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Debate Class – 2nd Session

We learned a lot in our second week of debate class. I learned about the potential we’re unlocking in our clients, and things that we’re doing that are maybe stifling that potential. The clients learned about how the topics we’re debating have deeper meaning, and how important it is to “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

Each cohort that goes through U-Turn Permitted has a Class President. This is someone who has the final say on group decisions and can generally shape the focus and direction of the class. Each cohort also typically has one very outspoken individual. We currently have a few, but one in particular comes to my mind. This individual speaks the most during class, has opinions about everything and, as distracting as it is, can gain everybody’s attention easily. Our second session is when I realized that I had buy-in from both the Class President and, as I call him, the Speaker of the Cohort.

With each moment I spend in Debate class, I realize more and more that the support of these two individuals is essential to achieving our goals. They help shape the mentality of the class. They can get everyone to focus when attention spans wear thin. They can rally participation in an activity when at first it seems childish or embarrassing. I know now that I cannot take their support for granted.

Another very important lesson I’ve learned is that I need to have a rock-solid explanation of the relationships between Claims, Warrants, and Evidence on day one, and review that definition on a consistent basis throughout the entirety of the class. The biggest conflict between clients came not from any particularly charged topic, but from a disagreement about the definition of a warrant. This needs to be explained and reaffirmed as often as possible.

Week two is when we really began to dive into actual debate topics. At first I was nervous about some of the more consequential topics – the government shutdown, mandatory minimums, universal healthcare, etc. I quickly learned not to be. Our clients don’t want to be protected from these conversations, they want a seat at the table. No one flew off the handle. They calmly expressed their beliefs and their reasoning for those beliefs. They were articulate and informed, and sometimes quite passionate, but never unruly.

The most satisfying moments have come when a client changes their minds in regards to a topic we’re discussing. On day two, we were discussing congressional term limits during an exercise. It goes like this – one group gives two claims and warrants in favor of term limits, the other two groups work to refute those claims and warrants. I hadn’t told them to use any evidence. The instructions were simply to come up with the opposing warrants.

I started to get frustrated in the middle of the exercise when I saw that an entire team had their phones out. I was prepared to ‘call them out’ when I went over and saw why they had all turned their heads down to their screens – they had pulled up scholarly articles about the constitutionality of term limits! Without being directed, they had taken it upon themselves to verify their warrants with evidence and research. I was thrilled! After their evidence-backed discussion, several of them were excited to say that they had changed their minds on whether they support or don’t support congressional term limits. When I explained to them that our discussion wasn’t just about those term limits, and that it was more broadly about the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities of voters, they were engaged and focused. It turns out that learning is universally exciting.

The class is now deep into the preparation stage for our own debates – we’ll be doing them Lincoln-Douglas style. Our clients have learned the best way to research a topic, what an authoritative source of evidence is, how to mark up a text, and although I wish we had more time on it, how to research our opponent’s side so we can best refute it – seeking first to understand. The next blog will cover research day and the actual debates, with the addition of a wrap-up for our first cohort. For now, I am happy to say that progress is consistent and positive, and I’m still sure of the importance of what we’re doing.

Debate Class – 1st Session

There are so many ideas that seem brilliant on paper but are terrible in execution. On the precipice of anything innovative, fear of the unsuccessful execution of a successful idea is palpable.

We’ve done the research that says we should try it, we have approval from the appropriate parties, and we have a plan in place and the space to execute it. In every measurable sense of the word, we’re ready. But will it work?

Those were my thoughts as I walked into the first day of teaching Debate Class at the North Lawndale Employment Network. I was excited and energized, and I was absolutely terrified.

Now, being on the other side of that terror, I can confidently report that the first class was a complete success, and it’s all because of our amazing clients. They were engaged and curious, vocal and attentive. Our first exercise was getting together with partners and doing introductory speeches about each other. This was partly an exercise in public speaking, and mostly an exercise in helping me learn names. One of our clients lived in Germany for 3 years. Another wants to start his own brick-laying business. These memorable quirks help get an insight into a client’s motivations and desires, and help me connect with them on a deeper level, hopefully making me a better instructor.

Next, we learned the very basic structure of an argument. Claim, Warrant, Evidence. Throughout the process, I slowly was introducing the different types of debate topics we would cover. Some of them were trivial – Dogs are better than cats, Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time, etc. These elicited some small reactions, mostly in jest.

Some of them were more consequential – CPS students should be required to wear uniforms. This topic started a conversation going gang affiliation and youth, and I learned a few things.

A lot of the topics we discussed, and will discuss, have a direct impact on our client’s lives. We discussed the charge from democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy that Chicago Mayor Emanuel continues to deliberately push marginalized people of color out of Chicago. This was brought up by a client, not by me. Even though this took our learning off the rails little bit, it never got too far. Quite a few clients, seated closely to each other, were very passionate about this topic. They were talking loudly, proudly, and with conviction, but never with anger. They simply wanted to be heard.

I took advantage of the enthusiasm. “What evidence could be used to back up Mr. Kennedy’s claim, and what evidence could be used against it?” Hands went up. I don’t need to go into the details here, but the types of evidence the clients suggested had varying degrees of effectiveness. Some were anecdotal, but some involved statistics and insights that I had seen from professionals. They were getting it. In our next class, we’ll be learning how to research your argument, and we’ll be using the recent government shutdown as a focal point.

Although interruptions are bound to happen, especially when working with individuals who have been taught to hold their opinions proudly, we’re still moving forward. I even got the entire class to agree that they would try to argue for something they fundamentally disagreed with. “That’s what makes you a better debater!” one of the clients told his classmates.

Although the first session got me extremely excited for the future of this class, the best moment by far happened the next day. There was a client that missed class the day before, and another client was teaching her what we had learned. There aren’t going to be any tests, she didn’t miss any homework. They’re just that excited. And that’s how I know that we’re working with some really incredible people on a really incredible project.


-Conner Kerrigan, Business Solutions Manager & Debate INstr

In Memory of Cook County Commissioner Robert B. Steele (June 29, 1962 – June 19, 2017)

Two years ago at NLEN’s Sweet Beginnings Tea our beloved friend Commissioner Steele was honored with Creating a Community That Works award. Mr. Steele LOVED North Lawndale and public service and took great pride in being a voice and servant leader to our community. He had a heart and passion for our work at NLEN and would spend his entire day with us, giving out Thanksgiving turkeys, or speaking at our milestone graduations and always making silly jokes, just to light up people who may have been down on their luck and see someone smile. He really loved Sweet Beginnings, and secured our Salt Creek Sweet Beginnings apiary with the county, promoted our beelove® honey everywhere he traveled and each year for the past 4 years. This past Tea, he insisted Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle attend the Sweet Beginnings Tea with him, and she did! Every commissioner understood how proud he was of North Lawndale.  Mr. Steele surely will be missed and never be forgotten for his tireless compassionate devotion for the communities he served.  

  Here is the official statement from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle:”

NLEN Participating in CFED Racial Wealth Divide Initiative

North Lawndale Employment Network has been invited to participate in the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) Racial Wealth Divide Initiative to build High Impact Nonprofits of Color.

This multi-city initiative, in partnership with Georgetown University’s Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership and funded with support of JPMorgan Chase Foundation, will provide local organizations of color with the training and support needed to increase capacity and strengthen community asset-building. It has also produced reports and information on the local impacts of hte racial wealth gap. Click here to view the report on the racial wealth gap in Chicago.

NLEN's Program Vision Board for CFED

View NLEN’s CFED Vision Board

The goals of the Building High Impact Nonprofits of Color Initiative are to:

  • assist in developing high-impact nonprofit organizations of color focused on advancing economic opportunity;
  • build an understanding of the intersection of income, assets and the racial wealth divide;
  • establish networks across sectors to have lasting local influence and advance social change;
  • improve relationships between organizations of color, local organizations and asset-building institutions; and,
  • equip organizations of color to participate and become a leading voice in local and national asset-building conversations.

NLEN Awarded $50,000 NBCUniversal Foundation Grant

NBCUniversal Announces 2016 21st Century Solutions Winners

November 21, 2016

Encouraging creativity and the drive to invent the future are ingrained in our culture. We are proud to support organizations that are pursuing new ideas to help build stronger communities.  For a fifth consecutive year, the NBCUniversal Foundation will spotlight and invest in non-profit organizations that are challenging conventional thinking by implementing innovative programs to address some of our nation’s greatest challenges within the areas of media, technology for good, civic engagement, jobs and economic empowerment, education and environment.

This year, in partnership with NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, the NBCUniversal Foundation’s annual grant program, 21st Century Solutions, will award $1.2 million dollars to 30 non-profit organizations located in 10 of our NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations markets to help them implement new and innovative programs.

Organizations that are using technology to help youth build their skills in digital journalism, are fostering entrepreneurship abilities and the pursuit of advanced careers among young students through the use of STEM principles (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), and are helping individuals with disabilities navigate the working and social world through the use of technology, are some of the examples of how this year’s 21st Century Solutions grant winners are helping to move their local communities forward.

The NBCUniversal Foundation looks forward to supporting this year’s winners through the 21st Century Solutions grant program as each organization continues to find creative and impactful ways to make a difference in our communities. You can read more about the winning organizations below.

Grand Prize Winners

NBC 4 New York / Telemundo 47 New York

In New York The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation will receive $100,000 for their Farm to Early Care Program. The Farm to Early Care program works with early care centers to swap out frozen and processed produce with fresh fruits and vegetables from upstate farmers so that preschoolers across Brooklyn can eat regionally sourced, fresh produce. The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation is tackling chronic health disparities and inequities in food access impacting low income and communities of color by driving community-level change that not only increases access to healthy foods through farm to institutional sourcing and farmers markets, but educates residents, increases environmental awareness, and renews their connection to the land and cultural traditions.

NBC4 Southern California / Telemundo 52 Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, GlobalGirl Media will receive $100,000 for their Global Girl Media Academy (GGMA) that will train young, diverse women in digital media journalism. The Academy will help girls develop story ideas, write and edit blogs, do research on their chosen topics, work together in teams, and learn digital camera, sound and editing. GGMA will focus on projects/videos through a gender lens, including: education and careers, poverty and social justice, violence against women and dating violence, sexual and reproductive health, health and wellness, financial literacy, the environment, girls and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

NBC 5 Chicago / Telemundo Chicago

The North Lawndale Employment Network in Chicago will receive $50,000 for their Pathways for Women program. Pathways serves extremely low-income women with felony convictions, primarily African American and living on Chicago’s West Side by equipping them for self-employment. Pathways provides female returning citizens with training and support so they can rejoin their families, address post-incarceration emotional issues, and earn a livable income, either through employment or entrepreneurship.

NBC10 Philadelphia / Telemundo 62 Philadelphia

Mighty Writers in Philadelphia will receive $50,000 to support their El Futuro program. El Futuro’s bi-lingual foundation, which focuses on educating predominantly Spanish-speaking students in Philadelphia, helps students think and write with clarity through an academically approved software. Two groups, grades 2-4 and 5-8, will be evaluated on their writing skills through academically approved software, and then advised on areas they need to improve through Mighty Writers.

NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth / Telemundo 39 Dallas-Fort Worth

In the Dallas Fort-Worth area, Girls Inc. of Tarrant County will receive $50,000 for their new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Programming. Girls Inc. of Tarrant County is creating Programming for the most underrepresented group in STEM learning and careers — Latina and African American females — to become interested in STEM education. Girls Inc.’s research-based programming and mentoring delivered by professional adults builds girls’ self-esteem and self-confidence, teaches girls the skills to resist participation in harmful behaviors, and creates a support system of positive mentors and peers.

NBC Bay Area / Telemundo 48 Area de la Bahia

In the Bay Area, Oakland’s Center for Media Change will receive $50,000 for their Hack the Hood program. Hack the Hood’s core program is a 6-week, 168 hour immersive boot camp where low-income youth of color ages 16-25 learn tech, marketing, design, and entrepreneurship skills by building websites for local small businesses.  Within two weeks of starting the program, youth are performing paid technology work and developing a portfolio they can use to secure internships, freelance gigs, and entry-level work at $18-25/hr. Each year, over 100 Hack the Hood youth are empowered creators of change in their communities and advance their own learning and earning power.

NBC4 Washington

In Washington, D.C. The Arc of Northern Virginia will receive a 21st Century Solutions grant for their EmployMate mobile application. EmployMate is an app curriculum available on iPads, tablets, and smartphones that provides supports for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The app acts as a virtual travel trainer and job coach and will provide a fully and easily customizable tool to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities navigate the working and social world by themselves.

NBC 6 / Telemundo 51 Miami

The YMCA of South Florida will receive $50,000 for their Mobile Aquatics Program. The Mobile Aquatics Program/Drowning Prevention is a vital service for low-income, minority communities and focuses on teaching non-swimmers skill development in the water. The program comprises a highly skilled, culturally competent team of Aquatics professionals who educate communities about the importance of swim safety and teach free swim lessons to the children. Several thousands of students across South Florida will benefit from this program, where many disadvantaged youth and their parents do not know how to swim.

NBC 7 San Diego

The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank will receive $50,000 for their Warehouse Energy Conservation Plan. The Warehouse Energy Conservation Plan is a no food wasted/energy efficient model that will help the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank (JCSDFB) with energy cost savings so that they can continue to provide for low-income clientele. The Warehouse Energy Conservation Plan aims to install LED lighting, energy-efficient refrigeration controls, 1,400 solar panels on the roof, and a state-of-the-art recycling and composting center at the Food Bank. By doing so, the JCSDFB will save hundreds of thousands of dollars and be able to spend those resources on millions of meals for their low-income clientele.

NBC Connecticut

The Village for Families & Children Words Count program in Connecticut will receive a $50,000 21stCentury Solutions Grant. Words Count is a short-term, parent-directed, play-based program that builds brains, creativity, and caregiver-child bonds. The one-on-one coaching offered by a trained Literacy Coach promotes parental behaviors that stimulate early language, cognitive, and social development.

Runners Up

NBC 4 New York / Telemundo 47 New York

Move for Hunger, The Multi-Family/ Apartment Program: $50,000

Global Kids, The Hack for Impact Lab: $50,000

NBC4 Southern California / Telemundo 52 Los Angeles

School on Wheels, Digital Learning Center: $50,000

TreePeople, Cool City Model: $50,000

NBC 5 Chicago / Telemundo Chicago

Enlace Chicago, Little Village Community Portal: $25,000

Chicago Youth Centers, CYC Maker Lab: $25,000

NBC10 Philadelphia / Telemundo62 Philadelphia

Camden City Garden Club, Growlab II: $25,000

Norris Square Neighborhood Project, Raíces de Cambio: $25,000

NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth / Telemundo 39 Dallas-Fort Worth

Heart of a Champion, The Texas Mentoring Initiative: $25,000

Volunteer Center Of North Texas, $25,000

NBC Bay Area / Telemundo 48 Area de la Bahia

Hispanic Foundation Of Silicon Valley, The Family College Success Center: $25,000

Juma Ventures, Youth Talent Pipeline: $25,000

NBC4 Washington

Montgomery Comm TV Inc, Multimedia Journalism Explorer’s Program: $25,000

Hopkins House a Center for Children and Families, Youth Speaks: $25,000

NBC 6 / Telemundo 51 Miami

Breakthrough Miami, The STEM Academies: $25,000

The Education Fund, Food Forests: $25,000

NBC 7 San Diego

The New Children’s Museum, Innovators Lab: $25,000

NAMI San Diego, ALFRED: $25,000

NBC Connecticut

The Center for Family Justice, Individual Empowerment and Family Strengthening Services: $25,000

Children’s Center of Hamden, Project Discovery – Greenhouse Addition: $25,000