Amplify Madison Academy – Jen Rubin

A- A A+

Jen Rubin (she, her, hers)

My name is Jen Rubin. I am 54. I am a white woman and strongly culturally identify as a Jewish woman. All my grandparents fled Europe when they were young, and my Yiddish grandmother lived with my family when I was a kid.  

I grew up working in the small business my family owned for 80 years in NYC and got a sense of the value of being deeply connected to a neighborhood and community. I carried that with me as a community organizer in my 20’s, doing advocacy research and community education to help to unrig our systems and institutions in my 30’s and 40’s and now to work with people to help them shape their personal stories. 

One of my hobbies is baking. Partly this is out of necessity since no store in Madison makes a decent bagel and partly because I find it relaxing. 

About eight years ago I decided to volunteer my time at one organization and really dig into it. I have been a tutor with the Odyssey project and lead storytelling classes with the writing class. Any storytelling support or workshop request that comes from an Odyssey alumni I volunteer my time to do. This has led me to do workshops at Oak Hill Correctional Facility, Operation Fresh Start and several other places.

I love speed card games. My family is quite intense about it. We play most nights and whoever wins controls the music – so it is a high stakes game.

Get to know Jen better

What are some of the things you enjoy the most in life? What keeps you inspired, re-charged, and brings you joy?

This is an interesting question to answer a year into covid – since much of what typically brings me joy I have not been able to do this past year. Really simple things have helped my re-charge this year. Such as taking long walks by myself while listening to a playlist to fit my mood or a listening to book on tape if I am feeling mentally ambitious.

When you look back over your whole life – What experiences have shaped you as a woman? and Why?

Three things come to mind.  1. My access to higher education and the opportunities it has offered me that the previous generations of women in my family did not have. My grandmother grew up in a Russia and her family couldn’t afford to educate the daughters. My mother went to college when I was in middle school, and I watched her work towards her degree every evening. 2. Sexual assault and working hard to regain a sense of body autonomy. 3. Having a strong circle of women friends to support, advice, nourish and entertain me.

When you think of your life journey unfolding, who do you see yourself becoming?

I am always hoping to become a smarter and better version of myself. I would like to support myself as a writer.

What is your vision for Madison?

Madison has so much going for it – not everyone gets to live in a city with lakes and the opportunities that having a University and State capital bring. But the city is not set up so everyone can thrive here. 

The racial wealth gap is enormous here and this should be solvable. I would like to see city policy that pushed back on gentrification — curtail the rising rents that don’t keep pace with wages. I would like to see every neighborhood equally invested in – in terms of parks, high quality schools, access to public transportation lines. 

I would like to see meaningful support of small businesses, so we don’t become a city of chain stores. And more support for entrepreneurs and public markets.

How do you see you can contribute to creating the city you visualize?

It is just a small thing – but I am good at helping people craft and tell their stories. Policy change is at the heart of what needs to happen to push Madison to be a more equitable city where people of all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups are centered in our policy. Truly hearing and listening to people’s stories has a role to play in lowering fences in Madison and pushing for better city policies.

Please share about your Amplify Madison journey – What did your team worked on and how was your experience collaborating with each other? What did you personally learn and how is impacting who you are becoming?

It was great to have this opportunity to work more closely with Takeyla and Marisol and deepen all of our skills at teaching storytelling. Since this all happened during the pandemic, we figured out a way to strengthen and build on our storytelling teaching abilities virtually. We hired Dasha Kelly Hamilton and had her tailor a skill building workshop for us. The three of us all had different skills we wanted to develop, and this gave us the chance to learn more from each other too. I have been doing storytelling workshops for years and this gave me the opportunity to carve out time and learn from Takeyla, Marisol and Dasha new ways to approach teaching storytelling. I know I am a better storytelling workshop leader as a result of this experience.

What are you currently offering in the community and how can people connect with you and your work?

I am leading a 6-week storytelling workshop with Arts and Literature Lab this spring. Marisol is leading two of the weeks with me which will give us a chance to use some of the new skills we developed with this grant.

Takeyla and I continue to produce Inside Stories podcast, where we explore Madison one story at a time. We are currently talking with Isthmus newspaper about their sharing the podcast on their newspaper digital platform. You can learn more about it here, subscribe as a listener here