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Learning at its Best

Coffee Cats

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Ammerah Saidi in person. While some of you may be old hands at directly interacting with other Cats, I thought it important to share the general flavor of that meeting with those who may not yet have had such an experience.

I took the first shot at the joint effort that follows, and hoping Ammerah would be willing to join in, I asked her for input. What follows is a series of alternating comments about our meeting. I push, and Ammerah pushes back.


When the opportunity to meet a Catalyst face-to-face over coffee at a nearby café arose, I looked forward to talking with a professional educator. I expected we would have a great deal in common – we did. I also expected we would have great differences – we did.

> It was my learning of his work as a police officer in Detroit that piqued my interest.  Anyone who could help me understand the city and community I try to serve is someone I can’t afford NOT to meet.  When he agreed to a coffee chat, I couldn’t have been more elated–saved me a trip waiting outside his home :-p

Since my ‘real learning’ is always a retrospective event, I wonder, “What the heck was that about?”

> My learning is an overwhelming pre-reflection (pumping myself up), meta-process of analysis (intentional listening and analysis) and post-reflection (Oh!  I should have asked him this…).

1. First of all, it was an energy exchange. From the philosophical point of view of a number of Elders from Canada, the primary basis of one’s economic focus can be determined by identifying what res you/I exchange our energies for. I found the exchange significant for our both having put forth our energies. I felt energized rather than weakened afterward; I have little idea what my Co-Coffee Cat experienced, but hope her experience was of a similar nature.

> I couldn’t wait to get back into the office to update my colleagues on the perspective I had just gained on a disenfranchised community that I knew very little about beyond the mainstream Native American narrative I believe we’re mostly fed.  “He worked here and here and here….”  “He was shocked to learn this that and this….”  “It’s just like my own experience as…..”  Needless to say, interest was piqued in myself and my audience.

2. We are both ‘others’ to the mainstream by way of our phenotypes and psycho-spiritual/religious foundations, and we seemed to be in agreement about a number of ‘power’ issues.

> I seemed to be, very early on, blessed with a circle of adults who made me conscious of these power issues and didn’t shelter me from knowing–you’re different and this is why…  My partner had to experience some surprises later in life that sounded like they stopped him dead in his tracks…yet, he had known it all along.

3. We are ‘others’ to one another by way of our phenotypes and psycho-spiritual/religious foundations, and our biological sexes, ages (almost a generational spread) and respective class standing (she paid for my coffee, if that provides you a hint).

> It would have been insulting to my heritage and upbringing not to pay for someone’s drink/meal after having gifted me with such valuable insight and learnings!  I may have paid in dollars but he paid in wisdom and experience.

4. Last, but certainly not least, it was a learning experience.

  I learned of my need to:

     Talk with a greater number of younger persons – maybe there is hope.

> It jolted me to hear some not so hopeful interpretations of classroom struggles when in my mind, struggles are fertile soil for opportunity.

     Be more aware that times change – curiosity about the experiences of  those who are invisible to most ‘Americans’ (that is, the Natives), may not be a sign of overt threat as in days gone by and that I should place less reliance on professional standing as a disguise.

> I need to constantly remind myself that I’m standing on the shoulders of visible and invisible giants.  And when an invisible giant is colored in for me, I am all the more empowered to move forward more effectively and empathetically.

     Time flies when you are having fun – I did not get to ask nearly as many questions as had packed my mind before the meeting (maybe next time).

> Victorious, I walked away with so many of  questions answer.  But a loser forever, those answers only fueled my infinite pool of questions for our next coffee chat.

     I learned, once again, that those most in need of ‘a good education’ are not the downtrodden or even those at the top, but those of the mythic ‘middle class’.

> I pushed back–although everyone deserves a quality education, I know my impact and influence are best activated when contextualized within the communities that do not have to theorize on unfair power structures—they live them and are quick to fight against them.

I’m looking forward to having more coffee – next time I’ll buy.

> I’d like to see him try 🙂


And with that, I guess I’ll say, “Peace out” (or is that too retro these days?)


About Brent Snavely

A construct of upbringing and society, holder of a BS. JD and an MA, I have practiced law more than 25 years. "The Truth shall set you free", but only if it is a Personal Truth that is based upon facts. Parrhesia may be humankind's only hope (see,


8 thoughts on “Coffee Cats

  1. this is such a great addition to our community of ideas and stories! I am moved by the shared post and the words that could be coming from either of you. I look forward to more Coffee Cat Chats in the future and hope more Coop Cat sit down for coffee! Next time, I would love for you to take a picture, so we can share in the moment visually!

    Having met many of the Coop Cat in person has deepen my love of this amazing collection of change agents I call learning partners! My learning has become so much deeper because of you all!

    Thank you! I am honor to be able to share in your learning!

    Also We got some great coffee in Oregon! Everyone is invited to my house when ever! I would love to cook you dinner and pour you a strong cup of coffee!


    Posted by dloitz | November 11, 2011, 2:28 pm
    • David,

      Given the vastly different yet similar experiences Ammerah and I have had, mere words can only thinly express what took place. I am look forward to meeting up with Ammerah again. With good fortune, sometime I will be able to meet some of the others here at the Coöp.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | November 11, 2011, 5:03 pm
  2. Boston folk! I welcome you here also to experience the coffee and chatter…

    Brent, as someone who has also had the pleasure of hanging out with Ammerah, I think you are lucky too. Thanks for writing about this in the way you have. We do all stand on the shoulders of giants.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | November 12, 2011, 3:23 pm
    • Kristen,

      Ammerah had had so many questions I did not have the opportunity to pick her brain about the IDEA tour and the her thoughts about what she had observed. It looks like we will be meeting again, so as I said, maybe next time…

      While I find the dialogue through posts here engaging, they were an ‘opener’ to my first meeting with a Catalyst and an in-person discussion that was more energetic and energizing.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | November 13, 2011, 9:28 am
  3. I love it when we can meet in person with others from our community.

    So…how do we not leave that up to chance and geography?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 13, 2011, 7:28 pm
    • Chad,

      Recently I have been on the road quite a bit, traveling the north-central area of Michigan and interacting with a particular sub-segment of society. This has involved a degree of personal sacrifice and has impacted my relationships with my wife and with members of my family of upbringing. I think that making in-person contact is a matter of evaluating ones relationships with others in any given community, and then deciding to ‘make it so’. Meetings need not cost much money, but there are aother costs that may be involved.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | November 14, 2011, 8:23 am
  4. Brent! I just realized we’re not friends on Facebook! Let’s change that because nowadays, if you’re not virtually friends, can we really call ourselves friends 😛

    I’m always respectful of every individual’s rich experience and I’m so honored to be able to meet face to face with anyone here or anywhere who can help develop my humanity–and I pick this word very carefully.

    Chad, I have no idea how not to leave it all up to chance but what I’ve found about this work is that it’s a small community that overlaps time and time again–so happy for that!

    Posted by ammerahsaidi | November 13, 2011, 9:36 pm

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