Thursday March 8, 2018

The Pursuit of Purpose

By Karlos Marshall

The Conscious Connect, Inc. is a non-profit organization in Dayton, Ohio dedicated to school-age and neighborhood literacy. The Conscious Connect creates literary oases in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods and communities to #EndBookDeserts.

In celebration of Women's History Month, the University of Dayton Women's Center and the Wright State University's Women's Center have partnered with The Conscious Connect to collect 1000 books focusing on women in STEM, historical figures, and strong women role models, with an emphasis on racial and ethnic minorities. It's critical young girls and women see themselves represented in books, and have access to positive role models of trail-blazing women. Visit our Amazon Wish List for suggestions and direct ordering: bit.ly/WHMBookdrive.

From a very early age, we begin to ask our children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” We believe that we are creating a world of possibilities, but this preconditioned thought is not so ubiquitous. This approach may be one to champion for a select few, but not the ones I knew and called friends growing up. For many, a vision of opportunities was clouded by a daily forecast that was absent of sunny optimism. Children define themselves at very early ages by the job titles they will eventually hold — or not. In higher education, we routinely ask our students, “what do you want to major in?” or “what kind of job do want?” This practice has become so second nature—that even when we ask a student to “tell us who you are” — most students answer solely with their name and discipline of study. Their responses are often unintentionally dismissive of their personhood and the value they can contribute to a larger community. I am certainly a dreamer, but I do understand the necessity of employment and degree declaration. However, those questions cannot be ones that are devoid of individual purpose within community. They cannot be devoid of what we call vocation at the University for the Common Good.

Vocation was not a term that was used readily within my household or community growing up, but purpose was. My pursuit of purpose started while attending Wittenberg University and continued into graduate school at the University of Dayton. The question I asked myself was not what I wanted to major in, or what type of job I wanted. Rather, it was, “what kind of impact did I want to have in the world?” This lead to the creation of The Conscious Connect, Inc. in 2015 during my last year of graduate studies. That year, I became the Co-Founder and President of what is now one of the region’s fastest growing nonprofits. Our organization reimagines and redevelops underutilized spaces for the purposes of education, culture and peace, as the nation’s only organization with the primary objective of creating literary oases to end urban book deserts.

Without a brick and mortar structure to operate from, we were challenged to be creative and innovative to meet the needs of the community. For us, there was no better place to start than neighborhood barber shops and beauty salons because of the informal education that occurs between the sounds of blades and scissors. We started creating literacy stations called “The Root” in one small business after another. Today, these literacy stations have found homes in more than 65 partnered locations. When our organization launched in January of 2016, we became the first organization nationally to expand the ‘read while you wait’ concept to beauty salons. All of the national attention related to similar initiatives were focused exclusively on boys and barber shops. Despite that, we knew we could not lose sight of gender equity because educating the girls in our community was equally as paramount.

Many university and community partnerships later, we have launched “Words on Wheels,” a cargo-book bike that carries 400 pounds of books at a time. Additionally, we have installed a “House of Knowledge” that resembles a little library at the Wesley Community Center. By 2019, we will be distributing more than 20,000 free books annually through our various program and initiatives across the Greater Miami Valley region. Arguably more important than anything else, we pride ourselves on making these books culturally-relevant and age-appropriate — so that the children can visualize a future they may not see everyday. We hope that children read these books during their pursuit of purpose and ask, “what kind of impact do I want to have in the world?”

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