The Trek Episode 8 on The CU Community: Civics Unplugged discuss the future of democracy and the role CU plays – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Madison Adams, Noor Myran, Jonah Zachs, Ashley Lin, Maryam Tourk, Max Polsky and Chabu Kapumba, discuss the Civics Unplugged Community on this week’s episode of The Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on Civics Unplugged and the goal of the organization
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss the future of democracy and how change starts small
  • Future leaders of America discuss the importance of civic organizations and creating an open channel of communication on reform



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Jonah Zacks, Steering Committee Member at Civics Unplugged, Ashley Lin, Founder/CEO of Project Exchange, Maryam Tourk, Co-founder of CU Summer Camp, Max Polsky, Fellow at Civics Unplugged and Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:01

Hello, everyone and welcome back to group think. Group think is our dialogue series at CU, where you pick a topic and have a conversation about whatever feels meaningful. My name is Madison and I’m a high school senior from Virtus, Oklahoma, and I am joined by so many amazing members of our community. So if everyone will just take a second to introduce themselves, that’d be great.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:00:23

Hey everyone. I’m Maryam. I’m also a high school senior and I’m from the suburbs of Chicago.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:00:31

I’m Ashley and I’m also a high school senior and I’m from Vancouver, Washington. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:00:38

I’m Noor and I’m also a high school senior from the suburbs of Chicago.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:49

Hi, I’m Chabu and I am a first-year and I currently reside right outside of Toronto.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:58

Hey, I’m max. I am a sophomore in Portland, Maine. 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:10

I am Jonah. I’m a high school senior living in St. Louis, Missouri.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:01:14

I’m Phoebe and I’m a high school senior living in Dallas, Texas.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:19

Hey, I’m Gary. I’m one of the co-founders of civics on floods. I’m currently in New York city.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:27

Awesome. And today we’re talking about the civics unplugged community. So we’d like to start off with a word association. So think of your three words, write them down. Don’t write them down, whatever you want. And then we can go through and talk about those. So I’m going to share my screen. Okay. Anyone want to go first? 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:02

So my three words are powerful, engaging, and evolving

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:14

And feel free to elaborate on why you chose those words. I mean, you don’t have to, if you don’t want to, but, okay.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:20

I think powerful just because there’s just so much potential and capacity to do good here. Engaging, because I don’t think I’ve ever been in a space where I just love to spend more time here and then evolving because we were in a constant state of evolution. And I think that that’s the most unique and beautiful thing about CU.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:40

Engaging is definitely true. Chabu and I spent from yesterday and the day before we had spent seven hours, I think on calls together. So that was pretty crazy. 

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:02:57

My three words were passion, collaboration and community. Passion, because I feel like everyone’s so passionate about everything they do. Collaboration, because the way that everyone works together and collaborate on ideas is really inspiring. And then community, because again, as you said, you and Chabu literally spent seven hours on calls together, but I’ve met so many incredible people who see you and it’s fostered such an incredible sense of community.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:03:30

My three words are revolutionary because joining CU definitely changed the way that I approach a lot of things in my own life. And along those lines also enlightening because every time I get on a jam session, I learned something new about the way the world works or my place is in the world, which is always really cool to me. And then just supportive because I always know that I have people at CU that are in my corner and that’s something I think a hallmark of a great community. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:04:09

My three words are love, energy and wisdom because I feel like it’s a community that incorporates all three of those things to be supportive and revolution.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:04:26

My three words are driving, cooperative and idealistic, and that’s the idea. We talked about people being driven a lot, but not much about the forces that drive them instead of relentless pursuit of a goal or something is a better democracy. But that relies on having people around you. 

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:04:58

I can go next. My three words are dialogue, respect and relationships, the first being, because I think the conversations we have here are unlike any other that at least I’ve experienced additionally, the level of respect that I’ve witnessed for other people’s identities, their opinion, this has been pretty incredible. And the relationships between people are also really solid especially for something that is entirely online.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:05:44

I wrote down joyful, belonging, inspiration and growth. Yeah. I think they’re pretty self-explanatory.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:06:03

I would say for me life altering, because CU literally changed my life. I feel like everything at the core about what we do is about people, whether it be empowering each other or people outside the community and the future, because I really think that people in this community will build a better future. So yeah, I know there’s a lot of people here, so I hope that I did not skip over anyone. Are we all good? Okay, cool. So would anyone like to start us off with it doesn’t have to be a question. It can be a statement, literally anything. Anyone want to start off?

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:06:59

The first thing that came to mind for me was that, and this is, yeah, this has been something that’s been brought up on numerous times, but there doesn’t seem to be too much of a conservative or Republican voice in you. I feel like if we are to truly call ourselves an organization for democracy, we need to show that we are capable of having those conversations with people that we disagree with. So that’s what came to mind.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:07:57

I’m curious. And this is both a generational or just an age thing but gen Z, in general don’t have a whole lot of representation from the right. And so I’m curious how accurately we represent the spectrum of gen Z opinions. And that’s not the question.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:08:29

I think it probably depends on what you look. I definitely know a lot more Gen-Z years who are progressive thinkers than who are conservative thinkers. But I have a strong feeling that if I were to go for the North and my state towards the more rural areas that you can even see it on people’ because of the political leaders that are named there.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:09:04

I think that this question ties to a really interesting conversation that I had with Gary and Madison yesterday about metrics or the things that we are the data points were referred to check on how we’re developing and a thing that we want to do well. Right. And so I think that overall, CU has the ambition to be reflective of the country as a whole irrespective of location and political alignment. And so measuring conservative, I guess like participation from conservative gen Z years as well is one of those metrics and trying to achieve that ambition. So I think that my take on this though, is the fact that I agree with Max is sense that I wouldn’t say that there’s a distinctive conservative voice in CU, but I do think that we’ve been effective in having a variety of perspectives here. And so sometimes that variety isn’t necessarily relayed in political alignment because also super young. So it’s not a conversation we have all the time of like, are you red or are you blue? Which I think is super healthy, but yeah, I think that this is a reflection of a metric, but the underlying goal is to make sure that we have a variety of perspectives here.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:10:22

I think it would be really good point because, so my parents are really conservative and they make jokes about when I spend time with CU, like, Oh, they’re turning you into a liberal, but I have to explain to them, I don’t think I’ve ever had an actual traditional political conversation with any of you. And I spend all my time at CU. And so, I mean, varying perspectives, doesn’t just have to be on the political spectrum. And I feel like that’s not really understood. And that’s something that I’ve come to learn through the community.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:11:03

Ashley, feel free to jump in, but a question I want to ask, all of you is what do we focus on a lot that other typical civic, political leadership, don’t find valuable? 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:11:38

One thing that I had mentioned yesterday, Gary you’re in this call is that answers aren’t very interesting or at least they’re not as interesting as the questions that prompt them. And so I think that’s something that we do in my opinion, really, really well because we give people this conversation, for example, really open-ended question based situations. If all we get out of that more questions, it’s still a win.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:12:03

Yeah. I’m glad that Max started this conversation with this idea of representation. And then we quickly got into the topic of how we are being boxed in by people’s assumptions about what we need to talk about and who we need to be and how we must be diverse. Who is dictating this and who wins when we, I know that’s a long question, but who wins by dictating the terms upon which became the terms upon which people decide is right to con commute with each other? I think Democrats and Republicans really win when we just talk about red, blue representation, both parties really win.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:13:09

I think to answer the question, on what do we focus on that other civic organizations, organizations don’t to respond to that? I would say that it’s a really healthy way of not disengaging with political traditions for the sake of disengaging, but questioning the political traditions that we have and then determining if they have real relevancy for an effective approach to things like democracy reform. I think even from its conception, the idea of just addressing democracy form from a systems perspective, rather than being like, look at what we have and let’s see what we can do in response to that. I think that was really powerful, but then even culturally we’ve seen more of that in the sense that the way that we engage in dialogue and conversation and the things that we value, like talking about, you know, are distinct perspectives or re-evaluating, you know, components of our society as a whole. I think that it’s really important in the sense that we’ve just become really good about questioning political traditions, strength for them as needed and just being critical about practices that we have in these spaces.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:14:16

Yeah. I definitely agree with that. And I would add to that, that I think we also do a good job of not just kind of examining systems and things that need to shift, but examining the systems of ourselves and better, you know, understanding how we operate as individuals and how we’re able to plug into the world and contribute to shifting or building new systems. So does something come to mind? I think on another note of when there’s something cool we do that’s other civic works do not. I think to me it has always been about inviting people to co-create what CU looks like. I think it’s really hard to find organizations out who’ll trust young people to actually create and own parts of the community. And I just think there’s a lot of trust that has been placed in community members in CU that I don’t find outside of here.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:15:23

I’ll add onto both of your points, Ashley, because it’s rare that someone’s motto is actually in line with the actions that they take. So I’ll say for people that don’t know, CU’s motto is the kids will lead. And I when I first saw, I was like, Oh yeah, great the kids will lead. Everyone says that Gen Z’s a future. Great. Another org like that, but I think it’s cool that as you see here, we’re actually leading where the people leading these conversations and like innovating ideas and like we have the CU community you know, to support us and like help us along whatever we’re doing, but ultimately like they do trust us, which I think is really cool and unique. And just one other thing, when you’re talking about like examining the systems of ourselves, I think that is something really cool. Just going back to having diverse perspectives a lot of people might pair it other perspectives, but CU actually does a really good job of allowing us to develop our own unique perspectives and identifying what we value and where that would kind of put us in terms of what we believe in and what we will fight for. So I think that is interesting too, because in terms of like boxing people in, we don’t necessarily like say, Oh, I’m this or I’m that, but we just allow people to explore what they might fall into and then kind of go from there. So I think that’s something really unique about CU as well.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:16:48

Yeah. So many snaps. I like what you said, just reminded me of how CU almost like our own school of thought and we’re kind of like highlighting what the civic religion might look like. And I just feel like there’s so much contexts that people have created together that it just makes things so much more coherent within the community and outside of it.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:17:17

And on that note, one of the things I find specifically to Ashley and mine’s point is this is a space for expression and whatever form you want it to be. And I think that not only is it cool, because you won’t find it in other civic orgs, but you don’t find that at school or wherever else you want, wherever else you’re spending your time. And so, the first thing that comes to mind is emojis, like everyone uses images on the application, they’re using Slack all the time. And they come with their benefits and I think that’s really cool. But also, there are multiple parts to try, there are multiple mediums you can take to try and say what you’re trying to say. And people will try to understand you and engage in dialogue to really get to the root of what you’re trying to say.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:17:50

I’m going off that I think of when I think of like, what does CU do that other orgs don’t, CU really gave me the opportunity to grow both internally and with my political views, but it was also a safe and empathetic space for my ideas to be changed. And for me to be corrected on language, I used that wasn’t politically correct, or the ways of thinking that I was challenged to see things from a different perspective. I think empathy is definitely an underlying theme in the CU community and it’s something I definitely really appreciate.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:18:56

I kind of want to echo something that, you know, has almost definitely been brought up before with the question, “What feels meaningful to you?” is something is one that I hear a lot and that that’s something I really appreciate because we aren’t often given the opportunity to discuss our passions. And I really like having the ability to, and the encouragement to voice that to a group of people as something that CU as giving to us, that’s a really powerful thing

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:20:18

Max, were you asking that as a question or are you just saying that? 

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:20:30

No, I was just saying it as a response to Gary’s question. But just the act of focusing on people’s passions instead of giving them specific things to focus on is really important. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:20:51

Yeah. Well, I’m glad you all noticed because everyone’s telling you to be someone, I think it’s probably good to have at least one space where that’s not happening beyond just being happy and having good wellbeing and increasing the wellbeing of other people. I think that’s probably easy to get behind. Right. But to tell you, you have to be a lawyer or go to the school, think a certain way, vote a certain way. I don’t like the fact that there’s not many other orgs that allow you to do that, but I mean, clearly it’s resonating this effort that we’re putting in to create that space.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:21:51

So it’s going to be kind of a turn. So what we’ve been talking a lot about what we do really well, so I want to pose what is something that we can get better at. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:22:07

One thing that I can think of is that everyone who is engaged with CU is super charged because they’re like, yes, CU has changed my life, but I’m wondering if there are ways that we can like, well, I don’t want to force anyone because obviously people have to choose to want to be involved. But I know that some people who just kind of happen to fall into CU, extra involved in CU have grown so much from it. So I’m wondering if there’s ways that we can just kind of open it up and invite more people to get more involved because I’m sure that there are people who just don’t know how to plug in. But would probably benefit a lot from, or even really want to, but just don’t know how to approach that question.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:22:56

I was just going to say, and on that note I think that once people are plugged in, I know that at the start of CU, I was always very in the fellowship and doing commands and everything. There’s this running joke that you have to say something profound, otherwise you don’t say anything at all, but in reality, because everything is so meaningful, I’m wondering if there’s a way that we can remind other people and ourselves. Because I know that’s something I had to do that whatever you say is going to be meaningful. And there shouldn’t be whatever pressures you’re feeling to add something to a conversation. Like it really is a very relaxed, there’s a relaxed energy because again, whatever you say is going to be meaningful. And I know I put a lot of stress on myself that if I unmute, whatever comes out has to be gold. Like it has to be on-point and everything, but ideas get bounced around. Because a bunch of different stuff is being said.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:23:58

Chabu, could I invite you to speak more on that? You had some amazing reflections recently about grammar, coherence, all that stuff. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:24:11

Yeah. I think that I definitely shared the same mindset with her in the sense that the idea that I know that this is something that would happen often at CU where I’m having like an amazing Slack conversation with someone. And then I have to pause before I send it and reread it and fix all the typos and reevaluate the grammar and all this stuff and how it just stops me in my tracks when I’m running towards a great idea. That’s how I like to picture it. And so I kind of, it’s not that I was just like, Oh, dismiss grammar. And you know, I can just say absolute nonsense, but I think that it goes back to something I think Phoebe mentioned is the fact that it’s a safe space to not be perfect or not being in a finished product or perfect state. Like if I send this message to like Noor or Gary right now, they get the vibe about him saying, or they get the foundation of the idea. And so that gives me room to keep developing the idea rather than focusing on how it’s executed or the tools that I use to put that out there. So I think that it’s one of those things that though will, it’s very much a parallel of like your internal growth and how you approach things. And then also just the space that you exist in that helps you do that. So there’s a duality to that is my comment on it.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:25:34

Something that Noor and Chabu said really reminded me of something. So when everyone was, while everyone’s applying to the fellowship and everything for the 21 fellows I had some friends reach out to me asking like, what is CU all about? They wanted to get involved. But one of my friends who actually went to the CU summer camp as well was like, Oh, I don’t know if I can do it or I’ll be good enough. The room feels so put together something that CU does is goes back to the last question as well. But it works on your whole person is not just your passions and what you want to do. Like when you grow older, what project you want to start, we’re empowering you to start the organization or this, but it works on building you up at the core of who you are so that you can better understand what you want to do and what you want to invest your time in. Something that I feel could be spoken about more, definitely the leadership group blueprint and the different quotes and stuff, whenever it comes through pretty members. Because after talking to her, I was like, CU doesn’t want a perfect person because no one’s perfect, but also what else can we help you with if there’s enough, if there’s other things so you worked on building you up as an entire person in order for you to make change, because regardless if you start something or you’re just use the contribute to society and that is still in itself, monumental and so valid.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:26:44

So yeah, completely agreed. I think something you said really resonated, which was that you don’t have to start something. And I think well, I mean, you don’t have to start something to contribute. And I feel like in a lot of other civic youth leadership programs, it’s like the entire program is about you like creating some sort of project or starting some sort of organization at the end of like this fellowship experience. And part of that is because running, the fellowship needs to prove in some way that you did this, but I think that just contributes to people, always feeling like they need to start something and I don’t necessarily think that’s the best way to go about change. So I know that just really resonated with me.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:28:19

I just wanted to add on to what Ashley said about how there’s so much pressure to always start something, but there can be a hundred million organizations in the world, but if they’re all working on the same project, we’re on the same problem, in different ways, but it’s still the same. Sometimes we can do more harm than good. I just wanted to throw that out there.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:28:44

What I was just going to say is that are there ways that we can get more people involved and plugged into CU that I’ve been wondering about is what happened to the other, you know, 150 fellows who started with us? I don’t know and that assumes that we should be keeping people involved after they complete the fellowship. However, if there is a desire of anybody to like say in the CU community, then I feel like we have a responsibility to take care of that.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:29:33

On a different point, but still within this question, what’s something that we can get better at. I think that this is one of the very few spaces where people have the conversation of having love for our country and our democracy, but also very much being aware of and respecting the flaws and damage that’s within that said democracy. And I think that, for me, I had a really weird spot where because I have love for America, I also want to hold it accountable to do better. And I think that as an organization we’ve started that really important conversation, but I think that there’s room to continue to get a better grasp of genuinely the implications of our flawed democracy, not just domestically, but also internationally, because that’s also a really big thing that doesn’t go in that doesn’t get discussed enough that we could also really learn from as a generation.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:30:34

I think what’s super interesting about what Chabu just said is before CU there’s kind of this, at least I have the notion that criticize your country or holding it accountable was unpatriotic in some way. And so you have to really, I had to unplug from that line of thinking so that I could actually be able to criticize it while recognizing that, that doesn’t make me any less of an American or someone who wants to be proud of their country. So I guess my new question would be what are some of the things that we’ve all unplugged from because of CU or because of something that we’ve recognized while in this community.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:31:20

One thing that I hadn’t really thought of before, so I apologize this thought isn’t totally finished, but that this conversation is brought to mind is that there’s a lot of sort of false dichotomies and things that are just that we assume are just binary choices, it’s either this or that, that I think within CU, we just kind of take for granted have a lot more nuance, but I don’t think we do enough to talk about that explicitly and then give members of the community, the tools to talk about that with people outside the community. It’s very easy to just get siloed with people who think like you do, you don’t want to do that. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:32:43

What’s an example of something that you previously thought was a binary, but now you recognize isn’t?

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:32:55

I think that this is the same thing as what I was something that I’ve unplugged from is the idea that progress, not linear, not binary in a lot of different ways in the sense that, I thought, systems progress in our systems would be exclusively reflected by progress in our systems. But in reality, also self-development and progress within myself is also a variation of progress for our systems. And then even the way that we address, the idea of making headway or milestones, it’s not necessarily just moving towards your goal, but then also just learning, you know, this pre-established goal that we had may actually not be something that we no longer see as the end goal or as what would be good, the fact that things can be in constant evolution, changing your mind evolution, that is another variation of progress. And so that’s definitely something that I’ve unplugged from, and also appreciate that I’ve been plugged from cause it’s transformed how I look at a lot of different things.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:34:03

I was not aware of this perception, but I think I previously perceived on change as starting on a large level, like a state level or nation level. And what’s to you did was it kind of forced me to look at myself. And again, I wasn’t really even aware of this, but I think now that I know who I am and once everybody does know who they are, they will be so much more capable of contributing and living a good life.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:34:57

I think something I’ve been unplugged from is the idea of myself as an independent person, I guess. Growing up, I was really proud of being independent, and I was kind of being able to do things on my own. I think that was something that my parents emphasized a lot, you know, have the initiative to be able to do things by yourself. But I think I realized that there was a lot of power in doing things with other people and taking collective action. Yeah. So I definitely like that idea of successes as an individual. It was something I’ve been pulling from.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:35:59

That’s really interesting to me because it prompts a question that for better or worse, we haven’t really had to think about yet, which is as fellows and builders, you know, move around in the world and have achievements. Right. To what extent is it important for us to say, to lay claim to those achievements? Right. Like a lot of organizations, like a school is going to say look at what our alumns did or look at what our faculty members did. Or a corporation might say, Oh, look at one of our employees did or something like that. How important is that to us? Because it’s good to recognize people’s achievements, first of all. And by associating good things with our name, it helps it’s not just selfish. Right. Cause it helps us do this very selfless thing that we’re trying to do, but also how much energy do we want to spend on that?

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:37:10

Really good question. This reminds me of how important is it for donors to know that things are happening, but I guess I would almost not question around and be like how do we help fellows and builders be proud? I was saying, yeah, CU has shaped my journey because you know, I would totally credit CU for things without necessarily being asked. It’s just because it has been such a big part of my journey. Like it would leave this empty gap if I didn’t talk about it. So I think there’s that balance of yes, we can claim credit for things that fellows have done, but it’s also like, well, how do you make it cool for fellows and builders to actually just take and take initiative to do that themselves?

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:38:10

Just something that’s kind of was similar to what Ashley said was that I think the practice of, you know, on some days we’ll do shout outs the practice of being grateful could help people, if they don’t already, it could help them learn the power of saying thank you and for showing what other people have done for you and the way I envision it, and this is me having very little experience on, you know, the leadership level of CEO, but the way I envisioned it being is I’m living up to the individual. Like if the individual really felt like Steve has helped them along the way, then they would give them a shout out and give them that credit.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:39:06

But one thing I’ll add Jonah is I think the entire society incentivizes you to brag about yourself and say, I worked this many community service hours. So I don’t know if we need another force, but it’s reminding people to brag about themselves. You literally can’t get into college, unless you say I did everything myself basically. So just to have a balancing force, right? It’s not saying you know what, we’re actually trying to do the opposite of reducing your sense of agency. We’re trying to give you a sense of agents create conditions upon which your agency can flourish. But to not recognize how much your development is tied to can be attributed to, or is, is entangled with the development and achievements of other people is to be intellectually dishonest and also to put you into a mindset that is actually self-destructive and destructive of the world, quite frankly. So if we can play even a small part in allowing people to see the kind of beautiful maybe dialogue between the individual and the collective I think we will have really added to the peoples collective mental models about how change gets made, how individuals get developed, how societies get developed.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:40:53

I think that I resonate with what Ashley said in the sense that there’s no forced function to say, Oh, here’s me, but then also CU, you know what I mean? I don’t feel forced to have to mention to you, but I have also never found myself in a situation where the opportunity to talk about CU is there and I don’t do it just because it’s just so intertwined with so many new found values and things that I prioritize that it’s easy to have that conversation because there’s just a genuine sense of appreciation and respect for the things that I’ve learned from this space. And then I also think there’s validity in bringing it up, not just because it’s tied to my own personal development, but also in there’s so much that we do here, that intentionally goes against the grain of normal operating systems of organizations and, you know, people who engage in this kind of work that I think by bringing it back to CU, you can almost say this is evidence that disengaging with those practices has added value and produces good work.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:42:14

I’ll also just add on to what Chabu is saying. That, especially as we engross you and approach people outside of CU original sphere of influence, we have to understand that people are still operating in traditional models of success. So they’re like, Oh, well, let’s see, you didn’t do anything notable then, I’m not going to spend my time there. And for all of us, I think we kind of have a changed sense of what growth is and what progress is just by virtue of going through CU and like being a part of this community. But for a lot of people that we’re approaching, maybe unless they don’t see those numbers or the people that we’ve gotten to work with us, they might not be convinced. And so I think that is kind of one of the reasons why we do have to keep not claiming them in a way, but maybe just showing off the fact that CU has helped all these people. And in no way, should we say like, Oh, you know, see you as completely responsible for all of this. And without CU you would’ve never gotten anywhere. No, not at all, but definitely still saying that, CU played a huge role in helping people get to this point might also encourage other people to say, Hey, if CU helped them do that, then they might be able to help me with this also. And so it might be something that will allow people to be inspired to plug in. So I think that there’s definitely still a lot of value in showing off the work that all of our builders have done.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:43:41

One of the things Maryam talked about, the kind of reminds me of the previous question a little bit too, is I think that the way we define success is the end product or the end goal or the really cool thing that happened versus what you learned along the way to actually get to that point. And so the first thing that comes to mind is college apps. You’re told that you’ve done well, if you’ve gotten into the school you wanted to, or if you got a certain acceptance letter. And while the actual application process can be really draining, there is stuff that you learned about yourself along the way. And so I think prioritizing what you learned and what got you to that point of being able to claim something is more important than actually showing other people that you’ve claimed that.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:44:44

I love what Noor said in the sense that, it’s more about being an embodiment of the values that we share here rather than falling into the trap of just saying, Oh, here’s the thing that exists, that really matters and you should care about it too. Yeah. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:45:08

And to that end, I think like the greatest mark of you achieving something is if you kind of documented your learning journey along the way, so other people are able to achieve it as well. So I don’t know, people being able to look at what you did and realize wow, I can do that too. That’s literally like the best way of like claiming what you were able to accomplish.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:45:40

What Ashley just mentioned about writing and documentation, kind of struck me because I’ve never seen so much sharing of people’s thoughts in writing. And I feel like it’s probably the most solid way to cement into other people’s minds. What’s CU is all about, I feel like we can use that to our advantage.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:46:14

Both what Ashley and Max said, kind of brought up another question just throughout this call. We’ve kind of been talking about collaboration, documentation and learning and how that’s a journey. So it kind of brought up another question that I had, and that’s given that mutual learning is such a big part of CU, what is something you have learned from a builder on this call? And I also think it ties really nicely into the fact that we were talking a lot about supporting each other and just being a community that appreciates everyone. So yeah, I will start since I posed a question. But one of the things that I learned from Chabu is that how do I phrase this? Okay. So Chabu always says things that in my mind are really, really deep and profound. I have never met someone, I guess that always is just spitting knowledge, if that makes sense. But yeah, that’s one of the things that I’ve learned from her is that it’s a spectrum, right? Like you can have all this wisdom but also be productive and share it. And she’ll, which I feel a lot of people before this, that I’ve interacted with kind of there’s a phrase for it, but keep that to themselves because you’re like, Oh, now that I have this wisdom, I can use it to get further. But Chabu, you’ve always been super open and honest and sharing everything just to help all of us out. And that’s something that I really appreciated from you. And it’s helped me grow a lot and unplug from some negative mindsets that I’ve had.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:47:49

I’m going to hop on the Chabu train because Chabu is so incredibly insightful. And I feel like she could just easily be someone who’s just kind of a know it all and really stuck up and people wouldn’t question it because she’s just brilliant. But she goes in the exact opposite direction and she’s very humble and caring and loving to everyone around her. And so that’s definitely something that I really admire as well.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:48:15

I’m going to add to this train because something that I’ve told her is that and it ties a lot with what Madison and Maryam said, with others, you have to learn the lessons and you have to unpack them after you finish speaking to them or learn them from the stories they told you about their lives. But with Chabu, she just says the lessons and then keep going with your day like she didn’t just drop a whole goody bag of treats at your door, but it’s not saying that you have to go back and unpack, but rather she works it through with you and helps you apply it to your own life as well.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:48:55

I’ll second everything everyone has already said, I think she was a very transparent person and I think that’s rare to come across. But I also want to add Maryam and Madison to the mix because I think that at least my experience, group work at school teaches you that it’s treacherous and one person is going to pick up all the Slack for everyone else. But being able to work with such powerful women who really do want to make something out of something and really do want to contribute something. It’s always like there’s a level of love and accountability, but also we’re going to get this done and it’s going to happen the way it needs to, so that it’s successful. And so that it works. And so they’re constant inspirations of the people or the person I’m trying to become. So I always appreciate that.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:49:50

Yeah. And I’ll second that as well. I mean, not just for Noor and Maryam for really all of you guys, I’ve drawn this comparison before, but you guys helped me realize the distinction between friends and the people that you have fun with. I feel like you guys really embody what friendships should look like. And so that was just been a really beautiful thing for me to realize mutual support, mutual learning, you know, mutual growth, all of these just beautiful things that happen within our community that really define human flourishing and supports. And that’s been something really amazing as well.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:50:32

I definitely want to add to this since I have learned so much from everyone in this community and thank you for all the kind words. I have so much love for everyone on this call, but one of the big takeaways I think that I’ve learned is from Gary. I’ve always been someone who associates with the big picture, something small will happen. And my first instinct of thought is Hmm, this connects to colonialism or this connects to capitalism. And I always thought that I had a grasp of the big picture and Gary has really just widened the scope of things to reference, to and parallels to consider and schools of thought and thinking that apply to the work that we do here in the work that we do in general, as we operate as human beings. So I appreciate just him redefining the fact that there is no boundary. I think that’s really cool and imperative to the work we do here.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:51:36

One thing that I think, another thing that’s helped, pretty much everyone here has shown Noor, I think especially has shown that when something is going well, that you’ve worked on when you’re winning, you get to feel good about that. And it’s okay to be happy. And you can be working really, really hard all the time, but then when it’s going, right, it feels good. And that’s okay. It’s all right to be happy about that. And you don’t have to make yourself miserable just because you’re working really hard. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:52:37

I’m going to second that as well. Something that Gary definitely has taught me is, you know, I think we all poked fun at him during the fellowship for being kind of a workaholic. And I always associated workaholic with Oh, you’re so unhappy and all this, but now I’m working basically the whole time that I’m awake and I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been. So that’s really just kind of revolutionize my view of what work even means and what it, and just the whole connotation around that as well.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:53:01

I think the amount of times my perspectives have been challenged and broadened by people at CU has been amazing just between the conversations that have been had media that has been shared grading that people have shared. Just think that I haven’t gotten anywhere else and especially do the quality of the of the perspectives. It’s always very deep and logical and human, and I appreciate it.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:53:42

Something I learned from someone who’s actually not on this call, but is a member of the CU community is Zoe. I learned from her number one, how to be a more empathetic individual, but also how to challenge people’s perspectives in a totally respectful way. I went through the dice program and it was such a transformative experience I learned so much. And I know there was one topic that I didn’t completely grasp, or I had a viewpoint that I didn’t really like, but I also wanted it to be challenged because I didn’t know. I hadn’t had my view broadened on how to think about a certain topic in a different way. And she really helped me open my mind to see things from a different perspective and in that become more empathetic towards the topic that you’re talking about. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:54:34

I second that, and I also want to say on the topic of empathy, Max especially during like our cool cats jam sessions, I don’t know. I think that all of us just felt radically empathetic. I don’t even know if that’s a word or a phrase that people use, but I don’t know. Everyone just always felt the love. And you always just really, whether you’re always empathetic, or like what was going on. So we all really appreciated that. And I think you’ve taught us all how to be more open and aware of what’s going on with other people too. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:54:59

No, I just wanted to say that Jonah starting word of the day was just the start of this massive avalanche. I think it provoked something from all of us in a sense of we didn’t realize how much we value words and just engaging in the process of being really aware and intentional that has been so mind blowing. And so thank you for starting that because it brought a lot of really core values to the surface that we weren’t aware of yet.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:55:50

On the same topic of words and being intentional with them. I think one of the very first times I talked to Ashley, she talked about how when we’re having conversations, we’re so preoccupied with what we’re going to respond with, that we don’t immerse ourself in what the other person has already said. And it seems an obvious thing that you should know, but her pointing it out and being actually the person to point, just the assets that she gave to the statement itself was very perfect. And it’s something I still think about and something stuff keeps popping up on my Instagram feed about it and I’m it’s just completely changed my mindset. And I think it’s cool to be reminded of.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:56:24

Another shout out I want to give it’s to Phoebe. I remember when I first met her, she was like, yeah, I like to give people 15 minutes to just brag about themselves. And that was the coolest thing ever just to let people talk about themselves. And I don’t know, I just really liked that.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:57:01

Well, Madison you’re really the sweetest. Thank you.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:57:07

Actually want to give a shout out to Noor. I still remember the fellowships, I was always so excited for your reflections and your responses to the daily reflection question. And I think you’ve taught me so much about you know, I think the small things, sometimes I just gloss over or miss just how important it is to slow down and to notice things and to really live in the moment and really just find beauty in everything around you. So, yeah. Thank you for teaching me that.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:57:42

On that note. I like asking really deep questions and having those kinds of conversations. And she does as well. And I remember once she asked me what kind of vegetable I would be, and that meant a lot to me. And I just want it to really appreciate you for having fun, but also being able to have that balance. I really respect that so much. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:58:18

Phoebe I think they should share what vegetable you would decide to be. I think that that’s an important addition to the conversation.

Phoebe Omonira – Community Outreach Coordinator, Genz Girl Gang: 00:58:25

Yes, definitely a hundred percent. So I love tomatoes, so I would be a tomato. I’m also a Gemini. So, the contrast between, Oh gosh, we can talk about Zodiac signs later, but tomatoes are so diverse. They can play a part in anything. You can use them a sandwich, you can use them in a salad. There are different types of tomatoes as well. There’s a small tomato and then there’s a big tomatoes. You can eat them tomatoes as an Apple. That might sound weird, but until you do it, you know but no, for real tomatoes are so diverse and because you can use them in any type of way, they might be looked over as a smaller vegetable, but you know what, they really are just here for everyone. And that’s what I want to be here, everyone. And to be able to be used in different ways. So that is why I’m in tomato. I want to know what vegetables y’all would be. That might be a little sidetrack, but get back to me on that.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:59:30

Well, that was incredible. Wow. That was the perfect way to end. First of all, with the shout outs, what’s more CU than just like, I need a conversation with shadowing each other out and I’ll split tomato rant phenomenal. That went by super-fast. But do you guys have any reflections on how that conversation was for you?

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:59:54

I’d like to start off by saying it was magic as always, and it’s so cool to have a big conversation with so many people. And I think that the way that we had conversations about party representation and tomatoes and self-development, and that all just happened and it made so much sense and it was cohesive and gray. It’s just the embodiment of what’s so great about this community. So I loved it. I think the conversation was reflective of CU in all its greatness.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 01:00:30

And I think a huge part of that is at least for me, all of it felt very natural. Like being able to talk about who Phoebe is as a tomato and also a leadership blueprint. I think that there are two very different ends of the spectrum, but fighting back and forth between that was something that happened organically. And I think we still all learn something from it, which is always something I appreciate about it feels like, every dialogue we have in this community.

Max Polsky – Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 01:01:08

Thank you Gary for inviting me to this. And it was really cool hearing the different perspectives everybody had to the same question. There was definitely a lot of variation and a lot of agreement. So just a nice, I guess a nice visual, even though it wasn’t visual, but yeah. 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 01:01:29

Thank you all for letting me join you tonight. It’s great.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 01:01:46

I just want to say, I always love these calls because I love hearing from everyone just like different perspectives and I always learn something, but it never feels like learning because it just feels like I’m talking to a bunch of friends. So thank you. This is lovely as always. And can’t wait for our next group think.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:02:04

Yeah. Madison, if it’s okay. If I add one more thing you know, the reason why, I mean, even if we weren’t recording this you know, I’m sure most, if not, all of you would say this was an awesome experience. But the reason why this is recorded and we’re uploading this and we’re not just trying to promote it and make it a hit for people. Actually Phoebe watched some of the previous episodes and was like, can I be part of this? When I talk about all of you and people think I’m exaggerating when I say you’re incredible and you won’t even believe it for the superheroes that we have in our community. So see for yourself, right? This had to have been organic, had to have been all of you connecting dots and kind of embodying the culture. And also not just that, I feel like the culture deepened, it got written, it got richer through this call as well. So I think that it just, I mean, to Chabu’s point, this is what CU is all about. And if anyone’s watching this right, and we’re actually going to attach this to the orientation crash course this year. So one of the first thing that they’re going to see is Max’s beautiful face and, you know, calling us to do better, which is actually the best thing. So thank you. Thank you all so much for taking the time on this holiday week. Have an awesome Thanksgiving.

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