On Contributing

I am constantly unsure of whether I am spending too much or too little time on myself.

I have an unmaintainable number of hobbies – I just can’t keep up with all of them all of the time, despite my best efforts. I want to knit, blog, write poetry, paint, hike… on repeat. Separate from hobbies, I suppose I am a full time student. My focus on academics is for myself, for my family, for an eventual contribution to society.

While I know that higher education is a stepping stone toward more notable contributions to the community, it doesn’t feel like it now. I may be able to whip out an analytical English paper in an impressively short amount of time, but my ideas are not yet fresh. I haven’t broken the into the world of academic originality.

In February of this year, I started working at one of the student-run newspapers at UW-Madison. I was a reporter for about a month before the City Print Editor had to step down. In a flurry of indecision, I decided to apply for the position and became the new print city beat editor.

Mixed feelings ensued. I was woefully underprepared, having taken no journalism classes, with only a handful of successful stories under my belt. The work environment had its tough moments, and I was frustrated and confused the majority of the time.

In the past few weeks, working at the newspaper has filled a gap I didn’t even know was there. I try to make self-improvement (hobbies, academics, etc) a continuing priority, and tended to try and give back to those around me through individuals in my life. The newspaper adds a new dimension to “giving back,” and it makes me feel like I’m making a contribution not just to those I am close to, but to the community as a whole.

Yes, it’s a student newspaper. It isn’t going to be the most read newspaper. But when I get the opportunity to cover events in and around Madison where people are passionate and involved in a range of causes, communities, and events, it gives me access to aspects of the city that I wouldn’t have seen before.

On March 6, Tony Robinson, a biracial 19-year-old boy was shot and killed by a white police officer in Madison.

Yesterday, I attended a celebration of life for Robinson. Dozens of people came together, and the boundaries between race, gender, age, socio-economic status, living conditions – they all disappeared as this diverse group united in celebration of one man’s life.

I don’t see it as my place to discuss the speculation involving the Robinson case, but this gathering on a sunny Sunday at a lake-lined park was beautiful.

Automatically attracted to poets, I took a break in conversation to talk to a woman, a relative of Tony Robinson, who performed spoken word poetry in his memory. Her poetry was moving. During her second poem, the mic went out. Left with only her voice, she projected over the crowd and sent her words bouncing between the brains of all in attendance.

Talking to her after her performance, I knew I wouldn’t be able to capture the way she moved her arms when she spoke, or how her goofy, youthful exterior seemed to encompass a strength gained only from hardship. But I knew I’d return to the newspaper office and make sure that at least some of her words were published in Monday morning’s paper.

At the end of our talk, she told me that she hopes to one day hear me performing my poetry. She seemed truly interested in a fellow poet’s work, and it made my work, both as a writer and as a newspaper editor, feel significant in a way that neither have in the past.

I don’t know if more than a dozen people will read the article I wrote about her. But her passion for poetry, for her fallen relative, for progress slipped into my lungs like a contagion.

Looking inward toward self-improvement is an important direction to pursue, but looking outside has untapped potential. I  hope to make only a minimal contribution to the betterment of the community as the community works tirelessly to better me.


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