Sunday, March 30, 2014

David has left...

 I attended a casual memorial for David a few weeks ago. He was a great guy and I'm going to miss him. He never totally lost his somewhat bizarre sense of humor or his anger at being sick. Perhaps that anger gave him a few more years.
The following is an excerpt from my book "Ice" which shares the stories of wonderful people I have met on the trail of service.
I was recently at a high school sharing a bit about HIV when one of the parents in attendance remarked that she had read that the epidemic was over. Well, the coverage seems to be over. Yes, there have been great strides and many people are living longer, though not necessarily better. That a full third of the high school kids thought they could be infected by mosquitoes speaks to what is happening in education in some schools.
The Navajo tribe, in Arizona, is experiencing an 18% increase in HIV among it teens, as reported by the N Y Times in November. The country of Greece reported a 22% increase last year.

David is somewhere in his late fifties. He works in a music store trying his best to stay current on the music of the day. He has told me that he has run out of interest in the ever-changing music craved by cash flush teenagers. He finds both very boring but he needs the job and the insurance so he dresses the part and talks the talk with his customers. He could, with a little makeup, look like her was a member of Kiss. Not as wrecked looking as Ozzy Osbourne or Keith Richards but well on the road to looking like a close relative.
David has shot or ingested so many drugs he can’t remember which were good and which were horrific. He’s shared more than one story with me on trying to force down drugs when he was so high he couldn’t differentiate between reality and the possibility that he was dreaming of taking drugs. I am pretty sure he still plays with meth every once in a while. Not my role to judge or offer my thoughts unless I am asked.  I most definitely haven’t been asked.
“I have no idea how I became positive. Before this shitty job I had been a base player in, probably, a dozen bands over the years. None were great but we made a living. One of the bands had potential but we blew it partying on the road. We partied non-stop. God only knows how many women came and went on that rickety old bus. It was cool though! It had a huge fucking Condor painted on the side that looked down a valley that looked like it had the shit bombed out of it. We were called the “Black Wings.’ It was a name that worked it’s way through the acid one night when we were broken down outside of Tempe. I remember because I woke up flat on my back next to a cactus tree. A real skinny broad was glued to me. She stuck around until we ran out of money and dope. Probably a grand mother now baking cookies for the kiddies. Funny, I think of her once in a while”
David is a crowd pleaser, particularly if we are speaking with high school or college students. I always ask him to be frugal with his language and he always promises he will. It never works out like that! I’ve only received one complaint about his non stop use of the word fuck and that was from a born again who took exception to David being in her school. She confronted him in the classroom about his language. I held my breath while I watched the wheels turning in his mind on how outrageous he was going to reply to her.  The kids were all at their most attentive when he replied. “I’m sorry. It’s just that when you are afraid all the time you like to pretend like you’re not.”
Dead silence in the classroom followed by clapping and cheering.
“I don’t know whether I want to think I became infected through contact with a woman or from picking up a dirty needle. I guess I prefer the needle, as then I don’t have to think about a woman out there infecting others. Shit, I don’t know how many times we had people in a hotel room or on the road that were sharing our needles. Never thought much about it but I wasn’t thinking clearly most of the time. Safe sex was a joke. The heaps of flesh we waded through didn’t offer objections or suggestions so you did what you did and you moved on. Crazy, huh! To be so fucked up you can’t think about what you’re doing with or to others around you.”
David became positive about four years ago.
“I was feeling shitty. More than usual. I tried to cut down on the drugs by increasing my consumption of alcohol. (Laughing) Well, that didn’t seem to be working as every morning I was tossing my cookies even before I coughed down the first smoke of the day. After about a month or this I wandered into the health clinic down in the market. I didn’t fool them for a second as their first questions were about my drug and alcohol use. Hell, I think I was loaded when I went in the clinic. I filled out their questionnaire and let them prod me a few times taking my blood. One of the nurses told me she bet I was suffering from hepatitis. Would have been nice to have kept her guessing to herself but she was kinda cute and I didn’t want to push her off. The doc shot me full of vitamins and gave me the doc talk on how I was fucking up my life blah blah blah. Heard it before. Heard it from myself more than once. As soon as I could I left with a promise of checking back in a week to get the results of the blood work. I did. Positive. A bomb dropped on me by the cute nurse and a different doc. What I recall the most was that they said it wasn’t a death sentence and I could get support etc. I recall thinking about where to score some smack while they were telling me I would have a pretty happy life if I took charge of my life. Life. Fuck. It was over.  Gimmee some happy drugs and set me adrift on Fantasy Island.”
If David shares how he became infected with an audience he is always humorous and self-effacing. He is ironic, according to himself.   Not sure I understand that but I think I get a glimpse into what he’s thinking about himself. I get it the most when he talks about the loneliness that carpets him. He’s a nice guy trying his best.

Contact us at Let Kids Be Kids if you have any comments.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"What? You want my references now?!"

You want my references now?!”

Recently I saw a posting for an interesting “social justice” job on Facebook. I tracked it as it appeared on Twitter, Tumblr, the Seattle Times, LinkedIn, the University of Washington Daily and distribution far and wide on Google.
Considering the times we live in we can presume that the company offering this part time position will be swamped with applicants.
In their posting they said applicants needed to submit a resume, letter of intent, four writing examples and three references.
A generic email address was offered with a warning that phone calls regarding the position would not be entertained.
Who knows where the documents are going or who is going to read them?
A number of Seattle companies have outsourced the collection of applicants information to unnamed companies who determine who gets in the finals. Who knows how that works!
For those of you reading this who have looked for a job you know your chances of hearing anything after you tailor make your submission is problematic.

More and more employers are asking for references up front.
Why would anyone send in one of their most valuable assets prior to deciding whether or not they wanted to work for XYZ company?
Perhaps desperation to find a job clouds strategic thinking.

Hopefully your application package will get you an interview.
The interview process is not a begging exercise but the opportunity for an applicant to decide if he/she is going to give their valuable time for whatever is being offered in return. You may or may not want to work at the company after you meet the people working there-or get a better idea of what that complex posting description really meant.
Imagine you gave your references prior to deciding the employer was the last place on earth you would labor.
Now what?
Call your references and apologize for wasting their time?
Not a good strategy.
Your references, if they are as good as you think they are, will probably back away under the deluge of calls about your skill set.
Why would you do that to them?
The way it use to work was an applicant would find a position, research the company, get a friend to request all their marketing outreach info, call their competitors, see if you could find anyone who knew anyone there, check out who is on the board, advisory board, who they do business with, so you can get their references, and get a pretty good feel on whether or not you wanted to work there.
The interview is your opportunity to ask all the questions you need answered to determine whether or not you want to full court press them with key references from your quiver of references.
All references are not equal or applicable to all jobs. You need to make a strategic decision on who you want to speak for you and exactly what you want them to say for a specific job with XYZ responsibilities.
Too many people forget that their references need to be protected, respected, honored and not distributed willy nilly to anyone who asks for them.

I offered the above opinion to a number of newly graduated university students looking for any job that will service their debt.
The majority of the group I was speaking with thought I was nuts.
“If you want the job you have to follow what they ask for.”
“Every job at the state asks for references. If you don't give them to them they won’t consider your application.”
Maybe I am nuts?

Comments can be sent to Let Kids Be Kids


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Australian Aboriginals and Teachabout

The following was received today from a man who has spent most of his life reaching out to various Aboriginal peoples across the Cape York Peninsula, Australia. 
I have been fortunate in that I have traveled with him a number of times to the back a beyond to visit, and stay, with a number of Aboriginal peoples in "their country."
He wrote the following after seeing that his introduction to Teachabout students in Melbourne led me to post a fund raising opportunity on Universal Giving.

"...Glad you are able to do something with the Teachabout mob. 
Even tho dollars may not flow, at least their outfit is now in the domain. 
Their approach has lots of potential if they can get other universities on board. There are a number of rich individuals here who are doing serious work running employment/training initiatives for Aborigines, particularly in mining. 
Universities are providing encouragement for kids from remote communities backed by funding from local community and government. 
There are very promising indicators that the attitudes of the past are slowly fading and a new mood of inclusiveness seems to be emerging, particularly among the young such as Teachabout and other student groups. 
As you will agree, there is an urgent need to educate the up and comers about the total Aboriginal picture because there is still very few who know anything much about our first Australians in a real sense, but that can change quickly if the young future educators are supported to go out to the remote places to see what you and I know so well about the culture. 
Our new prime minister is probably the best hope for improving indigenous advancement. He has always been active in helping in the communities, especially in education, and has now included Aboriginal affairs in his own department, making him the responsible minister for all that happens across the country in that area in the Northern Territory and other places way out beyond the Black Stump..."
Let Kids Be Kids, Advocacy for Those Seeking a Voice.
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Students Reaching out with a Helping Hand

On the Pennefather River. Mapoon People
Photo by M Barrett Miller
Let Kids Be Kids is supporting "Teachabout", a youth-led organization, Melbourne University, Australia, that runs a school holiday program for University students to extend and enrich learning to Aboriginal children in remote communities.

The program is currently running twice a year in Minyerri, a remote community 270km/160miles southeast of Katherine in the Northern Territory.

"Teachabout" ran its first program in 2011 with the eager Year 5s and 6s (middle School) at Minyerri School.

Terry Graham, Co-founder, Let Kids Be Kids, has spent most of his life reaching out to those in need in Australia and throughout the Pacific. M Barrett Miller, Co-founder, Let Kids Be Kids, has accompanied Mr. Graham into the outback on a number of occasions to assist his work with various "Aboriginal" tribes.

The name, "Teachabout", closely aligns with the word "tijimbat", a Kriol word from the Roper River region, which means 'teach your kids about everything'.

To see how you can help look at our page on Universal Giving.

For questions/comments email us at

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stop Bullying!!

When I visit schools one of the topics that invariably comes up is bullying. It comes up in ways that seem surprising to some of the adults in attendance. 
Bullying has been brought up in HIV/AIDS presentations, classes focusing on poverty, homelessness and presentations on strategic planning. 
Kids will share they feel bullied into having sex, bullied into taking part in activities that can get them involved with law enforcement. Kids will share they are bullied into sharing their school work, their money and even their clothing. 
Though I may not be visiting to focus on bullying I take advantage of the questions in order to help them realize they deserve better and that they have resources ready to assist them. Given the opportunity I share some of the following with students interested in curbing what goes on in their lives.
The following is an excerpt from a book I wrote entitled "Trust Kids" which promotes honoring young people, by listening and incorporating their ideas into viable solutions

(Geoff’s story)
“Three of us oversaw an after school program funded by the school district. Me, Jim and Nancy, all volunteers. Jim and Nancy were teachers. 
I ran a small boat charter, whale watch service. 
We involved kids aged 12-16 in outdoor projects focusing on the bounty of our shoreline. We had our company tour boat that we could use to cruise close to shore or to scoot out to one of the islands for different marine projects. Usually 18-20 kids showed up four times a week after school. A few more than that would join us on Saturday when we would cap the day with a meal cooked over the fire pit.
Things were running pretty good until we received a complaint from one girl’s mom that her daughter had been bullied. I’d been working with kids long enough to realize that when girls bullied each other it was much harder to recognize, and stem, then when boys would pick on a kid. We tried to watch the kids closely after the mom’s complaint but I couldn’t detect anything out of the ordinary.
The mom complained again saying she would take it to the school council if we didn’t do something about it. We didn’t know what “it” was and the mom wouldn’t allow us to talk directly to her daughter about it.  Not knowing exactly what to do we tossed it to the kids to see what they might think.
In the past we had done some readings together as a group. We had looked at various survival books with accompanying stories of survival. On afternoons that kept us indoors we would occasionally watch some of the TV survival programs to give the kids some entertainment and some education. What I had in mind was to set up the bullying issue within our group and see what the kids said. Maybe they could come up with something to read together that would give us some base line from which we could tackle the problem.
That is what we did. We pulled all the kids together one Saturday morning in our community center room, where we kept our stuff and had snacks, when the weather was inhospitable. I told them there was a terrible case of bullying going on in a school outside of Seattle. It got so bad one kid attacked another with a knife. I shared that bullying seemed to be part of growing up that we all wanted to forget, particularly if we were on the receiving end. I asked an open question to see if any of them felt like they had ever been bullied. I was shocked to see how many hands went up.
Nancy told a story of how she had been bullied at her middle school to such a level she begged her parents to change schools. She shared that she never told the school principal who was behind it. It stopped when the ringleader started to pick on another girl. She said most of the verbal attacks went on in the bathroom or at recess when teachers could not see what was going on. She said she was embarrassed that she never spoke up but understands why people are reluctant to speak up. She remembers what it was like to be afraid.
A number of kids told their stories. A fair amount of them were boys, which surprised a number of the kids, particularly the girls.
Geoff, aged 15, said he was with a group of kids back in Minnesota who used “kids in justice” which was the name given to a group of kids, randomly selected, that handed out “justice” to group members who had trespassed in various ways. He explained that one of his teachers had all the kids read, “Touching Spirit Bear” that dealt with a kid who was a very aggressive bully and thug. When he mentioned the book a number of the kids shouted out they had read it and how much they loved it. We kicked the theme around for a little while deciding we would all read the book as a group. Geoff said it had a lot of survival type info as well as the story of how this kid is dealt with by the community. I volunteered to go to the bookstore and get us enough copies to read. I said I would go while they were having lunch.
Geoff went on to explain that their justice group was based on tribal law, he forgot which tribe, in Canada that used a sacred rite of justice to correct or punish a member of the tribe who had broken their laws or offended another member of the tribe. He said the kids were all given a playing card, which they would write their name on with a marking pen. The cards were then put in the center of the group, shuffled, with four to six cards being drawn by someone who had no affiliation with the group. That would be easy as there were a number of people in the center who could do a drawing. I said I would get the cards during lunch if the kids wanted to go forward. We took a vote. One hundred percent raised their hands.
The bookstore only had five copies of  “Touching Spirit Bear” so I put in an order for twenty more. The clerk said they would arrive on Wednesday, which was good enough. I bought two sets of playing cards and an assortment of markers.
When I got back to the group they were all excited about the book and setting up some sort of peer justice league to deal with problems we had obviously missed. It was a little embarrassing to realize the kids were having issues none of us knew anything about. When we assembled I asked if we needed any leader to oversee the justice group? Most of the kids pointed to Geoff who agreed to be the “consultant.” We wrapped the day with a meal of halibut and salmon cooked on the grill. Kids tossed on spuds, onions and peppers to round out the feast.
On Wednesday morning I picked up the books. When the kids arrived after school the numbers of attendees had swelled by eleven new members. Geoff told us these kids were drawn to the group by the lively conversation at school about our group, our outdoor activities and how we were going to deal with challenges like bullying.
I passed out the books with a promise to buy ten more. We agreed to read the first two chapters by tomorrow. I allowed Geoff to form the circle, oversee the name writing on the cards, shuffle them and the invitation to one of the center’s staff to pull six cards. Once the cards were drawn Geoff read out the names asking them to step out of the circle. He explained that they were the judges but that they were not supreme. They had to further pick from the remaining cards “Advisors” who would counsel each judge on their decisions. The judges would then have to agree on any final outcome. The “advisors” could negotiate with the other judges “advisors” to try to convince that judge of a particular action. Geoff impressed on the kids that they were all in and all valuable. There was a lot of excitement and we broke feeling we could take on anything.
Geoff stuck around to talk with us about how to bring up the bullying issue. He was more diplomatic than we were, as we wanted to dump it on the table, say it was forbidden and blah blah blah if we saw or heard anything about anyone being bullied. He wanted to bring it up as a topic of conversation allowing the group to define bullying and any punishment for it.
At out next meeting Geoff ran the show. He introduced the subject drawing on the character in the book. (Most of the kids were half way through the book so we agreed we’d finish it by Saturday). He asked kids to define bullying making notes on the butcher paper he had hung up on the wall. The kids were very enthusiastic and out spoken about what they wanted to happen to anyone who bullied. They were more draconian than we would have been insisting any kid who bullies should be put out of the group, reported to the school and the police. Believe it or not just about every kid agreed to those terms. There were lesser punishments for wise remarks, swearing, rough housing etc. Some of them were quite funny involving carrying around dead fish in a burlap bag for an afternoon, cleaning the dishes in the Sound, wearing clothing backwards and being ignored by everyone for a day. The silent treatment! Geoff added one new idea just as the kids were going to break up. He had all but the judges toss their cards back in the pile. He asked Nancy to draw two cards, until they were all gone, putting them in separate stacks. He explained that these couples would look out for each other no matter what. They were more than partners – they were bound to protect and support each other. The kids loved it. Not one of them seemed disappointed by the pairings. Some boys were with a girl partner; some older kids were with a younger kid. Did not seem to matter, they all embraced it-
The book was a great success. 
We had great group activities around the characters, the relationships and the actions of each character and how we might learn from what they did in the story. Every kid played a role in the conversation. Every kid seemed to grow in confidence from meeting to meeting. Geoff didn’t have to do too much with the judges because very little needed to be judged. There were the occasional out bursts and shoving matches that resulted in a kid carrying around a bag of fish for an afternoon or doing the dishes in freezing cold water. All in all things were great.
Thanks to Geoff speaking up, and stepping up, I think we have found a way for kids to deal with most issues that they want dealt with in a fair way by their peers. For us Geoff has made our “job” much easier.”

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Saturday, March 1, 2014



Ralph isn’t his real name.
I was recently watching the “Honeymooners” seeing some similarities between Ralph Kramden and my friend.
“My” Ralph had the same kind of gruff exterior that was so transparent to “Honeymooner’s” fans.
Ralph had a great job at Amazon in the IT Department. He had been around long enough to make wise decisions with stock purchases gaining him total financial freedom should he step away from his job.
For whatever reasons he stayed at Amazon using his accumulated sick days rather than walking out the door. I can understand that he might want to feel connected to something rather than being totally on his own.
He was really sick resisting a lot of the drugs that were being tried out on him. He wasn’t handling it well.
Now, doesn’t that sound stupid! Handling it well!
Who are we to determine how someone handles anything that crashes down on him or her, as they make their way through life.
All that pap about a stiff upper lip and grin and bear it doesn’t work for everyone. Some can walk softly and some cannot.
Ralph was raging against it. He didn’t want to be at the mercy of others or depend on anyone to maintain his basic needs. He hinted often that he had limits to what he was willing to put up with-
There were not many times that Ralph joined me and others to talk to groups about challenges in our neighborhoods.
I did not always set up visits to schools, businesses strictly around HIV. Sometimes the audience was looking forward to hearing stories from people who had faced and “conquered” challenges in life. Occasionally the theme was about employment; travel in the third world, poverty issues or just getting through the day. I put on trainings around grog, drugs, and opportunities after a stretch in the pen. 
Ralph might show up if the theme of the visit was about decision-making and strategies. Most college kids didn’t get any training on putting together a strategy to get what they wanted. Many had no idea what they wanted.
If Ralph attended he would occasionally talk one on one with college-aged kids about his days in Iraq and how that experience gave him the internal permission to “go for it” when he left the battlefield. Sometimes he spoke about how his injuries contributed to his illness. Sometimes he claimed that tainted blood infected him and other times he spoke to kids without mentioning his illness at all.
I had no idea to the truth of any of it.
I was never sure what he was going to share so I set up my introduction using generalities. It was never a very smooth introduction when he was present, but no one seemed to mind.
Most people knew/know about me putting together this little book. I usually mentioned it to groups somewhere in my introduction of what was to follow. I had completed a book compiling the tales of a homeless man that had some traction in and out of schools. Quite a few church and arts groups had invited in an actor to read what they referred to as a “dramatic monologue.” That book, View from the Tent gave me the impetus to share stories of those fighting for their lives.
I asked some of the people I dealt with if they wanted to contribute anything beyond what conversations and observations I might make in the book.
Ralph wrote me the following letter with the “The Sound of Her Wings” stapled to his letter.

Hey Mick,
I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to thank you for hanging out just when I needed it. I know you have had a hard time trying to forecast what I was ever going to say, so, know I didn’t try to make it any harder on you than necessary. I think what you’re doing is a good thing.
I’ve headed back home. A little town in northern Michigan that I have not visited since my parents died there years ago. 
There’s a little lake tucked way back in the woods that I have rented for a month.
I scribbled out the following on the plane. Have fun with it-
I left Seattle because I need to make some decisions about what I am going to do about all of this.
Thanks again.

                           The Sound of Her Wings
After a couple of years of pumping yourself up every morning, as you guzzle experimental drugs, you begin to pay attention to the creeping cacophony of voices riding the roller coaster in your head.
That buzzing seems to be telling you that your efforts are probably for naught.
The call for the last dance is closer than you thought.
Can you hear the music?

You ignore the voice telling yourself that you need to “think positively” and “create” your own reality.
Do you believe that?
Can you actually make a concrete difference in the fabric of reality because you are hoping, wishing, imagining, and projecting some image of success back onto yourself through the mirror of your mind?
Does the universe care about you?
Is something out there listening to your pleas?
Isn’t the universe a torrent of violent upheaval changing its nature constantly?
Does anything out there care what happens to our planet, our solar system or you?
A dot buried on a planet with six billion dots looking for recognition and acceptance from something more distant than the adjacent dots…
You can hear the clock ticking, ticking, ticking - calling you to one last rally.
Is anyone listening?
Not likely.
Morning ritual.
Follow the dog.
Go to Starbucks.
Have a coffee and leaf through the morning newspaper. A paper that no longer holds interest beyond what might be happening out there that could help you find health. News, offering a blink of hope to hold off the HIV epidemic. Perhaps a cure?
You’ve lost your fire about politics recognizing you’ve been disappointed one too many times and don’t want to go down that road again.
You’ve become either cynical or exhausted.
You are recognizing that the same old crew of experts has elbowed their way onto committees, studies, and panels to decide what is best for the rest of us. Their best may not be good enough but you’re tired of trying to ramp up your arguments to a level beyond a Gandhi quote that is either totally relevant or totally irrelevant.
Doesn’t matter.
The person you are talking to isn’t really listening.
You watch the unfolding mini dramas.
Illegal parking followed by sprints into the coffee shop!
Some are texting or conversing on their iphones in their race to claim the coffee prize.
You watch the anxious feeling of disappointment on some when they realize they will have to wait their turn to order and disappear back into the morning night.
Going somewhere quickly.
Somewhere important.
Somewhere where some one pays them for whatever it is they do out there in the dark.
Morning has not broken.
There is hardly a glance at you, or others, who regularly occupy time and space in little corner tables.
Reading the paper.
People are banging away on laptops, ipads or iphones in terror of interacting with anyone else sitting close.
A nod.
A good morning!
No conversation.
What if they ask you about what you do when you’re not skimming the surface at the coffee shop!? Tell them you’re fighting for your life? No.
Keep your head down.
Watch from an angle.
Women enter and exit without a glance in your direction.
You are not there anymore than the little man that dropped off the newspapers earlier in the dark.
You watch some of the ladies take two coffees out to someone waiting expectantly.
You are envious.
You are lonely.
You are on your own.
You are scared that this is it.
You fight back with a jolly euphuism about yourself to yourself.
You maneuver to convince yourself that you are really one of the good ones and they are all missing out by not swooping you up in a collective hug.
Maybe you’re wrong.
You are now back in that place where you started hearing your voice of reality telling you the party is just about over for you.
You push that aside grasping to the life raft of chance and hope.
If you just keep moving something will happen.
Keep moving.
Keep trying. Keep praying!
To whom – for what?
For a day without pain, money, power, prestige, women, stuff?
What would you do with it besides giving it all away?
You dance with memories of times when you were significant, cherished, listened to, admired, envied and loved for a time.
Before you were sick.
Were you needed?
Actually needed? For a spell. Perhaps.
No one seems to need you now-
You don’t even know what to bring to the party anymore.
Let tenderness run rampant with your memories.
They are yours.
Be free-remember all those hugs that have gone the way of smoke.
The promises that echo off the canyons in the shady places!
Throw light on all the good times.
 Skip over all the blunders and faulty steps that inhibited your journey.
Feed yourself with a soft light knowing that it was all as it should have been.
You were a passenger on the wave that carried you to where you are today.
Lean into the curl and ride it one more time.
Shout out in joy as you head towards the beach.
The crash will be silent.
She will come for you when you are ready.
Look for her.
She is more beautiful than you ever could have imagined.
Everything else is illusion.

That’s it. I never heard from him again.

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