Wired In is a series of daily reflections from Richmond Pulse reporter Edgardo Cervano-Soto on his participation in the Born This Way Foundation launch event at Harvard University. This is the last post of the series.
Day 3: Breaking the Form
Early Thursday morning I awoke at 4 am to walk around Harvard University and Cambridge. I absorbed the cold and rain of the college town, and walked through sites where hours ago were bombarded by tv news media vans, students, and organization representatives. It was still surreal for me to believe my own presence in the East Coast, and not only that but to have been only steps away from Lady Gaga and Oprah. As my sister succinctly summarized the grandiose nature of this, she said, “dude, you were breathing the same air.” The launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation was over, and so was our stay in Cambridge. In a couple of hours, I would be leaving the East Coast and mark the end of my experience here. Yet, I can say I have never had a more eventful Leap Year Day, ever.
Wednesday began early for us delegates from the California Endowment. We had a slew of activities to undertake: a tour of Harvard, a second social media bootcamp training by Blue State Digital, a youth summit, the proper keynote address of the launch and finally, dinner in Boston. With so many events, the youth delegates and reporters had much to cover on tumblr, twitter and facebook.
Thankfully, as a result of our first training from Blue State Digital in Los Angeles, we were all wielding our Ipod touches, smart phones, cameras and even labtops in out hands and constantly documenting the experiences. The second social media training went deeper into using social media as an organizing tool for the many projects we were involved with in our Building Healthy Communities sites. In groups of five, we each described prevalent community issues and came up with storytelling and media strategies to organize around that issue. We were also joined by youth from Chicago and Lady Gaga’s super fans.
After lunch, we made our way to Harvard’s School of Education for the Born This Way Foundation Youth Summit and Panel, where our very own BHC delegate Marisela Hernandez facilitated the discussion. There were around 100 students funneling into the building. We heard testimonies of students who were bullied and did the bullying. It was an emotional experience when students from the audience took the mic to share their own experiences. Towards the end of the summit, Lady Gaga surprised us all when she entered the auditorium to welcome the delegates. She announced, that the foundation was for “us”, and contrary to the media’s description of the foundation as an anti-bullying foundation, Lady Gaga clarified, “this is a youth empowerment foundation.”
Inside Sander’s Theater; Official Launch
Sanders Theater resembled what I imagined to be the Globe Theater where Shakespere play’s were performed. Every glossy stained wooden bench was packed with youth sitting shoulder to shoulder. Bright lights illuminated the stage like a tv production set. No professional photography was allowed, but every eager youth held their cameras and smart phones in their palm. I sat in the second row, clutching my handheld equipment and pen and notepad, waiting. The moment Oprah was introduced by the Provost of Harvard University, the audience erupted in excitement and welcomed her. Oprah explained her role in supporting the Born This Way Foundation, saying she attended and supported where she can be of use. Ultimately, Oprah said her participation was a result of her belief for every human being “to fulfill the highest expressions of ourselves.”
Instead of a keynote address, the launch opted for an interview between Lady Gaga and Oprah. Lady Gaga shared the origins of the foundation and described the goal of opening as the foundation, as something that continued to call her. Lady Gaga told the audience the pillars of the foundation were “SSO- Safety, Skills and Opportunity for all youth.” Gaga said she wanted to learn from researchers and youth, and act as a platform for other organizations working towards youth empowerment. ‘Use me. Use me as platform,” Gaga said. The setting changed once again as the panelists joined Lady Gaga. Charles Olgetree placed Lady Gaga in “trial” and introduced the jury. Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebuis, actor David Burtka, psychiatrist Sean Swearer, spiritual leader Deepak Chopra and a high school student Alyssa comprised the jury. Lady Gaga was illuminated by a spotlight and the questions from the jury began.
Almost all of the questions were asking Lady Gaga to define the direct ways her foundation would work towards youth empowerment. Gaga outlines a collaboration with Blue State Digital as to describe their social media strategy. Through the use of social media, the foundation promises the develop a culture of bravery by organizing youth on-line and asking them to do actions of bravery off-line. Gaga also said the ‘Born to be Brave” bus would act as a gathering site at each of her tour dates where youth can get together and talk. Gaga embraced the ambiguity of the foundation, by repeatedly stating she did not have all the answers but wants to collaborate with other organizations. Gaga repeatedly said that the culture of bravery would take little. She said “little acts of kindness” evolve into a change of culture. “The culture of love is not going to change overnight, we have to work from the ground up,” she said. To close the foundation, Lady Gaga was joined on stage by the president of the Born This Way Foundation, Cynthia Germanotta, her mother. In her final words, Gaga urged the youth the tell one person about the foundation and for each youth “to call upon theirs elves and know they are great.”
Final Reflections on the Born This Way Foundation and purpose
Back at the Harvard Inn, The Building Healthy Communities youth delegates met with Dr. Robert Ross from the California Endowment in the evening to reflect on the day’s events and to define what are the next steps. The Born This Way foundation’s ambiguity was a common topic, but one that people think of as a strength, or at least, a unique aspect that has not been done before in organizations. Dr. Ross described the foundation as one wanting to learn from others and having the advantage to grow organically through the involvement of youth. However, it was questioned whether the objectives of the BTW Foundation can be localized in communities like the BHC sites. Also, how would the BTW Foundation’ strategy of using digital social media be fulfilled in communities that lack access to internet or skills in digital media. The youth delegates of BHC and California Endowment plan to reunite again in March, and discuss possible means in how the BTW Foundation can participate in the BHC sites.