Sunday, January 31, 2016

What's Going On: Christine Pendo Mugando Lo on Everydayness -Especially Equity, Race, and Community.

This weekend was a chance to steal some lasting amazement from the best climbing athletes in the nation in the midst of one of the best climbing communities out there. I was proud to be part of our national and local climbing community this weekend. But while I spend a wealth of my time around kids, educators, and climbers, I think I can carefully say we walk through each others lives like white noise -- quick greetings, light laughter, a half-hearted spot, maybe an exchange of ideas. Nothing too deep or very committing. And it's not that I need or want to know everyone deeply -- there are just certain people I'm drawn to know a lil better. That's the truth for Christine Pendo Muganda Lo, who I knew would offer insights across the spectrum of matters related to identity, equity, education, and relationships. I have a lot of favorite parts to her write-up, but I love her perspective on equity, race, and community. Enjoy!  

Background: Where you're from, family, birthday, marriage, education
I grew up in Illinois in the suburbs of Chicago. I come from a biracial, multicultural family: my mother was raised on a subsistence farm in a Pennsylvania Dutch community, while my father was born and raised in Tanzania, the son of a diplomat. I was born August of 1987, the middle of three sisters. My parents are both educators, and decided to homeschool my two sisters and me the entire way through high school. In college, I doubled-majored in mathematics and Spanish -- two languages I loved, but had no idea how to incorporate into my future career path. After college, I moved to Wisconsin for graduate school, I spent six years at UW Madison and completed a PhD in Population Health, Infectious Disease Epidemiology. I met Justin in Madison, in my grad program, actually, and we developed a deep friendship over climbing, running, faith, and general grad school battles. I married Justin earlier this year :)

How would you describe yourself as a child?

I was the stereotypical middle child. I enjoyed challenging my parents, and their rules. I loved any creative outlet, I was a quick-thinker and a master negotiator.

Do you think characteristics or temperament or interests as a child inform your passion(s) today? Definitely. I saw in my own life how easily is it for gifts such as creativity and quick-thinking to morph into something selfish and hurtful. As a child, I didn’t always use my “powers” for good. As a result of my own experience, I now love challenging youth to identify how their giftings may be used for positive or negative outcomes, so that they can make more informed choices about their actions.

What is a favorite memory as a child/adolescent?
During the summers, my sisters and I would spend days working on my grandparents' farm in
Pennsylvania. For anyone, but especially for a city kid, there is an incredibly rewarding feeling that follows putting in a full day of manual labor and seeing a literal harvest as a result.

What is a story you remember?
Because my sisters and I were homeschooled, my parents crafted their own academic calendar for our education. I remember being in middle school when I found out that the “other kids” had vacation all summer long. I can’t say I was delighted to learn how “extra” education had been “gifted” to me. ;)

Do you have a favorite or strong memory of school?
My parents created a lot of space for hands on learning in our educational experience. I remember being very interested in animal biology as a kid, especially bird embryology; I read every book I could find about birds, eggs, imprinting, etc. My mom bought me an incubator and found a few chicken and duck farmers, and then let me loose. I hatched chickens, bantam chickens (mini chickens), ducks, and miniature ducks over the course of numerous summers. Later, my mom encouraged me to share my excitement with younger kids in our homeschool group, so as a highschool student, I created a 10-week curriculum, and taught 3rd and 4th graders about the science of embryology and helped the class care for 24 incubating duck eggs. It was a blast.

Who else in life has influenced you?
My two grandmas and my great grandma. During time spent together in the U.S. and in Africa, these women have done a beautiful job of modeling the value of family and of hard work. They are incredible, strong, and inspiring women. I’m thankful to be part of their legacy.

What do you think we can do to encourage and support equity personally and professionally?
Refuse to become lazy in our thoughts and speech. If you encounter something that feels even a tiny bit “off,” process it fully. Write it down. Talk about it with someone you trust. Use the most precise language you can. Brainstorm and try to make connections to identify the root of the unfairness that you sensed. It is easy to let things slide, but if you consistently challenge those comments or actions (either your own, or observed), you gain in two ways:
  1. You sharpen your ability to sense inequities, even those subtle issues that we may have accepted as “normal.”
  2. You learn how to better communicate your feelings about situations, and you learn to find common ground in these exchanges with others, so that conversations can be fruitful.

Does race and ethnicity matter to you? Why? What challenges you and/or others?
This is a newer passion of mine. Every part of a person’s identity matters.

On an individual-level, it is simply unjust that one may become unsafe, uncared for, or unacknowledged because the piece of their identity that is a minority, is perceived more strongly than the whole of EVERY piece of their identity, the sum of which makes them human.

On a societal-level, when a piece of a person’s identity is ignored or discriminated against, society becomes more and more homogeneous, and as a result, we all lose out. Without differences, we can not learn from each other, and that makes social growth very difficult. A society with no room for the “other” will have an increasingly normative voice and with no alternate voice to offer challenge, it will become increasingly easy to make mistakes.

In what ways do you believe a community can foster equity and acceptance?
I think a big step is to refuse to ignore problems. As uncomfortable as it is, we have to acknowledge and diagnose problems before can make steps toward improvement.

Advice regarding personal conversations about race and equity issues?
Listen first. Be humble and teachable. Be ready to forgive -- race and equity are hard issues and we are guaranteed to misstep as we try to understand each other. Remember that if someone explains their feelings to you, those perceptions are real and ought to be treated as such, even if you (and many others) may see the world differently.

Which aspects of your job do you enjoy? Feel challenged by?
I am trained as an infectious disease epidemiologist, but currently working as data analyst in health informatics. My job offers me the opportunity to keep learning new statistical and data management tools, which is really great. I have the chance to work on many different types of data and I am becoming much more versatile as an analyst.

I feel most challenged by being so far removed from the public health impact. I use data to describe problems, but in my current position  I am not able to design interventions to address these problems. I challenge myself to find productive ways to redirect my skills in this new setting.

What lessons has your work life taught you?
Create space for your passions and skills, they will open doors for you to have broader impact.

What did you imagine you'd be doing today?
Chasing infectious disease outbreaks around the world and making a huge public health impact.

What is/are your passion(s)?
Connecting with people and building relationships.

What makes you stop and go “Wow!”
New babies. It’s incredible that such a tiny tiny package can hold so much potential. WOW.

Short term goal related to your passions?
One of my goals for this year is to become the strongest I’ve ever been, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
High point in Life:
THIS season. I've FINALLY developed enough self-confidence to be unapologetically me, and appreciate differences without needing to make comparisons.

Turning point in Life:
Finishing graduate school. I am now convinced that I can be disciplined enough to achieve big, hard things.

What are 15 things that make you uniquely YOU?
  1. I love to read parenting blogs. I have no children, but I can’t get enough of discussion surrounding attitudes, boundaries, trust, growth, etc – I try to apply what I learn to myself.  
  2. For the life of me, I can’t keep the letters ‘v’ and ‘f’ straight; I confuse the two in both written and spoken English.
  3. I love pasta.
  4. One day, I’d like to become an expert in something.
  5. Fall of 2014 is missing from my memory due to a concussion.
  6. I do not enjoy board games.
  7. Relationship building is one of my favorite things to ponder.
  8. I am not particularly brave, but I love trying new things.
  9. My identity is tied closely to my interracial, intercultural roots.
  10. I love sowing into our future through children and youth.
  11. I have really big hair.
  12. Cardigans!
  13. Empathy is probably my strongest  personality trait
  14. I have goals to become more articulate, self-confident, and responsible.
  15. I like bright colors.

Favorite sayings/remarks?

“Tuko pamoja” It’s a Swahili saying that can’t quite be translated to English because it’s so cultural, but it means “we are together” and it captures the idea that we rely on each other, that coming together as a society is the only way to move forward. It is the opposite of individualism and it reminds us that we have responsibility to care for one another. “Tuko pamoja”

Significant advice someone gave to you?
“Try thinking about it” -- my dad
*After reading Christine's interview a few times through, I think who she is comes down to Tuko pamoja. I love that Swahili saying.  Thank you so much Christine - I know more about you today than I did yesterday!  

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