My AED Resignation

November 9, 2012

Richard Nixon delivering the “V” sign outside Army One upon his final departure from the White House, August 9, 1974. (Robert L. Knudsen via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Five years ago today, on the second Friday in November ’07, I handed my resignation notice to my boss Sandy (see my post “Early November” from November ’08). We were at the end of a two-day final Directors Meeting for our Partnerships for College Access and Success grantees. I had decided to step down from my deputy director position with the initiative, and of course, with the Academy for Educational Development (AED). This wasn’t the first time I resigned from a job in order to move on to another job or to a new track in my career. But this was the first time I’d done it without much promise for new work.

I hadn’t even been offered my teaching position with University of Maryland University College at the time I resigned (that wouldn’t happen for another two weeks). Yet I was sure that after seven years at AED and nearly four years with PCAS, that my role as a full-time nonprofit manager with the organization was soon coming to an end. It was obvious that Lumina Foundation for Education was no longer interested in large long-term programmatic work on college access and college success, with changes in leadership and philosophy in the previous year. The additional grant extension that we worked on in ’06 was due to end in March ’08, and with my $70,000+/year salary, I’d find myself without work soon after.

There were other options. Sandy and the AED NY office (with my help in a few cases) had obtained some smaller grants for evaluation work from Citigroup, from Wallace, and from Lumina related to the PCAS work. None of this work was full-time, though, and would likely not be more than half-time work. I would then have to go through months of selling myself to other projects across the organization in order to get close to full-time and maintain my benefits. I’d done this once before, at the end of my time with New Voices, in late ’03 and early ’04. It was a stressful, gut-churning process, one that I didn’t want to repeat.

2007 AED Logo, November 9, 2012. AED no longer exists, releasing logo to public domain.

Plus, I’d learned so much about AED during that process and over those last four years in my deputy director job, most of it not good. Bad business practices, shady accounting practices, poor diversity and promotion practices (see my “AED Update – DOA for 50th Anniversary” from March ’11). I just saw AED as a way-station for people who were truly dedicated to social change, and not a place to build a career.

Still, the work at PCAS wasn’t complete, and would likely not get done (or get done at all deliberate speed – very slowly and gradually) if I just resigned with two weeks or four weeks’ notice. So I proposed the following in my resignation letter and in my conversation with Sandy. I gave three months’ notice, to ensure that I would complete any final reports for Lumina and to ensure my involvement in any potential funding opportunities to continue segments of the initiative. I proposed that I could finish the PCAS and related work as a consultant, making it easier for me to transition out of AED and for Sandy to transition PCAS. I could finish what would end up being a 144-page resource guide and a twenty-six-page scholarly journal article based on the PCAS work.

Sandy accepted my resignation and my proposal, of course. But I don’t think she believed I’d follow through with the resignation, given the amount of time I gave myself before my last day. I don’t think that she believed it until I submitted a copy of my resignation letter to Human Resources on January 9, ’08. She may have figured that my wife would talk me out of leaving.

But Angelia and me had discussed resigning as a calculated risk since the end of ’05. AED had rarely done right by me, right from the day I was first interviewed for a program officer position in November ’00. I was underpaid (given my skills, education and experience), and more important, I found the place an improper fit for the kind of work I wanted to do on education and other social justice issues. We had saved money and I had carefully applied for jobs in anticipation of this decision since the early part of ’06. A bit of good luck made it easier for me to move on, having been offered a part-time faculty position at UMUC right before Thanksgiving ’07.

Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption [screen shot] (1994), November 9, 2012. Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws – low resolution & symbolic relevance to post.

The question I’ve been asked the most often in the past four and a half years has been whether I miss working at AED. I sometimes miss the money I made while working there, as it’s easier working one job with a standard schedule than teaching and the feast-and-famine cycles of consulting and contract work.

But I don’t miss the organization, which essentially no longer exists. I really only think about AED when I do work for an organization that reminds me of AED (not good) or when I post about my experiences. Still, I learned a lot about business and greed, administration and ethics, people, social change and fairness in my time there. A mixed blessing, indeed.

Half Truths, Whole Foods

March 15, 2012

Whole Foods entrance, Downtown Silver Spring, MD, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

Well, at least as far as the Silver Spring Whole Foods store is concerned. After eleven and a half years, I’ve decided to no longer shop at this Whole Foods location.

Now, knowing me, you might think it’s because of Whole Foods’ neo-con founder, who somehow doesn’t believe in universal health care or worker’s rights. Or maybe it’s because Whole Foods’ distribution practices of shipping in coffee from Colombia and olive oil from Lebanon, Greece and Italy isn’t exactly good for the workers in those countries, not to mention the environment and my wallet. Or it’s because I see the ways in which the Silver Spring Chamber (of Secrets) of Commerce has warped Downtown Silver Spring into a pedestrian’s nightmare, of national chain businesses with primacy over downtown residents.

Parking lot area for Whole Foods-Silver Spring, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Strosnider's, CVS, about 80% full, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

But it’s none of those important and oft-thought-about issues for me. I still plan to shop at other Whole Foods stores in the DC area, albeit much more rarely than before. It comes down to two simple issues: inconvenience and customer service. We live three blocks away from the Silver Spring Whole Foods, and so it’s actually easier to walk there to shop than to drive there. But if I happen to be doing a combination shop, where I often hit two or three stores to buy about $120 in groceries on a Saturday or Sunday, that means using the Honda Element, which also means that there’s no way for me to park anywhere near the store.

This isn’t just on the weekends. Even on the days I’ve walked over, whether after work, after dropping Noah off at school, or at the end of the day, the parking area looks as if folks are preparing for a Nor’easter. I’ve actually seen customers get into actual fights over a parking space. It’s that crowded and chaotic there.

The store itself often has looked like the parking lot over the years. Lots of entitled people walking lazily down aisles, as if Whole Foods rented the space out to them for the afternoon, all while stepping in front of you for an item on the shelf without saying “Excuse me,” stepping on my foot for good measure. Or of beleaguered Whole Foods staff members in the meat, fish, deli and bakery departments, often with the weary look of waiters working at some country club, all while attempting to meet the whimsical expectations of the privileged class of customers before them.

But it’s the actual responses of the folks who work there now that’s been most disgusting.Two months ago, a cashier with name tag “Tai” rang up my groceries at the Silver Spring Whole Foods. I was left with my reusable bags while quickly trying to slide my debit card, enter my information and pay for groceries. When I had a second to try to hand Tai my grocery bags, she didn’t take them, and started with another customer as she handed me my receipt, bags in hand and no groceries bagged.

When I asked, “Are you gonna help me bag?,” Tai said “You holding the bag.”

“What, do I have to ask for you to bag?,” I then asked.

“Duh!,” Tai said with a pause. All while begrudgingly bagging the last of my groceries.

“This kind of treatment is ridiculous, and your attitude’s unacceptable,” I said, ready to beat her up in an alternate universe.

I tweeted this incident to Whole Foods Montgomery County that same day. No response. I emailed the Silver Spring Whole Foods management about the incident the following day. No response. So I boycotted the store for over a month. Only to shop there last week and have some cashier tell me to take my headphones off after I had already said no to giving money to a Whole Foods charity. Headphones, by the way, which were never on to begin with.

Side of Whole Foods-Silver Spring adjacent to Courtyard by Marriott on Fenton, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

This was hardly what the Silver Spring Whole Foods was like when it opened on September 6, ’00. Then, the management and the staff seemed overjoyed to provide their services. Now, it’s as if they believe that they are the only game in town, as if my money has to go into their cash registers. In other words, it’s like shopping at a really expensive version of CVS.

I’ve been to Whole Foods’ from the Union Square one in New York to others in the DC area, in Atlanta, in other parts of the country. I’ve never been treated as if I didn’t matter except at the Silver Spring store. Apparently the smugness of the corporation that is Whole Foods and the entitlement that is the Whole Foods shopper has also infected the Whole Foods staff at the Silver Spring location. The truth is, I had put up with a bit of the first two for years, but the truth is, I should’ve never put up with any of it. So, I’m out and I’m gone.


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