by Liz Wolfson

I like to speak in public. It is a skill and a joy I inherited from my father who is a great orator.

I grew up the fourth and final child reared on a backyard, homemade, concrete basketball court that is now a grassy plot. I envision using this court to rent a jumpy castle for adults on my 60th birthday. But that is not for ten more years.

As the fourth and final child, I was often my father’s travel companion. He spoke as the lead solicitor for many Jewish communal events. Amidst collecting the small pads and cheap pens that hotels would put out for conference or workshop participants, I inhaled the energy with which my father spoke about freedom, civil rights, and communal responsibility. He would tease out contemporary meaning from biblical references; he would glean ten-commandment relevancy to modern day news cycles; and he would captivate and cultivate willing, emotional, and financial support for whatever cause he was representing. Traveling with him made me feel special. I knew we were doing holy work.

In my youth, I thought about becoming a newscaster or a preacher, a rabbi, or a politician, a mover of the masses.

Looking back now, being a founder of an educational enterprise that has at its core the vision of building schools feels like a combination of each of those professions – I serve as an interpreter of public affairs; I espouse my core values and encourage communities to practice behaviors that will manifest a great future for all; I fight for public policy that yields equity of educational options. All of this grounded in the pit of my belly, that the world will be a better place for individuals and systems of governance and capital gain if people were more whole-bodied. And so therefore, GALS Inc. teaches the lessons of whole-bodied education – the organic synergy between our bodies and our hearts and minds and souls.

Being a founder is a burden and a blessing. I first learned this phrase from my father who learned it from his mother on her deathbed. My maternal grandmother born in 1903 gave birth to her first son at the age of 23. His name was Marvin. At the age of 2 or 3, Marvin fell through a poorly affixed screen in their second floor hotel room while on a vacation. He may have died had hedges not cushioned his landing. Marvin was brain damaged for life. I can only imagine the fights that my grandmother engaged in, keeping Marvin out of institutions, moving him through a small town public school system, and then coaching him through social moors in all settings. My father, born four years later, tells stories of having to protect his brother from bullies of one sort or another. I recall one of the only times that I was truly afraid of my father was when a friend and I giggled mockingly at Marvin’s hushing us, and my father shot me a look that truly scared and hurt.

But as my grandmother lay in her hospital bed feeling through her life story, Marvin became her eyes as she lost her sight in old age, sharing baseball stories of live games on the TV, moving her through supermarket aisles to buy food, and walking her to and from the post office or wherever she needed to go. She announced to my father: ‘What was the burden of my youth was the blessing of my old age’.

So I am a happy founder, one who has watched the birth of a vision flourish for nearly a decade now. A founder who has sacrificed her time and ego for the good of the whole. One who is exhausted as a mother of my own children birthed in the process, along with mothering so many other students, families, and staff with whom I share life now. One who bears the burden of financial sustainability – a myth in the charter school realm I think. One who bears the burden of education politics – a generally misguided, ego driven, way less than compassionate dialogue. And still, I am a happy founder who has moved on from day-to-day site-based management and has returned to the intergenerational joy of platform and presentation that I inherited from my father.

I enjoy public speaking the most from the podium at the annual GALS Denver luncheon and at the various smaller gatherings to encourage support for the building of our network of schools.

This past February, nary 6 months post our most recent federal election cycle, I stood at the podium presenting my thoughts centered around not what the other was doing, but what each of us could do to encourage kindness and inclusion.

I posited –

But I would argue that today, it is not just the students who are most vulnerable, we all are…. For who amongst us today is not feeling vulnerable about something going on in this world of ours…I am absolutely feeling sensitivity, fear, helplessness, overwhelm, the deep need to barricade my own family from the public sphere…

And it is so easy to focus on the other ‘he did this’ or ‘she did that’, ‘they want this’ and ‘we want that’…but we can focus on ourselves, and we can express sincere and great gratitude for the culture of dignity we do embrace…Because if we all don’t start looking inward, and changing our own behaviors, than we will continue to be divided. And I don’t accept this….for as a descendant of the innocent Anne Frank – I too wonder sometimes why I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and so impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything that people are truly good at heart.

But to make a difference for students of this city, for the students of GALS and The Boys School, we will need to be better than good…

And then I went on to make a number of suggestions:

  1. Once a month, share a meal or a walk with someone from a different race, or a different religion, different political persuasion…or a different sexual orientation or gender identity than you…Or once a month, share a meal with someone who lives on a different end of the socioeconomic spectrum
  2. Make a list of five people with whom you would like to have an improved relationship, and tell them that you are seeking to repair your relationship with them.
  3. Keep a journal of courageous conversations you participate in whether you initiate them or simply are a recipient …make a note to end every month by reading your entries and seeing what you learn bout yourself…ask someone you trust to read your journal as well, and hear what they have to say….
  4. Ask for acknowledgement when you do something that you are proud of – big or small…and then stand for 5-10 seconds with your eyes closed and repeat the acknowledgement to yourself 3 times so that your heart is sure to take it in…
  5. Let your closest friends and colleagues know how much you appreciate them – just in case it hasn’t been said in a while
  6. Many of us like to host dinner parties, so set the date for your next one and ensure that the people in the room are of diverse backgrounds…

The speech was received really well, and I had felt that my job as founder and keeper of the sacred was in tact yet again for another day. I work hard at enacting all of my own suggestions—I sincerely try. Each day that I walk the hallowed halls of GALS Inc. schools in Denver and Los Angeles—I just participated in new teacher training in Denver and am off to Los Angeles for the same tomorrow—I am reminded of the critical need for whole-bodied education, for whole-bodied living, for whole-bodied leadership. Our bodies inform our hearts and our minds and all of our systems must build this truth into how it gets things done.

Three years ago, GALS Denver ran a billboard campaign and one of the billboards read: Run. Jump. Shout. Laugh. (and that’s just math class)

I think that this billboard campaign and its message sums up clearly my love of oration grounded in deeply impassioned values, and whole-bodied living. What would all of our days look like if we all simply did a little more of that?