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story of project history

I was in my office late one night not wanting to be bothered. The phone rang, and I wanted to ignore it. But, I felt compelled to answer. Before I could start, a child's voice blurted, "Why do you do what you do?"

It was the last thing I had expected to hear.

The kid was simply on assignment from his school teacher to interview someone from a community service agency. He looked in the Yellow Pages and landed on my name. At the time, I worked for a non-profit organization, and I was used to explaining in grand and overly sophisticated terms why the organization that I worked for did what it did. I had become good at talking to funders and writing grants with big theories and detailed plans. Yet, I had lost touch with the simplicity behind an unnecessary amount of complexity.

I found myself at work way too late trying to figure out a way to explain to a 12 year old why I worked for a community-media organization that fought racism and other "isms," and why it was important. Meanwhile, I was trying to remember if it was, in fact, important and what else might I be doing instead. Why was I doing this? I came up with something that sounded convincing to me, but I'm a bit embarrassed to say that it was harder than I expected.

I've thought about that call many times, and that question chases me around still. It's a really simple question, yet so much depends on it. Starting in the summer of 2004, Mardie Oakes and I started asking other people this question. People often say they don't have time or don't know what to answer. Many times people avoid it altogether. Other times, people's answers inspire us or just make us laugh.

One day, we'd love to see thousands of kids calling people randomly and asking them: "Why do you do what you do?"

~ Tony Deifell


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