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Michael Patrick MacDonald

Best-Selling Author


Michael Patrick MacDonald is the author of the New York Times Bestselling memoir, All Souls: A Family Story From Southie and the acclaimed Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion. These two books are frequent “First Year Experience” selections at colleges and universities throughout the U.S., for which MacDonald has given over 300 campus lectures. He has been awarded an American Book Award, A New England Literary Lights Award, and a fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study Center. MacDonald has written a number of essays and short stories, including The Resurrection of Cornelius Larkin: An Immigrant’s Tale, written for The Dropkick Murphys' theme album “Going Out in Style.” He has been a regular contributor to The Boston Globe’s Op Ed page and a Senior Contributing Editor for the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.

MacDonald grew up in the Old Colony Housing Project in South Boston, a neighborhood that held the highest concentration of white poverty in the United States. After losing four of his eleven siblings and seeing his generation decimated by poverty, crime, addiction, and incarceration, he learned to transform personal and community trauma by becoming a leading Boston activist, organizer and writer. MacDonald has focused his community efforts on diverse and inclusive coalition building to reduce violence and promote grassroots leadership from our most impacted communities and families. He has developed Gun Buyback programs and local support groups which promote the voices of adult and youth survivors of poverty, violence and the drug trade. MacDonald is on many local and national boards, including the Children’s Defense Fund’s Beat The Odds Essay Selection Committee, Crittenton Women’s Union National Advisory Committee and Families First of Greater Boston Advisory Board.

MacDonald serves as Author-in-Residence at Northeastern University’s Honors Department, where he teaches his curricula: “Non-Fiction Writing & Social Justice Issues” and “The North of Ireland: Colonialism, Armed Resistance and the Struggle for Peace with Justice" every fall. He has been a Visiting Professor at California State University in Northridge CA, and at The University of Mannheim in Germany. He was appointed Distinguished Writer in Residence at UMass Boston Honors College in the Spring of 2015, and has accepted the position of Senior Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development at the McCormack Institute for Social Policy and Global Studies.

MacDonald is currently developing his memoir, All Souls, as a TV series and is working on his third book, which will use narrative non-fiction storytelling to reveal issues of generational trauma in our local working class and poor communities. In addition, he has developed a community-based writing and healing curriculum, The Rest of the Story, which was piloted with the Crittenton Women’s Union in Boston to help women who are transitioning out of poverty find their voices on the page and in the world. This year he has taken transformational storytelling to Boston survivors of homicide victims at The Louis D Brown Peace Institute, where he is also currently Writer in Residence.


Grassroots Organizing to Reduce Gun Violence

Coming from a family and community that suffered from gun violence, Michael Patrick MacDonald recognized that those most affected by gun violence are also those who would be the key to solving the problem. Operating under this belief, he worked to recruit survivors across the racial divide in Boston's most impacted communities. The result was Boston's successful Gun Buyback program - which offered cash and vouchers to people who turned in their guns, no questions asked - of which MacDonald is founder and lead organizer. Through four annual Gun Buybacks, the program collected and destroyed over 2,900 working firearms and promoted a diverse citywide grassroots movement led by youth and survivors of gun violence. Following the Gun Buybacks, Boston experienced two years without one single juvenile homicide and a nationally recognized anti-violence movement was born.

In this program, speaker Michael Patrick MacDonald tells audiences about the factors that made the program such a success, sharing both the high-risk stories behind the hotline calls and the unprecedented history of the grassroots movement itself. The Gun Buyback's effectiveness - due in large part to Boston's populations coming together across boundaries of race and neighborhood balkanization - is a lesson in how a united voice for peace on the streets can make a profound and measurable difference in a community.

Finding Your Voice: Helping Young People Transform Trauma into Leadership

Michael Patrick MacDonald is the author of two best-selling coming-of-age memoirs: All Souls: A Family Story from Southie and Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion. Both deal with the issues he experienced growing up in South Boston's Old Colony Housing Project, an area found to have the highest concentration of white poverty in America and some of Boston's highest death rates from substance abuse and its attendant violence (including suicide). Having lost four siblings to poverty, violence, and the drug trade, MacDonald has used his personal story to promote a conversation about trauma in the lives of young people and about the possibility for individual healing and community-wide change.

Before becoming a full-time writer, MacDonald worked as a community organizer, helping to build coalitions to reduce substance abuse and street violence by promoting leadership from among those most impacted by the drug trade. "Finding Your Voice" uses stories from his own teen years to illustrate the impact of poverty and trauma (specifically violence and drug abuse) on young people and the transformative power of empathy and listening among service providers and therapists. This lecture strives to help youth workers and service providers:

  • Feel and truly understand the mental and physical impact of trauma on young people in the most vulnerable coming-of-age years. MacDonald's description of the effects of PTSD on a teenager (particularly the alternating hyper vigilance and numbing) is harrowing and illuminating.
  • Understand the transformative power of active, empathetic listening when working with young people, giving them a space to tell their stories. Much of MacDonald's talk is about what happens when a professional really listens and young people see that he or she actually cares as a human being, not just as a professional. Such breaking down of barriers through empathetic listening proved life saving in MacDonald's own experience with a particular counselor.
  • Learn the importance of "storytelling" or telling one's story in traumatic recovery. MacDonald will include strategies for breaking down barriers to communicate and will stress the importance of finding ways to create space for young people to tell their stories, to own them, and to make use of them in the world.

Using Circle Process as a Technique for Creating the Space to Tell Our Stories (Workshop)

In this workshop, Michael Patrick MacDonald provides specific answers to the following question: how do we allow our young people the space to find their voice - first, to find their voice to tell their story at their own pace, completely owning every step they take in that process, and then to find their voice in the world? Speaker Michael Patrick MacDonald says we must begin by listening, something he does with his Circle Process. Circle Process (literally "sitting in a circle") creates a space without hierarchy where we all feel listened to and where we lose separation, gain empathy for the other, and find company in our stories. It’s all about constructing our narratives, owning our narratives, and finding ways to connect with others through our stories and theirs. From MacDonald’s own experience and his observation of young people healing from past trauma, this has proven to be a powerful way forward in the aftermath of trauma.

The Circle Process workshop will take place "in circle," allowing participants to experience the actual mechanisms of the process. Participants will learn to:

  • Explain the Circle Process
  • Identify barriers to transforming trauma and specific exercises to overcome them
  • Use Circle Process techniques in professional settings, whether in groups or one on one (Note regarding one on one: Even if using the Circle Process techniques in one-on-one conversation, one can bring the values of empathetic listening and specific methods of engagement to the table when working with young people who have experienced trauma)

The Legacy of South Boston Crime Boss Whitey Bulger

Our Common Ground: Race & the Unspoken Issue of Class in America

Organizing to Reduce Violence & Drug Use

Cross-Cultural Community Building

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