Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the category “People that are Making a Difference”

The Kids Are Awesome!

Meet Tim Balz, a high school kid with a talent and a vision. He could have invested his time and skill to make money and created a start up or be recruited by a big company. If that is what he wants after college, I hope he gets it. What he is doing now is simply awesome.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Two Birthday Wishes

Today is my 49th birthday and what better way to spend it than blogging! Okay, I have other plans, so I have lifted from a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Forgive me.

I have two requests for you to consider on this auspicious day – one self-serving and the other philanthropic:

1) If you have read any of my novels, please pop over to Amazon.com (or Amazon.co.uk if you reside over the pond) and leave a review. I am less than 100 days from the release of my next epic fantasy novel so any review for Books 1 or 2, or my social justice novels, would help lay a great foundation for my next launch.

The First Decree-hi resolution

2) Consider a small investment at KIVA, a micro-loan non-profit that empowers the most impoverished to climb out of the poverty spiral in a sustainable and successful way. It truly is a remarkable agency. Below is an edited version of what I wrote a while back.

We can change the world. The problem is that there is so much to do, it can just feel so overwhelming. A few weeks ago my eldest son (then 11) and I saw a newspaper article with a multimillion dollar lottery winner. “Imagine how that could change your life,” I muttered.

My son decided to fantasize what we would do with a few million dollars. Admittedly, owning our own house, replacing our shuddering geriatric car, and a basketball backboard came first.

But then he began talking of projects to help people. We had recently met someone who runs a bakery on the East Coast that employs homeless and impoverished people. My next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is about homeless war veterans and my son began to describe how we could create a similar project for such people in San Francisco. As all youngsters do, he soon got caught up in the details.

I told him how a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, had created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit micro-finance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. For more on the mechanics of micro-finance, click here.

For just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring. Recently, I was invited to two birthday celebrations. The celebrants requested either not to receive gifts, or to donate to a charity in their name. I had a great time investing in Kiva on their behalf.

Join me to help change the world – one birthday gift at a time. Thank you.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

John Legend – Already A Legend

I met John Legend at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in San Diego a month ago where I first met Emmanuel Jal.  He is an amazing performer and you can read his already impressive resume here.

But you might just be better off listening to some of his hits.

In a world where so many of our young (and older) musicians and artists are so insular, Legend brings an impressive track record of leveraging his music and talent for social justice.

He has helped promote campaigns in Africa where he raised money for a village in Ghana where people were living in extreme poverty. He cites Professor Jeffrey Sachs‘ book, The End of Poverty, as his inspiration to improve the lives of people living under the poverty line and he started his “Show Me Campaign” in 2007.

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In May 2007 he partnered with Tide laundry detergent to raise awareness about the need of families in St. Bernard Parish, (Slidell, LA) one of the most devastated areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. I had brought a group of students two months earlier to work in this parish. Legend spent a day folding laundry at the Tide “clean start” mobile laundromat and meeting with that community.

He possesses talent, organizational ability and the energy to inspire others to get involved. I truly felt in the presence of a man with a keen awareness of what is going on in the world and the recognition that we can overcome these injustices and create a better world.

images-4 It is why I find working with millennials to be so incredibly exciting. It gives me hope for the future.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Child Soldiers

Last week, I posted about Emmanuel Jal who was a child soldier in South Sudan and has become a famous hip-hop singer and tireless social activist. I also posted about an amazing British woman, Emma McCune, who rescued over 150 children being used as child soldiers.

This stimulated me to read up more about war children, or child soldiers. There is a stunning estimate of over 300,000 trained children fighting in over 50 conflicts around the world. Emmanuel Jal recounts his story in War Child – A Child Soldier’s Story and there is the more famous – A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. After watching Beah on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, we immediately bought his book, more to show recognition to a fine young man than a desire to read. I couldn’t find that interview, but this one is very good

There is an organization dedicated to abolish the use of children as soldiers. War Child International believes that “Children and young people have the right to grow up free from fear, violence, and to develop their full potential and contribute to a peaceful future for themselves and others.”

Their mission: War Child International exists to create the conditions that will fulfill the protection, development and survival rights for children and young people who are living with or recovering from the effects of armed conflict. We believe in the power of children and young people, and so will ensure they participate in decisions which affect their lives so that their voices will be heard and their contributions made to count.

This is a cause we do not see in the West unless some exceptional young person like Jal or Beah come to light. But it is an unacceptable phenomenon and has no place in a civilized world. It must stop now. 

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter

Emma McCune

Last week, I posted about Emmanuel Jal, who was forced to become a child soldier in South Sudan and has gone on to become a famous hip-hop singer and tireless social activist.

Jal was rescued by Emma McCune, who I discovered was a remarkable woman. Emma was born in India in 1964, but brought up in the UK where she graduated from the University of London. In 1985, at the age of 21, Emma flew to Australia and back in a single-engine, light aircraft with a friend.

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Two years later, she went to Sudan, then in a civil war to volunteer for the British organization Volunteer Services Overseas. She was forced to return to England the following year but by 1989 she managed to return, this time working for Street Kids International, which founded or re-opened more than 100 village schools in South Sudan.

She met and married Riek Machar, one of two leading South Sudan guerrilla commanders, and worked to promote his organization after Street Kids International fired her. She died in a car crash, pregnant, in 1992. Emma’s mother, Maggie C, published her story in Till the Sun Grows Cold, and journalist Deborah Scroggins wrote an unauthorized biography of her called Emma’s War.

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Emma is seen as a controversial figure because of her marriage, but she unequivocably worked to save more than 150 war children in Sudan including hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal. At the APF conference that I attended, he performed his tribute to an incredibly brave woman: “Emma McCune” was recorded for his 2008 album Warchild.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Emmanuel Jal – Child Soldier, Hip-Hop Artist, Hero

I had the honor to meet world recognized Hip-Hop artist, Emmanuel Jal, at the Association for Professional Fundraisers conference last week. Jal is from South Sudan and was taken and trained as a child soldier. His father joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and, when he was about seven years old, soldiers loyal to the government killed his mother. 

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A number of boys decided to try and escape and in their three month trek he saw many of his friends die. A British aid worker, Emma McCune rescued him. Jal was 11 years old then and McCune adopted him and smuggled him to Kenya, where Emmanuel attended school in Nairobi. McCune died in a road accident a few months later, but her friends (Madeliene Bunting and Anna Ledgard) helped Emmanuel to continue his studies. However, after McCune died, her husband Machar did not allow Emmanuel to stay with him, and the boy was forced to live in the slums. 

images-8Jal explained how he discovered music, how it became a refuge, a way to process and express what he had gone through and as a powerful tool for both the spiritual and political.

Today he is a famous Hip-Hop artist, known around the world. But he has never forgotten his past and is a tireless ambassador and activist for social justice and human rights. He broadcasts his message of peace and equality through his music and through various NGOs he has founded and involved himself with.

I chose to show this tribute that Emmanuel wrote in memory of Emma McCune, and preferred a live version over the studio one, even though the quality is not great. But it shows his energy and presence.

And he had 4,000 people at my conference (the majority, I am guessing not into Hip Hop) on their feet answering his call for peace. Emmanuel Jal has every right to be bitter and cynical. Instead he is a visionary: “I’m a war child / I believe I’ve survived for a reason / To tell my story, to touch lives.”

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.

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Standing Tall – A Salute to Amar’e Stoudemire

I enjoy when men and women of wealth and fame are willing to leverage their money and time to help create a better world. Brad Pitt is a fine example with the work he does in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward, a place close to my heart.

When such a person comes from a low background himself, there is something even more satisfying. Amar’e Stoudemire, the power forward of the NBA’s New York Knicks is such a man.

Through his foundation, Amar’e has been promoting frameworks to encourage children, especially boys, to “creatively inspire a new generation to read.”

Mission: The Amar’e Stoudemire Foundation is a youth outreach program designed to creatively inspire and help at-risk youth to succeed with the goal of eradicating poverty through education.  By providing education, support, supplies, tools and donations, the Amar’e Stoudemire Foundation helps each child thrive and achieve goals well beyond even their own expectations.

 Now he has taken this theme one step further and has himself written two books for children.

A few weeks ago, I saw a great interview with him on The Daily Show. I couldn’t find it to share with you but I found this endearing interview with him.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTz__3swlPQ

I’m sorry for your loss,my friend. But despite all the obstacles, you stand tall and not just on the basketball court.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

RABMAD – Helping Authors Who Give Back

A fellow author visiting my website suggested this organization. It features authors who commit to donating a percentage of their royalties to a charity or cause of their choice. Here is how they describe themselves.

“What exactly is RABMAD? Well, other than being a semi-cool (and not completely forgettable) acronym, RABMAD stands for Read a Book, Make a Difference.  Shortening the name helps in a lot of ways: number of characters typed to arrive here, space on bumper stickers, etc. (For the record, you can also get here the intuitive, long-hand way—http://www.ReadABookMakeADifference.com)

RABMAD is the brainchild of author R.S. Guthrie. The concept is not new, however. Giving back. Returning success to the people.

Founder of Read A Book, Make A Difference

Writers making a difference.

The concept is simple. Most avid readers are going to purchase another book. Why not give them an additional option of supporting some up and coming writers, knowing that in doing so, their hard-earned dollars not only get them a great read, but will also help someone in need with their plight?

That is what RABMAD is all about. Promoting authors who are giving back from the sales of their books. Writers who give a percentage of their net proceeds to their own chosen cause,  non-profit, or charity.

What you will find on this site is an ever-growing portfolio of talented writers who care. You will be able to browse their bios, their books, and their causes. RABMAD will link you to their author websites, Amazon pages, twitter following, and other author-related places.”

Check out some of their authors and help those helping others.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Business Mensch

On Monday, I wrote about taking the Mensch Pledge, a desire to see a new code of business ethics which, had they been in place, might have prevented the current, painful recession we are experiencing. The inspiration for this came from the founder of Noah’s Bagels – Noah Alper – and his book – Business Mensch.

What’s important is providing for your family, conducting yourself with integrity, and living a life of meaning. Noah Alper – Business Mensch.

I am somewhat skeptical when I read memoirs of successful businessmen sprouting ideals and values. Probably I feel a pang of jealousy. It’s easy to take a shot at people who have made it financially – they can afford to take the moral high ground.

I certainly have little time for Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) or Ray Kroc (McDonalds). Exploiting workers, abusing animals, destroying the world or creating unhealthy lifestyles just doesn’t cut it. Perhaps working in the non-profit world balances the lack of acquiring wealth with a healthy dose of narcissistic self-righteousness.

Noah Alper began and built up Noah’s Bagels from a single bagel shop in Berkeley. Having read his book, I think he is different. He instilled a code of values that begins with his own actions. Being an observant Jew, Alper anchors his moral business code in Judaism. This certainly excited me as a Jew. In a time when so many people’s lives were ruined by a greedy and unethical businessman who happened to be Jewish, it is important for a few Tzadikim (righteous men and women) to stand up in the business world.

Since coming to the US I have found my managerial style questioned on a number of occasions. Many times in this thin treatise, Business Mensch, I found myself nodding in agreement with his values and principles and remembering similar scenarios.

I found it strangely validating that Alper, an unapologetic entrepreneur, believes in living by such values in his daily practice. And values are only worth something if they are truly upheld on a daily basis.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com.

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