Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Diverse Community Voices

The first event of its kind in New Hampshire, this program brings together a collection of Human Books who have volunteered to tell their personal stories and to answer questions about their occupations, lives and experiences. Readers will have the unique opportunity to check out and converse with these Human Books, giving them the chance to experience another's journey and challenges, ask questions, and expand awareness.

See the 2014 photo album on Flickr.

Human Book Catalog for April 6, 2014

Blind Optimism: "Seeing" the World Through My Rose Colored Dark Glasses by Roger

One of three children born to a Japanese mother and father in the military, Roger arrived 3 ½ months premature. Due to an insufficient oxygen supply, he was given oxygen at a level that destroyed his optic nerves, leaving him completely blind.

As a child, not only was he emotionally and physically abused by his family, but was socially isolated and withdrawn. It was instilled in him that he would have to perform better than average to make up for his blindness. He was told he would have to go out of his way to be nice or face not being liked because of his handicap. Girls told him they wouldn't date him because he was blind. In fact, he was told he couldn't do much of anything because he was blind.

He learned early on that the one and only person he could count on was himself and that he didn't need to compensate or apologize for who or what he was. He also learned that optimism was the antidote to many evils.

Being blind has not prevented Roger from completing college, marrying, having a family and running his own business. As an independent clinical social worker, he draws upon his own life experiences, treating others with compassion and sympathy. He is living proof that it is possible to overcome real life hardships with hard work, personal responsibility and a positive outlook.

Courage to Change: From White Coats to Wings by Elizabeth

Crazy. Impractical. Just plain foolish. Those were just some of the words used to describe Elizabeth's 180 degree career change. With a solid background in counseling, public health and clinical research, it took great courage to leave the world of pharmaceutical/biotech research to enter the spiritual world of angels, metaphysics and the paranormal.

Despite experiencing ridicule and doubt in leaving the clinical world, Elizabeth followed her heart, believing that her work as a metaphysician/angelologist was of a higher service. Assisting others as they seek spiritual truths, she is called upon to listen, guide, and educate. She is here to share the journey that took her from the steely sterility of a laboratory to the mystical, mysterious world beyond.

Embracing My Identity: Latino Pride by Eva

Eva found her passion and life's mission when she came to the United States in 1975. Coming from an upper class family in Venezuela, it was a shock to experience going from being a member of the privileged minority to being a member of the unprivileged minority simply by crossing the border. She was the same person, with the same education and from the same background but just like that, she was automatically associated with "those people" because of her ethnicity.

In talking to her Latino friends, she discovered that Americans didn't care who her daddy was, they were all lumped together. She decided that she wanted to raise the bar for all Latino immigrants by educating the receiving communities. By embracing her identity, she found her calling.

She is proud of who she is and had no intention of spending her life pretending to be someone she wasn't or suppressing her true self. People fear what they don't know and fall for myths and misconceptions. That's why taking the time for dialogue is so important to Eva.

Along with being a wife and mother, Eva is a Police Commissioner in Manchester, serves on the Governor's Commission on Latino Affairs and works as an immigrant rights advocate and organizer.

15 Minutes with Kurt's Husband: Living My Dreams by Steven

Steven is a man living his dreams! Last August, he and his husband celebrated 30 years together. He is his own person and as such, is optimism personified.

Having dealt with many issues through the years, including his appearance, lack of confidence and doubting his talents, he never stopped to worry about what people thought of him being queer.

At the age of 54, he fulfilled a life-long dream of becoming a film actor and has been busy ever since, not only as an actor but as a model and producer. His talents have been called upon for the NOH8 Campaign and as a judge for Windham High School's art scholarship as well as the NH Film Festival's scriptwriting competition. He is currently the subject of a documentary being produced by Markin's Media entitled, "Steven: A NH Man's Optimistic Journey in Front of the Lens".

His mantra? It's never too late to live for your dreams so just try new things! Oh, and Steven's day job? He is an order/picker for LIFE IS GOOD company. But of course!

Finding a Place to Belong by Michele

Michele is the proud mother of two sons. As her second son, Nick, grew from baby to toddler, it became apparent that things weren't "right". At eighteen months of age, she and her husband were handed a diagnosis or label of "mental retardation", now referred to as a developmental disability. As Nick grew older, he had less and less in common with his peers and had a difficult time fitting in. In 5th grade, his life changed when he had the opportunity to join DreamCatchers, a group designed to provide kids with disabilities a place to belong, make friends and talk freely and openly about their challenges.

As the mother of a child with disabilities, Michele experienced the pain of her son standing on the sidelines because of his differences. She understands well the challenges and gifts of raising a "special" child. Witnessing the impact DreamCatchers had on Nick and others inspired her to want to share this concept and support model with other parents and their children in communities around New Hampshire and beyond. In 2012, DreamCatchers NH was formally recognized as a non-profit organization and has been adopted in 4 communities with over 40 members.

Learn about Nick, the DreamCatcher kids and Michele's plans to grow this wonderful organization because everyone needs a place to belong!

Happiness Is: Benefiting from Diversity by James

Ever wonder how to be happy? Each of us has needs and wants and having our basic needs met is certainly a foundation to happiness. But research has found that happiness and prosperity come from interaction with diverse people.

Growing up black in the south, there were times when James was followed in stores or pulled over while driving because of the color of his skin. He came from a middle-class black family who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the 60's. He went on to graduate from Dartmouth College, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, and to work at one of the largest technology companies in the world.

This book explores a life that has survived discrimination, the threat of losing the most basic needs and the achievement of happiness through interaction with diverse people and cultures in places around the world, including Goffstown.

Hope, Humor and Civil Disobedience by Arnie

Arnie's work is unusual. Where else would you meet someone who has been arrested and stood trial as part of his job?

In a career of social and political activism that spans nearly 40 years, Arnie now serves as the NH Director of the American Friends Service Committee. As such, he coordinated the campaign to win acceptance of Martin Luther King Day, organized acts of civil disobedience, impersonated a presidential candidate in training exercises for grassroots activists, negotiated union contracts, interviewed sweatshop workers in foreign countries and mentored young activists early in their careers. He has had the opportunity to be a lobbyist, radio show host, writer, protester and teacher and even a "human book"!

He is currently working to repeal New Hampshire's death penalty and will be embarking on a 2 year project to address the excess of influence large corporations and the super-rich have on presidential candidates. Through it all, he maintains a sense of hope and a sense of humor.

Yes, his work is unusual!

Lettuce Tastes Like a Wet Paper Bag by Jenny

"Pudgy" and "fat" were the names she was called as a child. Having been overweight most of her life, Jenny came face to face with size based stereotypes and prejudices early on.

She would have starved herself to death rather than eat a salad. "Lettuce tastes like a wet paper bag." Instead, with a steady diet of pizza, chips, beer, M &M's and ice cream, she was out of control! Coupling her food choices with little to no exercise, she one day found herself looking at 314 pounds staring back at her from the scale.

After have life-saving, life-altering bariatric surgery, Jenny lost the weight of what was equal to an entire person and in the process, gained self-respect. She now has the ability to move freely without loss of breath, has increased the quality of her life and no longer suffers the derogatory, behind the back comments about her size.

She is eager to share her journey, using humor and reality to bring awareness to the issue of "size" and the benefits of weight loss surgery.

Please note: According to Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, there is documented evidence that overweight people face discrimination in employment, healthcare and education. With 2 out of 3 adults and 1 in 3 kids considered to have weight issues, this bias affects millions and is considered to be the last socially accepted form of discrimination.

The Power Within by Elaine

We all tend to stereotype, whether consciously or subconsciously, seeing people through our own lens. As soon as the lens is changed, we are often able to see how off base we truly were.

As a woman in construction, Elaine was stereotyped more than she can say. In her first construction job, she was the only woman working alongside 500 men. As a result, she had to work ten times as hard to prove herself in a male dominated field.

She is passionate about empowering girls and women to tap into their inherent potential through building. Helping girls at risk to have an experience that leaves them feeling powerful and strong instead of defeated and weak is the motivation and driving force behind her work.

Many young girls see themselves as powerless, torn down and objectified at every turn. Finding ways to combat that by helping them discover their potential has become her life's work. Trading her career as a general contractor specializing in residential renovations for the non-profit Girls at Work, Elaine is doing just that!

Yes, We Have No Tomatoes by Mel

Unfortunately, the issues of hunger and poverty are often misunderstood and associated with laziness or lack of drive. The assumption is often made that individuals accessing food pantries and other services are abusing the system.

As a native Granite Stater with ten years experience in non-profit leadership, Mel will take you through a day in the life of a Food Banker working on the front lines of the war against hunger. With hunger and poverty on the rise in New Hampshire, it is hard not to feel responsible for the gaps in the system. Thriving in a business that really shouldn't exist calls for heel-digging, resourcefulness and drive in order to stay the course and connect with the right resources, be they food, funds, friends or meaningful programs that will improve the lives of the less fortunate.

In addition, Mel has learned to develop strong relationships while overcoming her own personal fears. She hopes to share the emotional highs and lows of the all-consuming fight against hunger here in the Granite State.