Ahhh…Aspen. Where the air is crisp, the mountains high, the snow packed, and the houses average a cool twenty-five mil. I know you’re asking what I was doing there, but you never know I might be ballin’ in secret. (Jus’ saying you never know).
Anywho after 38 hours of traveling, count ‘em thirty-eight, from Johannesburg to London to Chicago to Denver and finally Aspen, I and 5 of my students from the Academy finally landed at 1 a.m. in Aspen. So it wasn’t until the next morning that we got the full picture of just how majestic our surroundings were (see my pic).
After taking in the breath-taking beauty of land, we then prepared ourselves to get down to the business for our presence: the Bezos Scholars Program. Each of us had been selected as Scholars of the Bezos Family Foundation and the Aspen Institute.
Reflections on Aspen
When I look back on my time at Aspen, one word keeps coming to mind – exposure. I can’t help but think back to the fact that I was flying with five incredible young people from vastly different backgrounds, all heading to the US for the first time. Their exposure to that unique opportunity placed them in rare company amongst their peers back home. I still smile, when I think back to the day Annie, a super-friendly Aspen local and, hopefully, future ALA teaching fellow, took us on the Gondola ride atop Mount Aspen. It was there that Esther said “oh my gosh it’s so cold” that was here response to touching snow for the first time. Meanwhile, I stood there silently marveling at the majestic mountains, moved by the great vastness of it all. That was exposure beyond even the thought leaders we sat down with at the Festival, which included Fmr Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice Stephen Breyer, David Brooks, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Tiffany Shlain, Mark Bezos, and more.
Attending the Aspen Ideas Festival, I was also struck by the great pains and lengths individuals and organizations like the Bezos Scholars Program and the Aspen Institute have gone to expose “others” to ideas. Why were ideas so important for us to be exposed to? This investment for the sake of ideas should not be overlooked, in fact, for me, it all the more emblazoned in my mind just how powerful the power of ideas. That no matter the action, change, or innovation desired it is first spurred by an idea. And here we were young and well, let’s just say less young, alike being spurred on toward action by the myriad of ideas set before us.
Again, this was crystallized in an unexpected conversation I had with one of the Scholars, who matter-of-factly asked me if the book store gift was in cash. Why, did it matter, I wondered. Then it became clear– one hundred dollars in cash could go along way in his community and he would rather take it back to improve their lives. That hurt my heart to the core, yet it signalled two significant thoughts in my mind:
First, I had to convince him that the power of the ideas he (and his peers) could derive from these books could far outweigh, in the long-term, the impact of just $100 today (at least that is our hope). That it was an investment in the mind, which few others would have the opportunity to be blessed with. Though, this was hard to convince even myself of, as I stood there looking at the eagerness and sincere concern he had written on his face.
Secondly, I recognized that clear conviction that I and this Scholar owed it to ourselves and to those, for whom the generosities of this experience would mean life and death, to devote ourselves to leveraging this new knowledge for maximum good. That is the charge, for me, for each of us. I must soberly take on the responsibility to make good and multiply the effect with the power of ideas. Let it Ripple!
Again thanks to the Bezos Family Foundation for their considerable generosity but also for their expectation that we do meaningful work with that to which we’ve been exposed. Thanks to all the scholars young and not so young, smile, for your kind words, encouragement, and high-level of engagement it made the work enjoyable. And thanks to the people of Aspen, the friendliest and most welcoming place I’ve been in the US not in North Carolina, smile.