Posts by Kelsey

The Makers of Muncie’s MadJax

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I work in a factory in Muncie, Indiana. Not many people can say that these days.

In fact, many believe that Muncie’s best days–our factory days–are behind us. Our schools are going through budget and transportation issues and a third of our citizens live in poverty.  There’s a lack of hope that we can’t be more than our struggles. That we can’t thrive without factories.

I don’t work on a factory line, but I do make things. I create stories.

For the last ten years I’ve traveled around the world to meet the people who produce many of the things in our lives that we take for granted. I’ve worked alongside coffee farmers…

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Election Day in Kenya

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(My friends James and Thomas)

“Hello, whiteman,” the bush said.

I looked around, but couldn’t see anyone. I wondered if this was how Moses felt?

I thought I must’ve been hearing things, so I kept walking toward the fancy café in Nairobi’s Westlands area. It was closed. Everything was closed today.

It’s election day in Kenya.

Christmas or apocalypse?

When I left my hotel the guard—a woman in a black suit with a red tie— had asked me where I was going. I’ve gotten to know her a bit over the few days I’ve been in Nairobi. Yesterday when I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, she nearly insisted that I go back to my room and get my sweatshirt.

I had told her I was walking…

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A bird crapped on me from 33,000 feet, this is what it says about my life

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It felt like someone had chucked a marble, hitting me in the shoulder. It stung. But it also stunk because it wasn’t a marble; it was bird shit.

Now I’m no expert in physics, but given the velocity of the bird poop, the bird must’ve been somewhere in the stratosphere, which starts at 33,000′.

I was hobbling down Main Street from my breakfast date at the Downtown Farm Stand with Annie after our morning CrossFit work out. Since I’ve been traveling for my latest book, it has essentially been a month since I did a workout of much significance, hence the hobbling. It doesn’t hurt to sit or lie in one place and not move. But if Rick Grimes saw me walking down the…

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The hope of America in India

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When you grow up in a slum in India, it can be hard to imagine a world beyond the high rises where your family members work as staff for wealthy families.

I sat in the back of the sauna-hot room and watched young leaders of the OSCAR Foundation, a program that uses soccer as a vehicle to get kids into school and consider a life and world beyond their community, as they listened to an Indian soccer player who played for a U.S. college.

Suddenly the world must’ve looked a little larger to them, opportunities a bit more possible.

Kean Lewis played at Farleigh Dickinson and got an education in sports management. Now he plays for a team in India and in the off-season works…

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10 Years: Reconnecting with Nari & Ai

2007

I was 28.  I got engaged and bought a home and left the country to meet the people who made my clothes. I had a few small assignments that would pay me hundreds of dollars for three-months of reporting that would cost me thousands.

Nari was 25. She was living with 7 other young women in a room that was maybe 100 square feet. She worked in a garment factory making Levi’s. She paid a $50 bribe to get her job, which paid her $50 per month. She sent half of her money home to support her family in her village. She wasn’t shy.

Ai was 24 and shy. She was one of Nari’s 7 roommates. She missed working in the fields at…

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My next book adventure… Where Am I Giving?!

 

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Sometimes  when we see the harsh realities of the world, we can feel guilty, ashamed, and powerless to do anything. That’s how I felt standing in a dump in Cambodia, watching adults and children picking through a trash heap.

I wanted to do something to help, but what could I do? I was just one man, researching my first book, traveling on my second mortgage. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I hadn’t done anything and that felt wrong.

This feeling of helplessness is what I’m taking on in my new book adventure…

Where Am I Giving? A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Time, Money, and Energy to Make a Better World will explore this distance between the hopelessness of guilt and the…

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What we learned from the guy who builds $250K Batmobiles

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We met the guy who made the Batmobile. His name is Mark and he lives in Indiana.

We were celebrating Free Comic Book Day at our local shop, Aw Yeah Comics, and Mark was there with one of his 1966 Batmobile replica. It had a a “Bat Beam” button, and an “Emergency Bat-Turn Lever.”

Even as a kid, I recognized that the original Batman TV-series starring Adam West was cheesey. I loved it. The corny jokes. The word sounds–Bam! Pa-Zow!! Bat shark spray. Bat-everything. But the Batmobile was just plain cool, so to see it, or at least a pretty darn good replica, of it was awesome.

Mark Racop, the owner of Fiberglass Freaks, stood a watchful yet not hovering distance from the car. As Harper, 8, and I walked toward the store’s entrance, we stopped to talk to him. I asked if he was with the Batmobile.IMG_4199

He confirmed that he was and then launched into an unexpected motivational soliloquy that went something like this:

I built my first Batmobile with a few friends in 1977 when I was 17. I never knew it would become this. DC officially licenses us to build replicas. There was a one-in-one-thousand chance that my hobby would become anything. Whenever I get a chance to talk to kids, I always tell them to follow their dreams.

“How much does a Batmobile go for?” I asked, wondering if it was outfitted for car seats.

“$125,000 to $250,000,” Mark said, as matter of factly as superhumanly possible.

To which I thought, “Holy shit, Batman!”

When I first started chatting with Mark, I thought I was talking to a grown man with a quirky hobby. But when I realized I was talking to a grown man who builds cars that cost quarter-of-a-million dollars, I took him more seriously.

I’m not sure why, but the numbers made me see Mark differently. They shouldn’t. Because before Mark had a business building replica Batmobiles, he did it because he loved to do it. No doubt society looked at Mark as a quirky kid with a silly hobby who should probably find something more productive to do with his time.

I can relate. Before I earned a living as a writer and speaker, I was a quirky kid with a silly hobby, and a lot of people told me I should probably find something more productive to do than travel around the world and write stories for ten bucks a pop. My asking Mark what a Batmobile cost was the equivalent of the questions I’m often asked: “What’s your day job? What does your wife do?”

Yet even I judged Mark this way.

Why is it that as a society we’re so quick to dismiss someone’s passion instead of supporting it?

Mark builds Batmobiles. And they are freaking awesome! That’s enough on its own for us to celebrate him.

Mark is proof that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our passions and hobbies. We should embrace them and we should support the passions and hobbies of our family and friends regardless of how quirky.

If you want to buy a Batmobile and have the funds to do so, check out Mark’s site Buy Bat Parts.

More Batphotos below the break…

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Participating in Chicago’s Fashion Revolution

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I’m participating at several events as part of Chicago’s Fashion Revolution week. Fashion Revolution was inspired by the Rana Plaza factory disaster, which I wrote about yesterday.

 WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26

Noon CST

I’ll be on NPR affiliate WBEZ’s program WorldView with Jerome McDonnell. Wait, WBEZ? Isn’t that the station that produces This American Life? If I see Ira Glass, he’s totally getting a high-five.

6-9 PM

Explore alternatives! Fashion Show and Panel with Keynote Speaker Kelsey Timmerman at Columbia College. Chicago Fair Trade and Columbia are hosting an ethical fashion show, interactive displays, and a panel. I’ll give a quick keynote before the panel begins.  Located at 618 S. Michigan . The fashion show…

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4 years ago 1,134 Bangladeshis died making our clothes

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One moment Reshma Begum was sewing. The next, she was falling from her station on the second floor into the basement of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh.

She lost consciousness. She awoke to cries of help that gradually silenced. Her clothes were shredded, everything was dark, and her hair was stuck in the rubble. She ripped her hair free and scavenged the dark crevices on her hands and knees finding four crackers, a small bottle of water, and the occasional puddle to quench her thirst. She probed her surroundings with a pipe for pockets of air.

This was her life. This was her living for seventeen days.

Was Reshma’s situation an unfortunate end to an individual pursuing real opportunity…

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Are autistic kids better givers?

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Researchers in Germany just published some interesting findings about the prosocial behaviors of kids with autism.

From the abstract of Helping and sharing with preschool children with autism:

We assessed helping and sharing behaviors in 3- to 6-year-old neurotypically (NT) developing children and children diagnosed with ASD. Children with ASD were more inclined to show spontaneous helping in the absence of the helpee than NT children. In the sharing task, NT children shared the resources equally between themselves and the recipients. In contrast, ASD children kept less for themselves and gave more resources away. In addition, the stronger the ASD symptoms were and the less cognitively weaker they were, the more children preferred to give resources to a rich than to a…

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