About rbvergara

Born and raised in the Philippines. Moved to California on April 15, 1986 two months after Marcos was overthrown. Have been building a new life and stronger roots in Southern California since then.

The Great U-turn


This year I find my self being reminded of the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the mid-1980s and LA Rebellion in the early 1990s when I’ve been a reluctant witness to the ghastly things people choose to do to each other.

Back then, I remember only feeling fear and confusion. Tonight, I add ‘grief’ to the mix of feelings I have as I process what’s happening in the U.S.

My grief feels different from mourning, and weighs heavier than exasperated idealism. This grief feels threatening; it interrogates.

It problematizes my core belief in our collective ability to behave in a more enlightened way in a time of turmoil, such as this, when we face off with racial hatred rearing its ugly head at home.

It turns a disapproving eye toward those of us who treat hard-earned education like a medal we win, but only display in its case, instead of using it as the upgrade that improves our thinking, transforms our discourse, and guides our deeds.

This type of grief asks:

– where to find the critical thinking adults to guide a truthful, probing discussion in service of unlocking breakthrough?

– why we easily retreat into our tribes, instead of opening up more constructive ways to understand a world more gray than black-and-white?

Too many of the things we now think and say about each other have — in the past and in other places — allowed brutal dictators to grab state power and fueled neighborhoods to burn.

Surely we are better than this.

I hope the day is still early and that sooner than later the dialogue we should be having on domestic terrorism, police violence, and structural racism can still be had.

To my social work colleagues old and new, our profession has something good to offer as we find our way. Keep using your professional perspective to help enlighten your personal networks. Remember the matrix of domination from CRT, for example.

If enough of us model critical thinking — if a courageous number of us resist reacting and succumbing to the anger that comes easy — we can, at least, model among our friends how to think more deeply and in a more solution-focused way. Parroting dishonest ideas and old excuses leads to dead ends, not breakthroughs; only critical thought does that.

Cats and other birds, not wind farms, kill birds

I had a silly conversation with some one several days ago; this person cautioned me, likely in jest (at least I hope), that I should make sure I consider the number of birds killed by wind farms if I were to continue working in clean technology.

Do wind farms kill birds? Yes. So do cats and other birds; but no one dares to make an issue of the intra- and interspecies killing because it would be silly.

Here’s science to bring things into perspective: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-farms-bird-slayers-theyre-behere.html

#TakeTheKnee is FeudArt


Sharing my own 9/23/17 tweet storm re: Trump NBA and NFL comments…

Self-expression is patriotism for thinking men & women of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution. #TakeTheKnee #MyKnowledgeCounts 

2/ Self-expression is the foundation for civic engagement, climate action, and tech-enabled problem solving in Info Age and era of climate

3/ change. Self-expression is the outcome of critical thinking, of analytical and creative thought, among fully individuated adults.

4/ As such, there would be no new ideas, no innovation without self-expression. CleanTech is self-expression, and self-expression is

5/ CleanTech. Self-expression is decarbonization. Self-expression is #GlobalGoals #MyKnowledgeCounts #GlobalPeopleSummit @ThePeopleSummit

Part I – ‘Black swan’ Philippines: From disaster relief to clean technology advocacy and commercialization


In Fall 2009, a series of seven super typhoons and tropical storms struck the Philippines between August and October–a 3-month period that reshaped the trajectory of my life and career. Fall 2009 is my ‘black swan’ event, to borrow a term from Nassim Taleb. This post is part of a series in which I will bring order to my journey since 2009, from anti-poverty crusader to running a CleanTech incubator for the grass-roots. The resulting series will show how I sought meaning from the chaos.

It Began with Chaos

That those seven extreme weather events wreaked havoc in three Northern Provinces where I have relatives was news too heavy to bear; yet, I could not help but be drawn to and consumed by the news. I binged on cable news, Youtube videos, and online news that brought coverage.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

The impact on me was part shock, part paralysis; I also remember feeling a deep sense of empathy, nationalism, and love for a community that raised me from birth but had to leave as a young boy. And there was also anger and drive. That my people were dying first, in high numbers, and frequently was deeply maddening; it left a living mark on my soul that prodded me to reinvent my work and, in the process, my self.

I was in professional limbo for many years immediately after Fall 2009, having lost faith in social work as a helping profession capable of responding to climate change. I was full of questions.

What is the point in human service delivery if the field were impotent in addressing the macro-level root causes of extreme weather events?

What is the point in a profession that helps others “feel good” and “cope adaptively” after the fact, while at once mute and irrelevant in decarbonization?

What is social work good for if it cannot proactively protect those who are imperiled? If it is technically ill-suited and technologically unprepared as a solution-maker in the Information Age?

As a social worker, what am I good for if I’m impotent in dealing with the social welfare issues tied to the climate crisis?

It took several years to heal and regain my center, reclaim the sure-footedness I lost. I forced my self to extract fulfillment from the work I was doing, but as I contrived the meaning-making, I just felt further out of love with social work. I wanted a major change. I wanted to transition to a field more consequential.

Now, even as I still find myself reinventing the work with others, I am buoyed by the prospect of solid, muscular hope. I am building my tribe through CYPHER. And for the first time in a long time, our invented work can be magnified, made as sharp as a spearhead, with AASWSW GC8: Harnessing technology for social good.


Infinite hope in the age of Trumpism


“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Many of us will naturally measure the year about to end, and hopefully in a way that accounts for not only our deficiencies and strengths, but also our social value.

Idealism, compassion, activism–these may not reliably make money, but they enrich nonetheless for they awaken and assert what this moment needs now the most: the ‘radical-ness’ of our decency and humanity.

Moments end only to renew.

In the ‘in-between’, we are transformed by our experience of these moments. Constructive moments improve us. We feel more deeply. We generally understand more about the world and ourselves. We tend to be propelled forward, better equipped to do more.

Then there are destructive moments, like now, that contract all social progress — moments when the aim is to extend one hand out as if to say, “STOP!” and “GO BACK!,” then raise the other into a fist to coerce.

The extreme conservatism and naked nativism gripping our current politics define this ugly moment. We are torn part; we fear for the ones we love.

Many are reminded of past trauma. Some of us recall the hate and violence we left in our ancestral homeland. We worry of the retrograde now revived, retooled, and refreshed into vogue.

Let’s embrace how this moment in our history jolts us out of complacency from striving so long in our respective career.

Let’s embrace how it renews us both into contemplation and action, heeding the conscience of our upbringing or profession.

Our new context will certainly alter us — like a crucible that animates our nature, sharpens our work, and fuses our collective impact. As a person of color and conscience, the activist in me is certainly renewed.

A message to all leaders and community members alike: We wait and hesitate to act at our peril

I’m very glad to be part of this global movement for the good it aims to bring in the world and everyone. My focus remains at the grassroots where the sustainable and imaginative practical solutions must arise.

So while this video is targeted to world leaders, I urge all our youth leaders at CYPHER to view this message made for them, as well. They are the youth leaders of now and the world leaders of tomorrow.

Flow with us on Twitter at @cypheryouth

Innovation as a river: Reflecting on Day 3 of #CRinFlorida


These next few days I’ll be sharing my personal reflection on a climate leadership conference I’m part of; this is the third and last installment. I do this to capture the raw emotion in my daily reflection in order to help me with my later writing. If these posts benefit you, too, in any small way, please let me know via a comment. Thank you.

This last day is perhaps the most uplifting of the three days because of the flood of emotion from leaving new friends, dreaming up new collaborations, and feeding on insight from others — like, Philippe Cousteau, Jr., John Kao, Chris Hayes, and Al Gore, to name a few climate leaders I’ve had the benefit to learn from this week.

The fatigue from the trip is real, but it is quickly overshadowed by the optimism I have about this work that moves me deeply. I’ve traveled far, literally and figuratively, in my anti-poverty work; that it led me here, at this conference, in the company of all these climate and sustainability leaders, is something I never imagined. — To Dr. Pauline Agbayani who found me a professional field, thank you. If you are reading this, please know that I am deeply thankful for knowing you.

This video I took of Miami River, which has been routinely overflowing recently, starts with a bend in the river that’s been cemented over, and beside it, a shot of the river moving calmly but steadily.

The imagery is a visual aid to a simple point: like bending a river’s flow with steel and concrete, we can change the direction of the body politic around climate action with innovation. We each define what ‘climate innovation’ means by leveraging the things we are most passionate about in our life.

We, at CYPHER, for example, are passionate about sustainable development, tech-enabled climate resilience, and hip-hop. So climate innovation is what we, at CYPHER, promote when we challenge inner-city and farmworker youth to use their direct experience with local human impacts of climate change (e.g., heat wave, drought, etc.) as inspiration for CleanTech and soft robotics. Climate innovation is what we, at CYPHER, promote when we work with local independent hip-hop artists (shout-out to @JessicaKimble88 from California and @NaledgeEvans from Chicago) to mobilize the youth to action via the sound of their music.

Climate innovation is not limited to the genius few. Or the smartest. Or even the most privileged. Climate innovation can be taught and acquired because complex problem-solving is built into each of us; it is ‘baked in.’

Climate innovation is both outcome and process, both idea and practice. Climate innovation is a continuum of capability, all the way from ‘good enough’ competence to high-level mastery. And along this capability continuum, as with a river, we can either jump into innovation whenever we would like to be refreshed by our experience of it, or stand in the sidelines cheering those who dare to swim in it, admiring the joy its brings us and others as we all watch.

Both are responses that are human, and normal, and agreeable. One is not better than the other; both have value. Both show us how we ought to cultivate innovation, in general, and sustain climate innovation, in particular, in our own communities.

Climate innovation is a human potential inherent in everyone because we live in a closed system, called Earth. None of us can escape the human impacts of climate change in this closed system; those impacts touch us all. And because we each have a direct personal experience with its human impacts, we also each have a kernel of an idea for how to address it.

Climate innovation is not limited to the genius few. Or the most gifted. Or the most educated. Climate innovation can be taught and acquired because complex problem-solving is built into each of us; it is ‘baked in.’

Join us on Twitter @cypheryouth to find out more about the climate innovation we are doing.

The journey of an audience: #CRinFlorida Day 2 Reflection

These next few days I’ll be sharing my personal reflection on a climate leadership conference I’m part of; this is the second installment. I do this to capture the raw emotion in my daily reflection in order to help me with my later writing. If these posts benefit you, too, in any small way, please let me know via a comment. Thank you.

A scenic route is the journey of an audience–this was the biggest take away for me from the gathering today. The audience can be made to feel happy, disgusted, empathetic, and emboldened–all these in order to get them to say “Yes” and/or “I will join you.”

There is a way to engineer a presentation so that the audience goes through a variety of emotions that prime it for empowerment, and then mobilization. We can use emotion to leverage the audience’s attention in systematically walking the audience toward action.


There is no rigid or standard formula in building this emotional and cognitive journey by the audience. There is only the practical insight that being an ‘audience expert’ is as important as being a ‘subject matter expert’ in moving an audience toward action. The method is neither exact, nor clearly defined so it is challenging to describe the steps via a blog post. There is a hierarchy of priorities when communicating: the key point, the evidence for the key point (3 take-aways, max), and additional but optional detail that helps drive the message home.

I also share an image I found online to show how an audience journey could be deliberately engineered; see below.


For additional resources, google Anthony Wilson from Executive Influence Pty Ltd; he gave the workshop on communication strategies.

That giving a presentation is both an affective and cognitive experience was/is not a new idea but the engineering of it as a deliberate journey is an interesting idea worth practicing.

Sorry class, you will be my guinea-pigs. It’s for science! And sustainable development! And hopefully also for your empowerment.

Does this work pass the smell test?: #CRinFlorida Day 1 Reflection


These next few days I’ll be sharing my personal reflection on a climate leadership conference I’m part of. I do this to capture the raw emotion in my daily reflection in order to help me with my later writing. If these posts benefit you, too, in any small way, please let me know via a comment. Thank you.

The strategic investment angle on climate action can hollow out the developmental. The danger of a strictly Western frame and American gaze on climate action is to reduce an opportunity for sociocultural transformation into dollars and cents. There is a dimension of climate action that could genuinely redefine what is “sustainable” in sustainable development — the chance to promote local control of community-defined sustainable development. What good is green/clean infrastructure if it doesn’t change the behavioral and sociological causes of environmental degradation from overconsumption and exploitive development?


Is it right to devise a campaign to reduce carbon emissions or adopt clean energy alternatives that would resonate equally in all regions if we know these regions’ priorities to be effective governance, survival from extreme weather, and ending extreme poverty, first and foremost?

The truth is:

(1) Powerful interests must be held accountable; aligning ourselves and our communities with their investment pet projects without asserting the primacy of local control and community-defined development doesn’t do that.

(2) Development could be made more inclusive and responsive to local priorities; prescribing a narrow set of climate actions without active consultation with vulnerable communities doesn’t do that.

(3) Transformational leadership is about widening meaningful community engagement; massaging our messaging to better market a narrow set of solutions doesn’t do that.

Is it right to devise a campaign to reduce carbon emissions or adopt clean energy alternatives that would resonate equally in all regions if we know these regions’ priorities to be effective governance, survival from extreme weather, and ending extreme poverty, first and foremost?

‘Pang-ngawat’/’pagtanggap’: The value of ‘receiving’ in Filipino Martial Arts


This post is about the Ilokano and Tagalog ideas of ‘receiving’, or ‘pang-ngawat’ and ‘pagtanggap’, respectively. I start with a context in FMA training and conclude with possible applications in life. My point is that learning ‘pang-ngawat’ or ‘pagtanggap’ is vital to one’s development as an FMA practitioner, in particular, for it teaches the value of resilience, in general. ‘Pang-ngawat’ keeps the Ilokano grounded in reality and ‘pagtanggap’ keeps the Tagalog grounded in their own self-belief.

FMA context. There are two central training techniques in FMA: (1) copying a teacher’s moves and (2) training with a partner ‘to feed’ and ‘to receive’. Copying is the more elementary of the two for it involves no physical contact with another player. When we copy our teacher’s movements, we are at the very beginning stage of learning: we are passive consumers–neither expressing ourselves through our own natural movement, nor responding to an actual strike. While there is some degree of conceptual understanding to be achieved from copying, this training technique’s limitation is that the lesson cannot be felt, only imagined. It’s like learning a song, but singing it without feeling its full meaning.

Training against another player is more advanced. Your partner reacts and completes your movement with a counter-attack that you not only feel, but also anticipate sometimes with a healthy measure of fear and always with a dose of anxiety. In both training techniques, most students focus on learning proper offense–how to strike at every angle in the right form, right foot work, and with the right body mechanics–leading them to master how ‘to feed’.


‘To feed’ in FMA is to offer a strike at a specific angle in proper form in order to achieve two goals: to execute a strike being learned, and, more importantly, to help the recipient learn how to react to the strike. ‘To receive’ is to respond to an offensive strike: to block, to deflect, and to grab. In the continuum of feeding and receiving, most learn primarily how to be on the offensive. Most learn ‘to feed’ routinely as structured lessons; most learn ‘to receive’ via thematic seminars as advanced specialties.

Most practitioners, then, primarily learn how to be hard, dismissing the lesson in being soft as conditional (learn only ‘to receive’ once I’m good enough or advanced enough). Intuitively, we know that most things that are hard full-time ultimately break under repeated stress, and that most things that flex, that absorb, bounce back. This tells us that learning how ‘to receive’ is equally important in our development as FMA practitioners. Indeed, knowing how to block well, to deflect well, and to grab well positions oneself for an effective counter-attack by developing one’s ability to sense an opponent’s true intention from feeling the direction of his/her strike.


In addition, knowing how ‘to receive’ in FMA helps us conquer our own fear and anxiety, while simultaneously magnifying these in our opponent. When you can receive a blow, you strengthen yourself and demoralize your opponent by showing him that you will not break despite his repeated attacks. Counterintuitively, when you can expertly receive a strike you form a shield, thus, the common term used for it in FMA, ‘sangga’.

Application in life. In Ilokano and Tagalog, the words used to mean ‘to receive’ are ‘pang-ngawat’ (pang-nga-wut) and ‘pagtanggap’ (pug-tang-gup), respectively. Understanding the depth of both terms extracts the culture-bound insight within them. Both have two primary meanings. ‘Pang-ngawat’ means both to receive and to understand; ‘pagtanggap’ means both to receive and to accept.

The combination of receiving and understanding in ‘pang-ngawat’ teaches us that ‘to understand’ has an additional dimension of ‘to receive openly’. The nuance in ‘pang-ngawat’ reminds us to be present when we perceive in order that we see, feel, and hear fully. If we are to be adaptive–if our goal is to interpret our environment accurately and respond to our environment in a way that meets our personal needs optimally–we must allow as much input in. Receiving openly is key in the process of understanding. Often, because we do see the value of having good understanding, we take in such a small subset of info that it is impossible to guard against that which is incomplete or biased. One consequence is we consume only information that fits our own worldview, and we lose our natural defense against our own biases. Needless to say, if our goal is to understand, we must, therefore, remember to first ensure our perceptions reflect reality, especially in an age when our online activity enables marketers to profile us and, through our gadgets, inundate us with targeted info they think we want to consume. We must go back to the basics and take more proactive control of the data we consume and operate with so that unexamined inaccurate data do not take hold. Because we adapt to what we perceive as real, we should not construct a warped reality defined by our biases.

The combination of receiving and accepting in ‘pagtanggap’ teaches us the value of finality, a necessary condition for moving on. The nuance in ‘pagtanggap’ reminds us to be accepting of what is. If we are to be adaptive, we must learn to accept the truth about the world and, more importantly, about ourselves. Accepting is a key dimension of receiving, philosophically and behaviorally. When we accept, we acknowledge what is real, what is true emotionally and cognitively, enabling us to respond to our environment in an adaptive way. ‘Pagtanggap’ is not associated with any one emotion: we are neither happy, nor sad; we just accept that it is what it is. When we deny what is real, we behave in a maladaptive way, and we don’t get our needs met because we act without acknowledging what our true needs are. We should be accepting of our true self–our weaknesses, our fears, our limitations–so that we can self-improve. Accepting oneself is key to building our own self-belief, to strengthening that which is weak, and to bettering ourselves.

The Ilokano and Tagalog are resilient people. One manifestation of their resilience is their spin on martial art, escrima and arnis. Because language and the vocabulary we create in it says a lot about how and what we think about the world, examining ‘pang-ngawat’ and ‘pagtanggap’ helps us benefit from the insight of the Ilokano and Tagalog. We learn, for example, that understanding and accepting are important dimensions of perceiving reality, or receiving it. These nuanced dimensions help us be more adaptive. In FMA, they show us the legitimate value of training ‘to receive’ not just ‘to feed’.

Photo credit: Sam Buot, Sr.  



By Jon Melegrito

Dear Friends: Please write or call your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators and urge them to support campaign to pass the Congressional Gold Medal legislation for our Filipino World War II Veterans. It is known as H.R. 2737 in US House of Representatives and S.B. 1555 in the US Senate.

See sample message below. You may use your own words and personalize your letter. I also provide a link to their e-mail addresses. Just follow the steps to the “Contact” prompt and type your message.

Thank you for giving five minutes of your time. Our veterans waited 70 years for a recognition that’s long overdue and they highly deserve.


A. Legislator contact info

U.S. Senators Email Addresses. This is a list of email addresses for all current US Senators. Most senators provide an email form on their website rather than a direct email address. Just click on this link and an e-mail form will be provided for your message.


House of Representatives Email Addresses. This directory is arranged by state. Click the link to the U.S. Representative from your district, click “Contact” and an “Email Me” form will be provided for your message.


B. Sample Message:

Dear (name of your US Rep or US Senator):


Please support (H.R. 2737 if writing to US Reps) or (S.B. 1555 if writing to US Senators). The men and women of the Philippines and United States performed an invaluable service in defense of both countries from July 26, 1941 to December 31, 1946.

They served in the United States Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) with distinction, fighting alongside American soldiers to help defeat the Imperial Japanese Military Forces and liberate the Philippines, a sovereign territory held by the United States.

The loyal and valiant Filipino Veterans of World War II fought, suffered, and, in many instances, died in the same manner and under the same commander as other members of the United States Armed Forces during World War II.

For over 70 years, Filipino Veterans have sought recognition for their courage and selfless sacrifice. Of the 260,000 who fought, thousands died in combat and in the infamous Death March. Today, less than 18,000 remain. Despite having their benefits rescinded in 1946, they haven’t wavered in their loyalty to America. U.S. recognition of their service and sacrifice is long overdue. Our nation owes these individuals our deepest and sincere gratitude.

As a proud citizen of your district and state, I urge you to sign on as co-sponsor of this legislation and once and for all give these Filipino World War II veterans the honor they deserve. Thank you.

SIGNED (Your name, address, telephone number)

About the author

Jon Melegrito is a writer, community leader, and advocate based in Washington D.C. who has served as the Communications Director of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA).

Liberation, John Delloro, and Glenn Omatsu


Philippine Independence Day makes me think of two people — John Delloro and Glenn Omatsu. They make me think about the project of liberation, and how it is a project for everyone. I explain below.

A very good friend, by the name of John Delloro, once wrote, “Reformed laws can be ignored. Progressive electeds eventually compromise. Lessons learned from political education can be forgotten. Services can sometimes breed dependence. But organizing expands democracy and develops leaders.” It’s been some time since his passing on June 5, 2010, and as I remember his life and how he chose to spend it on community organizing, I am reminded, too, of our shared teacher-mentor-friend: Prof. Glenn Omatsu.

Many AANHPI student activists who were part of our cohort in the early to mid 1990s at UCLA knew Glenn well; many more coveted the opportunity to be mentored by him. We affectionately called him “Yoda” because of his deep insight and intellect; I had the privilege to catch up with Glenn last year, and he remains the thoughtful, widely read man I remember him from back then.

As undergrads and, ultimately, grad students in the Asian American Studies program, Glenn taught and treated so many of us (John Delloro, Sarah Eunkyung Chee, Alyssa Kang, Ryan Yokota, Levin Sy, Maria Ventura, Darlene Rodriguez, Joe Penano, Gina Inocencio, Jay Mendoza, Arnold Serrano, Teresa Ejanda, Kay Dumlao, Edgar Dormitory, Darryl Mar, Tony Osumi, Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Nate Santa Maria, Jeff Ow, Ayako Hagihara, Dee Dee Nguyen, Jung Eun-Son, Emily Lawsin, Scott Kurashige, Jeff Chang, to name a few — thank you Facebook) like his family. Like kindling, his words often sparked critical thought and inspiration.

In his well-known “Four Prisons” article published in “Amerasia Journal” (15:1) in 1989, Glenn challenged us to participate more deeply in the dialogue going on around us. He sparked thoughtful and relevant dialogue then, and he makes me think deeply once again now as I read it, especially as we find ourselves in a new era with new economic realities (e.g., a rising Asia, Latin America, and emergent Africa), political struggles (e.g., the conservative Republican Party in deep internal turmoil, emergence of the Tea Party, shifting tide over gun control and immigration reform, renewed assertion of state rights, constitutional fight over ‘same-sex’ marriage), and social movements (e.g., ‘Occupy’ movement and calls for addressing inequality, shifting attitudes in favor of ‘same-sex’ marriage, momentum toward environmental justice work).

In that article, Glenn wrote, “It may be difficult for a new generation…to understand the urgency of Malcom X’s demand for freedom ‘by all means necessary’, Mao’s challenge to ‘serve the people’, the slogans of ‘power to the people’ and ‘self-determination’, the principles of ‘mass line’ organizing and ‘united front’ work, or the conviction that people — not elites — make history.  But these ideas galvanized thousands…and reshaped our communities…But are these concepts relevant today?…Are the ideas of the [Asian American] movement alive today, or have they atrophied into…curiosities of a bygone era of youthful…idealism?

“By asking these questions, we participate in a larger national debate…occurring all around us: in sharp exchanges over ‘family values’ and the status of women and gays in American society; in clashes in schools over curricular reform and multiculturalism; in differences among policymakers over the urban crisis and approaches to rebuilding inner cities; and continuing reexamination of…U.S. military intervention [in foreign lands].” (p. 57)

As we celebrate Philippine Independence Day and remember our friend John, and think about the vital role of Glenn Omatsu in our consciousness as questioning adults, I’m caught in a process of complicating the benefits of a life spent learning and doing, and learning some more, as opposed to a life of doing from old learning. I have invested many years of my life into my education; I learn for a living, in fact, because I enjoy learning from my future-colleagues. What has been the outcome of this passion for learning? Glenn’s “Four Prisons” is a big part of the answer but I also have my own insight to place on top of his.

I believe learning — and learning how to learn — to be the ultimate expression of freedom, a vital expression of how liberation looks like for the self and others. Learning done well is not just understanding the external world and how we construct it with meaning; learning is also gaining insight into our inner world — the person that we are. What is deeply psychological is also sociological, and vice versa. We perform our gender, race, class, faith, thoughts and feelings in our social relationships; we also become what we are told we are and how social forces define/limit us to be. Having the tools to think critically about what we are told by the world, what social trends sweep us away, and why we do the things we do is critical to being free. Not having these tools ensures we settle for building the dreams of others instead of our own.

To liberate those in need — and ourselves — equals sending ‘status quo thinking’ to its knees for sustaining a world of its own making where the old powers keep getting their flow.

Knowing that dualistic thinking gives way to integrative thinking — as our direct experiences and knowledge base broaden — means that certainty is less seductive of a tool in transforming communities. Having certainty rests on simplification, not nuanced deliberation, not critical thinking. What we need more is critical thinking tools: theory- and empirically-driven insight.

Social change relies on critical thinkers because they alone question why things are the way they are, and then act to changing those things. To liberate those in need — and ourselves — equals sending ‘status quo thinking’ to its knees for sustaining a world of its own making where the old powers keep getting their flow. Liberation from the made-up world of the old powers means being aware of the ‘status quo thinking’ that we allow to shape our actions despite them being counter to our self-interests.

High Temperatures Bring Risk of Heat-Related Illnesses in Orange County, CA


(Santa Ana, CA) – Temperatures in many inland Orange County communities are expected to reach high temperatures above 95 degrees this weekend, increasing the risk of heat related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke for those who are more sensitive to heat.

Prolonged exposure to excessive temperatures may cause serious conditions like heat exhaustion or heat stroke and can even be fatal. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea or vomiting and dizziness. Warning signs of heat stroke may include an extremely high body temperature, unconsciousness, confusion, hot and dry skin (no sweating), a rapid, strong pulse, and a throbbing headache. If symptoms of heat stroke occur, immediately call for medical assistance. Move the person to a shady area and begin cooling their body with water.

Recommended precautions to prevent heat related illnesses include:

• Drink plenty of water; don’t wait until you are thirsty.

• Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.

• Stay out of the sun if possible, and when in the sun wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim, and use sunscreen.

• Avoid strenuous activities if you are outside or in non-air conditioned buildings. If you are working outdoors, take frequent rest and refreshment breaks in a shaded area.

• Never leave children, elderly people or pets unattended in closed cars or other vehicles.

• Check on those who are at high risk to make sure they are staying cool – including seniors who live alone, people with heart or lung disease, and young children.

• Stay cool indoors – if your home is not air conditioned, visit public facilities such as shopping malls and libraries to stay cool.

For more information on heat related illnesses, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/.

# # #

View the official warning here http://us4.campaign-archive1.com/?u=2f2593b644c191a74f2a4d25a&id=000b842719&e=23157259ee

Perfecting our union this July 4th

Thurgood Marshall, who argued Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and, in 1967, and became the first African American on the Supreme Court, is known to have said the quote below about the Constitution on its bicentennial in 1987:

“The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the “more perfect Union” it is said we now enjoy. I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today.”

May we live with an open enough mind to recognize and stand against what is retrograde. May we today remember to be respectful not just of the original words of our Constitution but also, and perhaps more profoundly, the ideals it aspires to fulfill.

An Earth that does not kill: A reflection on Newt Gingrich’s silly, unserious question


I had a strong negative reaction to Newt Gingrich’s recent claim that it is pure hubris for climate advocates to work to mitigate climate change.

Why my strong reaction?
1) He appeared to take by surprise the other panelists for a split second, and (2) as result of that effect, I suspect that we’ll be hearing this silly question thrown around by the Right and other climate deniers for a while, distracting us from the real, more urgent dialogue around how to work together to prevent unnecessary further loss of life from climate change-related events.

He asked, “What’s the right temperature…for the planet?”

My short answer: bad question. Asking and answering his question does not inspire the right dialogue; it evades it.

Governance requires a line of thinking more grounded in the imperatives of public welfare. Clearly, arriving at a consensus on the right temperature, while I guess important, is beside the point when the immediate need is a pragmatic policy framework and public dialogue that work to prevent climate-related loss of life and property, something that continues to happen needlessly.

On CNNs GPS recently in June 2014, the President Anote Tong of Kiribati lamented that it is too late for many of his people whose islands have been swallowed up by rising seawater. From that interview, what I remember the most is him saying, “[It] is already too late for us…we are working together collectively with the countries in the (sic) like situation, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, where the impact of climate change is about total annihilation of … our nations.” You can watch the interview and read the transcript here.

How have we allowed our world to get so sick that it is now its own destroyer???

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said that if the wealthy start losing money from climate change, things will change for the better at the policy level. I disagree. Regardless of what the elite chooses to do, those of us who have solutions with even the most remote chance of success should act. Ordinary people need to change, mostly in how they see themselves as non-actors in this global issue. Climate change solutions need to be as personal as its negative impacts which are many and varied depending on where one lives.

I see climate change as an all-encompassing mega issue that wraps together so many others that have haunted us for generations: Poverty, North-South power imbalance, Group marginalization, Community empowerment, to name a few.

The vulnerability to its impacts that we share is shaped by these underlying issues, which are all too familiar. To be actors in climate work, therefore, in part means being solution-oriented toward all the familiar barriers to social justice and human development.

Independence Day, June 12 & July 4, 2014


“Prevent others from suffering what you have suffered, that in the future there be no brothers murdered or mothers driven to madness. Resignation is not always a virtue; it is a crime when it encourages tyrants: there are no tyrants where there are no slaves!” – Dr. Jose P. Rizal (Simoun to Basilio in EL FILIBUSTERISMO)

Advance happy Philippine and U.S. Independence Day, all…I write again after a long break. Glad to once again have time to write.

In its modern form, tyranny no longer always towers over us but instead now burrows itself deep into our psyche that we, ourselves, stand in our own way, perhaps more profoundly, aiding and abetting those who strip us of our true power and value, after they mine from us the same for their own use.

Independence Day should remind us not only of history but also of the modern day internal struggle we all have, which we must also heroically win.

We all endure our own struggle in finding our true personal power. What I have learned through my own life is that while it is important to look outward for inspiration, we should not neglect to also fix our attention inward so that we may draw from what we abundantly already have within.

Over the past 18 months, my personal journey has been replete with blessings. I have had to teach my self to take in these blessings graciously, a mark I suppose of my own personal development, noteworthy enough in my mind to process and share a bit.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would have seen myself ‘undeserving of winning’; I still, to this day, look away from the glare of praise, even from my trusted students. I was raised to be humble, and I was trained by mentors to lead with humility. Community organizing, after all, has no celebrities; there is only room for solutions and everyone’s empowerment.


Somehow and somewhere along the way, my mentors’ valuable lessons morphed into some kind of negative limiting belief that made me not only put my original dreams on pause but also made me build the dreams of others, thinking that it was not my time still. I believed this for years.

At the end of 2011, I woke up, thanks, primarily, to my beautiful wife who made me see more clearly, and, secondarily, to my family and good friends who believed enough in my dreams to also make them their own.

Trust me when I tell you that there is self-belief in waking up, that there is power in self-belief. I wish all of you to find soon your self-belief for it is sweet and its gifts are abundant. At some point, all the preparing, learning, and observing must give way to doing.

If you have also been keeping your own dream hostage, set her free. It is time. Do not fear it. She will be a blessing to you and to many others, many of whom you are destined to meet.

Best of all, by doing so — by believing enough in your own dream to give birth to it — you will set your true self free.


PRESS RELEASE: Oxnard College and CYPHER work on a cutting-edge workforce development partnership that promotes the capacity of youth to develop pragmatic, community-defined solutions to climate change and health disparity



OXNARD, CA (May 28, 2014)- Community, business and education leaders gathered in Oxnard College to develop the capacity of the youth in addressing the local and global challenges of climate change and health disparity. The ‘outside-the-box’ program is called Hybrid STEAM, and it is a partnership between Oxnard College’s STEM program and CYPHER, a community-based organization focused on building a pipeline of ‘thinkers, doers, and advocates’ in climate resilience and health equity. The overarching goal of the Oxnard College-CYPHER partnership is to engage and motivate students, faculty, and key constituencies in Ventura County in innovative solution-making on local manifestations of the overlap between climate change and health disparity already being felt across the county and the broader Southern California region.

“As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” says Dr. Cynthia Herrera, STEM Director, Project ASCENSION, at Oxnard College. “Working with students throughout Ventura County, I have become critically aware of how important career exploration and self-efficacy integration are for a well-rounded education. This partnership between Oxnard College and CYPHER will creatively link traditional and non-traditional learning, environmental-social consciousness, career exploration, and innovative entrepreneurial methodologies to expand the student’s knowledge-base in a holistic continuum of experiences that they may not have had access or exposure to obtain. This project builds on the existing Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Art curricula, and enhances them by injecting the real-world challenge of solving climate change and health disparity—a truly cutting edge youth and workforce development framework.”

Ventura County’s economy has evolved from one that is dependent on agriculture and natural resources to one that draws technology, alternative energy, bioscience, healthcare, military operations, and manufacturing. With a population well over 800,000, Ventura County is the twelfth largest county in the state. Its diversity of resources, businesses and population provide the perfect conditions for innovation and excellence to support this Oxnard College-CYPHER pilot project.

“We are equally proud and excited to be working with such a forward-thinking program, like the STEM Program at Oxnard College,” says R. Bong Vergara, Director at CYPHER. “It affords us a real-world opportunity to apply the best ideas of multiple professional fields, like social work, law, public health, education, and business in helping aspiring youth to be change-makers. We, at CYPHER, believe in the inherent wisdom of the youth and the community in solving local manifestations of climate change and health disparity. Working with a college is an ideal way to demonstrate just how real-world training can spark innovation.”

“The idea of utilizing a collaborative structure across curriculum for teaching a geoscience class is an effort to make the sciences more engaging and increase the student success rate at Oxnard College,” adds Professor Christiane Mainzer, Geography Department at Oxnard College. “The collaboration of the Physical Geography and Art Appreciation, (both GE courses that transfer to the 4-year institution), allows the students from both classes to share service learning projects that deal with sustainability where students will have direct experience with issues they are studying in the course and opportunities to analyze and solve problems or issues in a college campus environment. Service learning is one of the “high-impact educational practices” that engage students intellectually. The relevance of college learning is interwoven into real-world settings as students experience and practice service to the community.”

“Students of art and students of science benefit from hands-on learning and from an exchange of ideas and processes,” says Professor Lucy Solomon, Art Department at Oxnard College.  Science-oriented students utilize creative tools in this new context, while art students solve real-world problems alongside the geoscience students: together, artists and scientists can make a bigger difference!”

This multi-dimensional youth development approach aims to prepare Ventura County students for diverse STEM careers, while simultaneously promoting 21st century learning opportunities, creating tomorrow’s ‘techno-savvy’ workforce, promoting environmental-social consciousness, and manifesting forward-thinking leaders of the future.


CYPHER centers its focus on the youth (13-24 years old) who are often the least consulted community member when it comes to their point of view on world issues, including climate change and human health. CYPHER programs enable the youth to create and inspire their peers and local community to trust in their own solutions to climate change and health disparities. CYPHER achieves this trough partnerships with local STEM programs, a fellowship program, and an annual “Sustainable Earth Decathlon” (SED). For more information, visit the CYPHER homepage at cypher-international.org