A little context is possibly needed for the following post from last week  DEEPdt I See You Challenge.  The post shared was of an invitation to my school’s parent population to join in on a “real” DEEP design thinking challenge.  I say real because it is an endeavor and intention to go beyond a “gift-giving/wallet redesign”  challenge to help those to get some initial bits of understanding. When I pitched this grassroots idea to Dr. Jacobsen we conversed some points about this endeavor (a little paraphrasing in progress):

An approach of this type of challenge serves three objectives:  1. Provides our parent community a tangible and collaborative experience to learn DEEP design thinking. 2. Our community of Sandy Springs is not only strengthened by this challenge, our values and priorities to those around us are further deepened and connected. 3. When all said in done, those who participate in this challenge, will not only have a better grasp of our students experiences and learning, they will have a better grasp of the DEEP design thinking methodology which thus can be applied (like a ripple effect) down the line.

Again the above is  paraphrased a bit yet I believe it’s an accurate hope and desire for those who have joined in the DEEPdt I See You challenge.  I am pretty sure Dr. Jacobsen is not as metaphor happy as I am when it comes to communicating.  Anyway, this blog post is about context, so let me shed a few more rays of light onto this “I See You” Challenge.

Sandy Springs is a city, a very successful, promising, and highly regarded “new” city in the US.  Yet, besides the two skyscrapers affectionately called King & Queen, is really resembles a suburban community like all the others. And of course, there is not a homeless issue or even poverty type need in this space. Some of Sandy Springs zip codes are among the wealthiest in the US.  As we discovered on Saturday at the only “food pantry” in SS during our Needfinding Fieldwork, there is a 5 mile stretch of road (Hwy 9) from just beyond inside I 2-85 and down Roswell Rd. to the river boundary that is the fastest growing Poverty population in the entire United States. Again, there is an understanding that there is not a poverty type need in this city yet if you look, you will find need almost everywhere…. 

“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”

― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

On January 6, 2014, a day that will live in infamy in some of MV students memories, our school decided to have school that day even though it was like a balmy 6 degrees.  Go Figure.   Well, at least they now have that “I had to walk 2 miles to school in 2 feet of snow almost every day…” story to tell their own children  And on this memorable day, a parent for some reason opened her eyes while driving through the neighborhood during her errand run.  It was there she saw a man we would all come to know as Prentice (turns out Prentice is a former hair stylist– we just recently found out).  And she offered Prentice things she had available to her at that time. Later, she would offer him a blanket, a cup of coffee, fast food…  And soon she would be told politely by Prentice, “Thank you but I don’t need that.”  “Thank you, but I don’t eat fast food.  I like to cook my own food in the nearby park.”  And I would like to say that being immeshed in the MV culture and bathing in the kool-aid of DEEP design thinking made her reframe her approach, but I truly think it was a natural reframe that all people have within themselves to make with time… She stopped offering things she thought he needed, and asked the following, “What do you need? How might I help you?”

(IMO) It was this reframe that I believe was the 2nd most impactful encounter she had with Prentice.  Prentice replied, “I need bug spray.. I need a tarp…  I need money to buy food from the grocery store.”  This reframe of the question made a huge difference.  The most impactful encounter (at least it was for me when listening to this story) came one day when she was driving through traffic and she saw Prentice.

 “I was driving home from MV on a Friday afternoon around 5:00 pm or so on Mount Vernon Hwy. There was a lot of traffic on the road as it was rush hour on a Friday. I saw Prentice sitting on the stone wall off to the side of the road in one of his ‘usual” spots, near the Hyatt Place hotel. So I quickly pulled over to the right hand turn lane and stopped to talk to him for a quick minute. I rolled down my window and gave him some cash to get food over the weekend as I would not see him until Monday. It was a quick stop, but with all the busy-ness all around and seemingly no one noticing him, I just felt compelled to tell him, “I know a lot of cars are driving past you, but I want you to know, I see you, even if it you drive an intelligent car.” He responded back with “I know and God sees you.”

Context is important. Framing is important. Action is important. And so is pausing and letting someone know you see them. find more info on intelligent cars here. 

I hope these beams of light have given you enough of a “teaser” context to this challenge to encourage you to follow along. #MViseeu 

Here is a link to a Storify collection of tweets from beginning of this Challenge up to this past Saturday’s Fieldwork.