Living Out One’s Vocation by Aligning Work with Personal Values: The People Who Inspire Series: Mozart Guerrier
Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian‘s “The People Who Inspire series” highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.
Today’s post features Mozart Guerrier, Performance Poet, Social Worker & Social Entrepreneur.
Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your current work?
I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I went to a small state school in Pennsylvania and studied Psychology and took a large number of courses in Social Work and Creative Writing.
I’ve community organized to end sexual violence, worked with hundreds of unemployed adults in helping them find work and education opportunities and develop career skills for the city of Denver, counseled college students, worked in program development/evaluation and anti-poverty initiatives, and worked as health and safety outreach post-grad presidential scholar and digital storyteller.
Most recently, I sharpened my skills as a social entrepreneur and director of national marketing/content management for an Unreasonable Institute and Code for America (leading global social innovation incubators) backed company with the aim of making need-based programs more accessible and at the same time worked as a housing caseworker for a nonprofit in Syracuse ( Highlight: I relocated over 100 families living in unfit/unstable housing in less than 45 days during one period). A lot of the work mentioned here I’ve done above through dynamic internships for graduate school (University of Denver, Syracuse University), fellowships, and full-time work. A lot of it was simultaneous, too.
I currently serve as the lead coordinator/community engagement specialist of a strategic partnerships between the public housing authority in Syracuse and my employer, state hospital/academic medical center. I serve as a bridge between the medical center’s resources (hospital, academics, students, staff, and faculty) and the development of the health leadership skills of the resident’s of the public housing neighborhood. Put simply, I help neighborhoods live healthy lives as a community. I’m developing and implementing a lay health leader program and my job is to answer the questions:
“How does a large-scale health organization become neighbors with a housing community that goes beyond the scope of volunteering? How can place (where people live) be leveraged as a space for vitality and intergroup health connection?”
I answer these questions through the lay health leader program which develops the skills of folks in the community to serve as health advocates for their neighbors and the notion that small health peer support groups that are anchored in place can sustain and influence the behavior of others with the assistance of trained health professionals as consultants and guides in this self-directed process.
Outside of my social work/ social entrepreneur career, I’m a performance poet: I’m a Syracuse Salt City Dishes Grant 2012 winner, host of the Underground Poetry Spot Open Mic, and the project manager for the Syracuse Salt City Poetry Slam. My work has appeared in journals, been anthologized, and appeared in plays. I’ve performed at schools and cultural centers across the country, including the Shubin Theater in Philadelphia, Syracuse Stage, MIT, University of Rochester, LeMoyne College, Corning Community College, Denver City School District, and the nationally televised show, BETj Lyric Cafe.
Listen to one of Mozart’s Poems: “Ava’s Forgiveness”
How did you find your way to poetry?
My parents encouraged my siblings and I to read books. We didn’t have much money for traditional bookstores so they would purchase garbage bags filled with books from thrift stores and take us to the library. My mother asked us to read out loud to her often and asked my older sisters to teach me how to read at an early age.
Growing up, I competed in oratorical contests. The first speech I did was on Paul Laurence Dunbar and I became fascinated by his life and words. My sister introduced me to spoken word via HBO Def Poetry Jam and took me to the Nuyorican Café in NYC in my early teens which inspired me to delve deeper into writing and performance. I began to take writing seriously after taking a creative writing class with my mentor Louise Sullivan-Blum at Mansfield University.
Tell us about the underground poetry spot and how you became involved.
Underground Poetry Spot (UPS) is a poetry collective made up of poets and writers from across Central New York. I was a member of Verbal Blend, a spoken word program at Syracuse University, and was introduced to the founder of UPS, Seneca Wilson, through this program. I visited the venue a few times and shared work and the group decided to invite me to join them.
Do you have any other issues that you’re interested in working on or working with others in terms of social justice/equity?
I’m concerned with the number of men and women incarcerated and I would like to see a greater emphasis on restorative justice and I’m interested in civic and support groups as a change mechanism for communities. I think that solution focused interventions (via Berg, Saleeby) need to be implemented at the organizational level and not just in clinical interactions. I’m concerned with the vocation of Social Work and Social Workers and I think mindfulness and self-care activities should be further emphasized for sustainable and systemic change.
I want to work with others to support social workers in finding the “right” change work for them and happiness. Too many social workers/ change agents are unhappy, dissatisfied in their chosen field. For example, I’ve met social workers who work in housing issues who want to do clinical or community work and get stuck doing “good” work, but not “great” work in their area of focus. Lastly, I’m excited about social entrepreneurship and I’d really enjoy sharing some concepts from internet startup culture with social workers because I think they might be beneficial in a helping setting.
In this video, Mozart shares some thoughts about how Social Work Students can take advantage of their practicum supervision:
What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?
I get to both set the agenda (program parameters and strategy) and implement the work which is exciting. I get to support communities in their journey of tapping into the leadership that is present in their communities. My work “health and wellness” is a vocation, because I get the opportunity to embody the practices that I think aid in disease management and positive well-being. Most importantly, the work and my process are aligned with my values which brings me joy.
What aspects do you find challenging?
The most challenging part of my work is also the most enjoyable: embodying the values that I challenge others to take on as their own for themselves and their families. When I’m stressed or tired, it can be easy to just eat salty junk food or overextend myself, so I’m always reminding myself of the discipline and values that I know are important, even when I eat the tasty bag of chips (it happens) and I have to gracefully reconnect with the practices that help me flourish.
From some of your work that I’ve read online, I know that you are passionate about encouraging people who are interested in doing social good to share their stories through blogging. Do you have any words of advice for anyone who might want to share their thoughts, tell their stories, or work for social justice in terms of transforming their ideas into actions?
Blogging: I would say write for yourself for at least 7 days and keep it super short so you can build a little habit. Just write whatever that comes to mind about work for 5 minutes and stop. This is a good site to build a habit up.
Storytelling: If I’ve learned anything from social work, something funny or inspiring is always happening at work. At the end of each day ask two questions: What was funny today? What was inspiring?
Tip: Change agents are busy, I highly recommend using a cell phone or computer voice recorder and just ranting about something you care about for 5 minutes. That’s an easy way to process and record an idea.
Ideas Into Action: Write 1 thing you are grateful for at the end of each work day or if you’re not into “gratefulness”, write down 1 challenge and describe how you’re going to face that challenge in less than 5 sentences.
Ideas Into Action: There is a wonderful community of social workers on twitter. Ask a professional question (while respecting client confidentiality) and type #socialwork after the question to pique the interest of other social workers.
Do you have any special projects that you’ve been working on lately that you’d like share about?
I’m interested in personal development coaching + training for social workers. I’m accepting 5-10 social good folks who want help figuring out what they want to do in the world and want help implementing self-care into their work. Go here to learn more.
I’m writing a book and a play. More creative writing on my mailing list.
What/Who Inspires you?
My wife and children, my parents and sisters. The future, the past, right now.
Tons of books ( I read at least 100 books a year), music, theater, and the faith and passion of my friends and peers.
Lastly, Ubuntu. I believe in this philosophy!
What have been the Keys to your success so far?
I ask questions and I see people as people, not the titles they may or may not hold. I listen more than I talk. I have a sense of history, but I’m comfortable with the future. Lastly, I’m able to “cross train”. I apply concepts that might be found in different industries to my social work practice. I set goals and I’m not afraid of being embarrassed if I appear too passionate or excited about a particular topic. Hence, I connect with people who exude my level of passion.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
People in general, but frequently in social service settings, many social service professionals don’t have explicit personal or professional goals. I would recommend your readers to find and explore their goals.
Find or connect to a spiritual/religious practice that helps you create meaning and purpose.
Read 4 non-fiction books/ 4 fiction books / 1 poetry book a year
Call someone you love or send a thank you note every day. The more we’re able to exhibit love in our personal lives, the closer we get to expressing that goodness in our professional lives.
You can follow Mozart on Twitter @mozgue and check out his blog on at urbanhealth1.tumblr.com
If you know any People Who Inspire that you would like to be featured in the series, fill out the contact form here.
Grace & Peace,
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW