want to get re-elected.  First it takes more than one term to learn the job.  Second, seniority comes with power and the ability to make change.  Therefore, politicians make decisions based on what the voters in their districts want.  You can register through the Board of Elections.  If you’re not registered to vote, you’ll have to sit out the election on April 19th, but you can still vote on June 28th.

Know the Official

It’s important to do a little research on the elected official you want to reach out to.  Does the person sit on or chair a committee that’s relevant to your policy issue?  In regards to the problem at hand, is the official on your side, or against?  How has the person voted on the matter?  One good research tool would be Vote Smart.  Do some research on elected officials who oppose your side.  You may find it useful to hear their position and try to persuade them to your side.

Join an Affinity Group

There’s a group for just about every cause we want to champion.  The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), for example, is rallying unionized CUNY employees in order to get a new contract.  I also found Support CUNY via google search.  There are other advocacy groups based on a host of other concerns.  A google search should help you find whatever you want or need.

Build a Relationship

Affinity groups often organize legislative lobby days to visit elected officials.  Politicians are accustomed to getting visits, and used to seeing people disappear until the next lobby day.  Smart advocacy entails relationship building.  After the visit, there should be follow up with a phone call or thank you letter.  The organization should remain in touch with the official to regularly discuss progress on the matter at hand.  You’ll know you have a solid relationship when elected officials begin to call you about policy.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

I recently attended the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) NYC Chapter Annual Conference.  Glenn E. Martin, Founder and President of Just Leadership USA, gave the keynote address on Mass Incarceration and the Broad Impact on Communities of Color.  The three statements that stayed with me were “use your privilege,” “change hearts and minds,” and “our democracy got us here.”  (By privilege, he means advantage, or anything that put us in a positon to advocate on behalf of people whom very few others either care about or hear from.)  He challenged me to use my privilege to inform people about mass incarceration, and to end mass incarceration.

I heard of mass incarceration when I read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.  To sum it up for people who have never heard the term before, mass incarceration resulted from a series of laws and policies deliberately crafted to replace Jim Crow, while maintaining Jim Crow’s purposes and benefits.

Martin survived the mass incarceration system, having been imprisoned on Rikers Island in his early 20s.  He described some of the his fellow inmates as intelligent, skilled and ambitious human beings who, upon release, are forever relegated to second class citizenship and in many instances are rendered unable to vote because of their record. Martin encouraged us to use our privilege to give survivors a platform where they can tell their stories so that our hearts and minds can be changed.

Both Martin and Alexander agree that changing laws will only replace mass incarceration with another equally oppressive system.  Martin speculated that privatized prisons see the handwriting on the wall and are thinking about how to keep their prisons full once the current system is dismantled. Martin and Alexander argue that only a change in hearts and minds fosters a real desire to work towards a truly just nation.  Once that inner change occurs, we can take a deeper look at the policies and laws, the results of our democracy, which got us here.  Fortunately, the same democratic system can lead us out of here.  Use your privilege.  Remember to vote on April 19th.  Think about voting in people who have the willingness to end the mass incarceration system.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Elected officials make a lot of decisions that affect students, so we should vote.  We get 4 chances to vote in 2016.  Here’s a little summary of what’s happening.

April 19: New Yorkers will vote in their party primaries for president.  Some of the different parties are Democrat, Republican, Working Families Party, Green Party, Conservative Party, etc..  When people register to vote, they get to select the party they want to be a part of.  Some people do not pick a party.  The registration deadline is March 25th.

June 28: Primary day for all 27 New York members of the United States House of Representatives, including New York State Senator Schumer.  The registration deadline is June 3rd.

September 13: Primaries for all 63 seats of the State Senate and all 150 seats of the State Assembly.  The registration deadline is August 19th.

November 8: President and Vice President of the United States.  The registration deadline is October 14th.

The only way to vote is to be registered.

Find out how to get a job as a poll-worker.

You can get more information by checking out CUNY’s Voice Your Choice website.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

I used to work at an agency that helped unemployed adults get back to work.  Recently, I remembered a co-worker and I laughing uproariously with a client over a comment she made.

The client was trying to get a job at a well-known coffee shop.  She’d just come back from an interview and was telling us how ridiculously difficult the application process was.  She was frustrated and surprised because she was not looking for an upper management position.  She wanted to get a job behind the counter, making coffee and working the cash register.  Why was the employer being so demanding in terms of education, experience, and skills?  “It’s just coffee!” she exclaimed.

In this campaign season, much is being said about the income gap.  Less is said about employers imposing unreasonably high standards upon job applicants.  Employers forget that they’re just trying to hire a worker, not get married.

As you watch the candidates and come to a decision, it’s something to think about.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

I listened to President Obama’s final State of the Union address.  He ended his address by putting the onus for the state of our political system on the American citizenry—us.  He closed the circle quite nicely.

Back in 2008, I was flipping channels and came across Michelle Obama making a speech.  Essentially, she said that if we elected her husband, we couldn’t abandon them once they entered the White House.  She said that her husband would need an engaged citizenry in order to govern well.  It was heartening to hear her.  As a citizen, I felt empowered.

I was encouraged to do something that I had not done since high school.  I read the United States Constitution.  I rediscovered the fact that the President’s job is to protect the Constitution.  I also learned that the states are where the real power is in the United States.  People who really want to be engaged and vote on high stakes elections should really keep their eyes on local races.

Senator Obama’s tagline was “Yes we can!”  President Obama is ending on a note of “Yes, you can!”  We should accept the challenge.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.