A Conversation with Civil Rights Hero Fred Gray
The quality of programming Osher Institutes have shared with one another during the pandemic has been impressive. One of the most active Institutes in sharing content at no cost has been OLLI at Berkshire Community College (BCC) in western Massachusetts. There, Executive Director Megan Whilden prompts members to embrace the silver lining of distance learning technologies by proposing and coordinating courses and lectures. Megan explains, “I encourage members to create the kind of programming that they would enjoy attending and to reach out to me. This has really expanded our offerings during quarantine…to think of someone you’d love to interview or hear talk, and reach out to them! The worst thing they can say is no.” That approach led longtime OLLI at BCC instructor and lawyer, Doug Mishkin to invite civil rights legal icon Fred Gray to speak live to the Institute. Doug’s visit to civil rights sites in the South just before the pandemic, including the Tuskegee History Center, inspired him to contact Fred and his daughter, Deborah Gray, the Director of the Center.

Fred Gray opened his law practice in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 with the mission of "destroying everything segregated I could find." One year later, the rookie lawyer represented his friend Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Montgomery Bus protests. That led to a career of landmark cases defeating segregation throughout Alabama. Including Supreme Court cases fighting racial gerrymandering, the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and securing an acquittal of Dr. King by an all-white jury in Montgomery of criminal charges of tax evasion. In his illustrious career spanning nearly 70 years, Fred Gray succeeded in his mission and in marking many other historically significant milestones.

The live Zoom event on January 12th drew more than 1,200 registrants from all across the U.S., including legal colleagues of Doug Mishkin and OLLI members throughout the Network. Mishkin’s skillful interview of Mr. Gray and the vivid stories recounted proved moving. “It was a true honor to present this conversation with a civil rights legend, now over 90 years old. And doing it online allowed us to share it with people across the country and preserve it for future generations” mentioned Megan Whilden. 

To learn more about Fred Gray and his life's work, his two books are recommended: Bus Ride to Justice and The Tuskegee Syphilis Study. They can be purchased from the Tuskegee History Center by inquiring at info@tuskegeecenter.org.

Watch the recording of A Conversation with Fred Gray on YouTube.
Reflections On the Pandemic and Compassion
It has been about a year since the COVID-19 pandemic attacked our country. It has changed everything. In my 69 years of life I have never witnessed any event more all-encompassing in changing our way of life. It has changed how we meet, how we educate, how we worship, and how we work. It has disrupted holidays, family relations, and personal relationships at all levels. The economic fallout will be felt for years. So many people have died or have been left with ongoing disabilities. It feels like being lost in a deep dark cave. Our light is faltering and there is no discernible way out. Yet, despite all the negatives, I see opportunities for growth and self-development for me and for others. 

According the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, compassion is “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Not a bad start, but it falls short for me. For me, true compassion is taking personal action to alleviate the distress of others. Compassion is a call to action. Action varies from situation to situation and person to person, but it is more than awareness and empathy. Such action not only serves the distressed individual, it also fosters the growth and development of the actor.

As I look around our community and amongst personal friends, I see ample opportunities to practice compassion. There is an abundance of lonely, isolated and distressed people. This is especially true for people living alone. We all know such people who are suffering daily and existing in very dark places. I see it as my calling to reach out and communicate with those people. I employ the phone, social media, texting and Zoom to reach out. I don’t play therapist or attempt an intervention. I am simply a friend, someone who is interested in them, someone who cares. Sure I might mention OLLI or the library or a virtual church. But my main intent is to be a friend. Frankly, I get more from those calls than I give. It will work for you. Please give it a try.

Submitted by: Ronald Goldberg, Volunteer Leader and Instructor, OLLI at Yavapai College
A "Sign or Two" of Moving On
In March of 2020, the Osher Institute at Dartmouth College successfully moved their offices to their new location. The new location included four classrooms, office space, reception areas, all ready to go. This move offered the Institute a host of exciting new possibilities, and stemmed from a need for a larger, integrated home that allowed the offices and classrooms to enjoy direct contact throughout the year. While the new location provided a custom learning environment for the members, the move was bittersweet; there were no members to be found on site as the pandemic caused all classes to move online.

The new location houses three classrooms on the second floor – providing space for 14, 18, and 22 students – a break area, and a storage room. The third floor includes three offices, a reception area, a break area, and a large, 28-student classroom. It also has a conference room shared with other Court Street tenants and ample free public parking. While the Osher Institute at Dartmouth has not yet been able to use their beautiful new space, the finishing touches have continued with staff preparing for the day members can return.

Even while still offering courses on Zoom, Dartmouth moved forward with making their new space feel more like a reality – new building signage was put into place on the east and north walls. As Sarah Chamberlin, marketing and communications coordinator stated “We are really looking forward to the day we can welcome our members and study leaders to our new offices and classrooms. We moved in March 2020 and one week later started working from home. Here we are in 2021, and it does show a SIGN of something new for 2021.”

Submitted by: Sarah Chamberlin, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, Osher Institute at Dartmouth College
Dear Olli
Dear Olli,
I work as a coordinator for OLLI and am looking for some helpful hints. I am responsible for distributing Zoom links to the members for classes. Frequently, members lose their Zoom links for classes and I need to resend a lot of links individually at the last minute. This gets very time consuming. Any suggestions?
~Time-Strapped Coordinator

Dear Time-Strapped Coordinator,
I’m sure it is time consuming to resend emails. And, you are not alone, many Institute staff have asked about effective practices regarding the sharing of links to members. Here are a few suggestions:
  • OLLI @ George Mason University uses a daily email reminder to all members with the links to that day’s classes
  • OLLI @ the University of South Dakota instructed members in how to save emails into particular folders and then search those folders so members could self-serve and manage their incoming email communications
  • OLLI @ University of Texas at El Paso sends a master calendar at the start of the term with all the links integrated into the calendar
Beyond these specific examples; other suggestions include:
  • Carefully worded subject lines to the email (such as: OLLI @ “school name”, Reminder: “class name”, link for “date”) to allow for easier email searches
  • Use of registration software or a Learning Management System (LMS) to house all the links
  • A set schedule of when email reminders will be sent
In other words, there are a lot of things you can do to make it easier, simpler, and consistent for members to store, find, and keep those precious Zoom links.

Have a question for Olli? Please send it in care of Kevin Connaughton (kevin.connaughton@northwestern.edu). 
Quick Tip - Recruit Volunteers with Committee Meeting Audits
In a recent newsletter, OLLI at University of California, Irvine invited current members to "Enrich your member experience by developing and strengthening social ties" through volunteer work. They followed with a committee meeting schedule that invited members to audit a meeting. Allowing potential volunteers to audit a committee meeting allows them to really see the type of work they would be doing in the position, as well as the culture of the committee and how the members work together.
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Is there a staff opening at your Osher Institute? Please send it to us at oshernrc@northwestern.edu