Shur! Saying Yes to Ann Arbor, and Living It

"Shur" is not an intentional misspelling of "sure", not a corporate acronym – nor is it an early-morning asana. It happens to be an anagram of Omari Rush's last name.

Rush is the organizer of "shur! Live, Work, and Play Better", a breakfast-meeting series now in progress at the Michigan Union, on the campus of the University of Michigan. All month in January, a group of 32 selected local professionals is convening weekly to kick around a host of topics such as personal finance, embracing idealism through the arts, leadership and mentoring, and how to be a better citizen. This series is an alternative to frenetic networking or nametag-and-handshake events – a life-thinking think tank.

"The curriculum that binds all of this, the four sessions, is in my favorite, or at least in my top three favorite books of all times, and that's The Answer to How is Yes, by Peter Block,"  explains Rush, who by day is the education manager at U-M's University Musical Society. "It's just a really wonderful book because it's all about acting on what matters, saying yes to the things that are important to you as it relates to: "Well, how am I going to live in Ann Arbor? Or how am I going to buy this house? How am I going to be able to afford this?" "This series is about saying "Yes," or given the title, it's about saying, "Sure, I can live here or I can have this kind of life. I can make this happen professionally, socially, personally."

The series is sponsored by U-M's human resources department, United Bank & Trust, and Edward Jones Investments. Panelists include Rush and also Ken Fischer, president of U-M's University Musical Society; Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources at U-M; Christina Kim, financial advisor at Edward Jones Investments; David McNamara, owner of Foxway Realty; Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations; and financial consultant Norman Herbert.  

Rush gives the rundown of this first-time series to Concentrate's Tanya Muzumdar.

How did "shur! Live, Work, and Play Better" arise?

I have all these friends, and a lot of them are in transition or having some kind of first-time experience – first-time homebuyer, recent grad, newly married, new to the area, junior associate, that kind of thing. I just wanted them all to feel like they could live the kind of life they wanted to and live it in particular in this area. Selfishly, because I want to keep my friends here. But I also want to keep this area really vibrant with people in my demographic. I don't want people to feel like they have to go to Chicago or New York or San Francisco to get what they need.

I also just like putting together events and parties and socials. I put together a private shopping party for 22 ladies a year ago. That was in Ann Arbor, then sometime in the fall I put together a barre class party...It's called "Meet at the Barre". It was an after-work barre class and then afterwards we had champagne and hors d'oeuvres. There was an outdoor pasta party that I collaborated with...I just like doing these kinds of things."

What demographic are you targeting?

Most of them are ages 25-40. Some of them are in transitional points in their life. They're still climbing the job ladder at their places of employment; some of them own their own businesses and are working to really grow their business and establish their business. Most of them live, actually, in Ann Arbor, although some of them live within Washtenaw County. They're ethnically diverse professional people working in for-profit, nonprofit, the university, self-employed, guys, girls, all that stuff.

What will you be covering in your arts presentation?

It's specifically about how the arts can improve education, how they're great for just pure entertainment, for health, for community development. Just looking at all of the great things the arts do, and then just sharing some thoughts about what it means to participate in the arts as a creator, performer, audience member, or patron.

How do the arts improve your health? It's January, when health clubs get a lot of new members with New Year's resolutions, and then it tapers off. To some extent, art is more uplifting than sweat.

That was part of the reason for doing the series. Everybody's already focused in January on a better life or doing things a little differently.

It's the month of self-improvement.

Yes, it felt like the right time of year for this series. In terms of the arts and health, there are all these things, like relaxation and music therapy, that the arts can help with. They're great stress relievers, very kind of obvious things, but things we can be much more intentional about in having these kinds of experiences. And certainly as we get older there are ways that they help us, with memory – even something like dance is really great for physical fitness.

What would you like the attendees to walk away with after the sessions this month?

The kind of big moment for me will just be if I see people at the tables talking, or if as a result of this people are organizing a happy hour or a dinner party, or there's some professional spinoff where people get together to regularly talk about their own profession – or if I start to hear about some of these people forming new mentor relationships in the community. I guess I kind of know at my core that bringing people together in this way is a good thing, and that is good enough for me...I want them to walk away with this bit of self-empowerment – this idea that they know how to say yes to the things that are important to them... And then also just walk away with new friends and professional contacts – a Rolodex of folks. [A Rolodex] is so 1970, right? So like Dallas.

It's gathering dust on the desk.

Right, a Rolodex of folks they can call if they need advice about renting a place or buying a place or about a career move, or if they just want to go to the movies and they don't want to go alone, or they're going to some show and just want to know what's happening on a Friday night. That's what I'm hoping for.

Are many of them newcomers?

I'd say a quarter are fairly new to the area. That's another part of the spectrum. There are townies in this and there are people who are very new to the area. There are also people who travel a lot. They're traveling four days of the work week, so they have varying degrees of connection to the community.

What will the mentorship panelists be discussing?

Their talk is a bit of a roundtable...I will work to focus their contributions on, "How do you make decisions in your life? And how have you acted on what matters? What are the kinds of things, reflecting back when you were at, for instance, my point in your career, what were the kinds of things that you were thinking about? And reflecting back on that, what seems silly that you were thinking then, or what do you wish you had maybe considered?"

I'm asking them to just reflect on their personal and professional lives, to share insights about folks they've been working with or mentored, and also the things that keep them interesting and curious.

Do you have plans to repeat this series or to expand it beyond the current group of folks?

Yes and no. I'm really looking at this January series as a kind of a one-time thing that happens this January. Maybe it might be something that spins into something different that is ongoing. What I would really love to do is have people sign up for this experience or some kind of experience that's similarly about personal development, personal growth, professional development, professional growth, get them on a bus or carpool to someplace up north, a place like Interlochen, that's surrounded by beautiful nature...and sleeping outside or sleeping in cabins. This idea of getting away and getting out of a routine and being immersed for a couple of days and taking some time to just think and workshop and reflect and connect and to have new experiences. Folks certainly in this area, Washtenaw County, southeast Michigan, but even just more broadly Michigan.

I really like this state, certainly I like Ann Arbor. I just think it's a great place to live. It's just about highlighting those things, highlighting people and making them feel I can totally do this, I can totally live here, I can do what I want, I can connect with what matters...I'm looking at this January series as a one-time series and am really curious to see if it spins into anything else bigger or different or regularized.

I get a sense that there's not a whole lot for this demographic around this kind of thing. You either have professional development that's structured through your work or you go to some professional conference and you maybe get some stuff there or maybe you volunteer, you do some community service, you're in a rotary, that kind of thing and you're kind of growing through these kinds of associations, but not a whole lot that's focused and thoughtful and really about encouraging people to think differently about their lives. Certainly you can go to therapy and do that, or you can go read a self-help book or a great business book, yet these complex human experiences are fun.

Tanya Muzumdar is a freelance writer and the Assistant Editor of Concentrate and Metromode. Her last feature column was: "A New Breed: Tilian Farm Development Center".

All photos by Doug Coombe

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