Today’s memories come from Carol Griskavich, WPT’s community engagement coordinator – a brand-new position at the station this year. Read on to find out what she’ll remember the most from 2017!
I spent my six-month anniversary at Wisconsin Public Television on my way to join our PBS partners in New York City to discuss how Wisconsin communities drive our events and programming. The awe and appreciation I saw for our highly engaged communities really drove home what I’d suspected since I first arrived to Vilas Hall: this is the coolest job I’ve ever had.
As someone born and raised on WPT, it delights me to know that our reputation precedes us nationwide. Coordinating how this impact resonates with my Wisconsin neighbors has been the best part of my cool job – and an opportunity to give back to an organization that became one of my earliest teachers.
My counterparts at New York’s WNET wanted to hear all about Get Up and Go! Day. 2018 will mark 20 years of helping Wisconsin families get active, be healthy, and enjoy the outdoors – yet this was my first year attending!
Last August, nearly 1,500 kids, parents, caregivers and friends braved the yucky weather in Madison to boogie down with SteveSongs; meet Daniel Tiger, Katerina Kittycat, and Clifford; and enjoy dozens more activities. I kept cruising by the drum circle, hoping some bongos might free up so I could jam with circle leader Elmore Lawson, but no such luck: the percussion was packed with kids eager to make their own music.
I got to be a kid again, though, when Ladder 1 pulled up from the Madison Fire Department. I helped direct them down Dayton St… or maybe I just thought I was helping? Either way, I got to pretend to be a firefighter for a few minutes, as did the kids who climbed in the rig that morning!
Thankfully, the clouds gave way to sunny skies the next day for events in Appleton, La Crosse, and Eau Claire. In Eau Claire, one little one saw my shirt with the PBSKids logo, and exclaimed “You’re PBS Kids? You are so popular!” I hope I’m even a fraction as popular as PBSKids when I see them again this year.
My second day in New York City brought me to the offices of POV. The first big project I managed at WPT was a partnership with POV to bring films into the community addressing some of our nation’s most critical social issues: race, safety, religion, and immigration. We agreed these events needed to create real and respectful conversation between neighbors, though these topics are generally not easy to discuss with your neighbors (much less strangers).
But what if we ate dinner together first? Like a big family? It’s harder to be adversarial with someone who you’ve just watched do a basic human function like eating, while chatting about smaller things like road construction, your pets, kids, etc.
We found the perfect local partner with the Goodman Community Center on Madison’s East Side. Doesn’t hurt that the talented teens of their in-house Working Class Catering serve delicious food!
With much anticipation both here and at POV’s in New York, our first event occurred Oct. 17, with an engaged and humbling crowd of 110 neighbors. POV’s Do Not Resist was not an easy film to digest, yet engrossed viewers took notes and whispered comments to their neighbors throughout.
[Editor’s note: POV’s Do Not Resist airs on WPT 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, and online at video.wpt.org.]
The Goodman Center helped me assemble a dream team of a panel. Three members of the Center’s Youth Evaluation Team bowled the audience over speaking about feeling prejudged by law enforcement due to their age and outward appearance. Other panelists included longtime Lussier LOFT coordinator Arthur Morgan, as well as Officers Jared Prado and Lore Vang of Madison Police Department’s Community Outreach and Resource Education (CORE) team. Wisconsin Public Radio’s Bridgit Bowden, reporter behind the “New In Blue” series, moderated the panel; as one audience member told me, it “humanized the conversation.”
One of the most striking moments of the evening was when Officer Vang grasped the badge around his neck and described how it has kept him out of more critical conversations than any other trait. The gravity of that statement really seemed to hit the room. To humanize the conversation, we can’t bypass first viewing each other as humans and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones.
One woman I met had driven in from DeForest seeking experiences that would open her mind to different perspectives. Though she sought discomfort, she confessed that it felt a lot more uncomfortable than she’d imagined. She considered leaving, but ended up staying until we were ready to load out, chatting with my mom and best friend about what they had learned that evening.
Had she not joined this event, she told us, she likely would never have understood the complexity of policing on both sides of the badge. It was an encouraging, proud moment to be a Wisconsinite.
Three weeks later, we screened Dalya’s Other Country with another 110 people. A stellar panel featured refugee resettlement workers from Lutheran Social Services, the Catholic Multicultural Center, and Open Doors for Refugees. Their knowledge of policy and practice was complimented beautifully by the first-hand experiences of two refugees who had settled in Madison in 2016.
One man, an engineering professor from Iraq, detailed just how long and challenging the vetting process had been for him and his family, and his struggle to find work in his field of decades of expertise. Nonetheless, he expressed gratitude for the warmth of his neighbors, and excitement to be settled in the United States.
The other speaker, a young mother of three who spoke through an interpreter, had fled Syria on foot, living in refugee tent encampments during four years of vetting. She choked back tears as she answered a question about her “greatest dream”: seeing her mother, who remains in Syria, after six long years. Her tears turned joyful, though, as she described how her young sons think riding a Madison school bus is the greatest treat ever!
These events held such hope and impact to all who attended them. “You guys are going to keep doing these, right?” people kept asking. Rest assured that we’re working to make this a statewide model!
At the POV offices in Brooklyn, the borderline-giddy gratitude and hugs came with an inspiring identification: “Wow! You’re Carol from WPT, who organized those amazing community dinner events?”
800 miles from home, I’ve never been more proud to be “Carol from WPT,” and I can’t wait to organize more great events for my Wisconsin neighbors.