Handful Players + Engage San Francisco = a Community Partnership with Mutually Shared Goals


Ryan Marchand, Artistic Director, Handful Players

Ryan Marchand
Artistic Director, Handful Players

Earlier this month, Ryan Marchand, Artistic Director of Handful Players visited our offices and explained how he became involved with Handful Players –one of Engage San Francisco’s inaugural Community Engagement Grantees. Ryan describes the relationship between the youth theatre group and the University of San Francisco’s place base initiative with the Western Addition. NOTE: This interview has been abbreviated for publication.

Question: How did you get started with the organization and what does an being an Acting and Movement Instructor for Handful Players entail? 

I first got started with Handful Players when I graduated from San Francisco State University where I was really active in the theater department there. I understood Judith Cohen, the Executive Director for Handful Players, reached out a couple of times to the musical theater department there and a professor recommended me. I started working with Handful Players in 2009 and became the Artistic Director in 2011.

Several concurrent programs run at Handful Players including a year-long flagship program, as well as smaller eight to twelve week residency programs throughout the year. As the artistic director I help oversee the acting and movement portions, as well as keeping a high standard of quality as possible while teaching art. Our mission is helping our students find their voice and empowering them and using musical theater as a vehicle to deliver on that. We balance between finding exercises that are fun and engaging and help our students develop artistically, but also that they’re also developing the social skills that they need to be successful.

We also have a co artistic director and we’ve worked together for awhile so we’ve kind of created our own pedagogy that’s unique to us. We also have a playwright who writes original material for us and for the year long program we always put on a world premiere musical. We get feedback at the beginning of the year from all sorts of stakeholders from the principal of the school that we operate out of, the school district and different community partners about what they want to focus on and what ideas they want to communicate. The playwright will come and talk with the students about what stories they want to talk about this year. I really want to incorporate a step where we get family feedback.

What is the partnership between Handful Players and Engage San Francisco from your perspective, and what is your role within that partnership?

The first step we did was begin building a partnership with USF’s Department of Performing Arts & Social Justice and conducting a student workshop. Teaching artists from Handful Players went to campus and gave the students an overview of what our organization is about, how we were founded and how we operate. This helps set the context for the interns that will be working with us from USF. My role within this partnership is to be there as support and guidance for the interns as they work with us throughout the semester.

How do USF students and/or faculty benefit from the work and mission of Handful Players?

I think just in general, Handful Players embodies your mission and your vision and is really representative of what I think a lot of what USF is trying to accomplish and trying to create, especially the Leo to McCarthy Center. That’s right in line with what we’re trying to accomplish. Handful Players was developed specifically for the African American community and that population is so quickly dwindling in San Francisco and we’re really aligned on helping to address that and so is Engage San Francisco.

We bring a really high caliber of professionals coming to work in this neighborhood with children so there’s exposure on both ends – the kids are having a chance to see role models and actors in action who look like themselves. We make an effort to have as diverse a teaching staff and artist staff as possible. I think it’s really important for our students to have visibility for people they can relate to doing amazing things. What USF and the Leo T. McCarthy Center does are really aligned with what we do and that partnership can help foster change.

How do you imagine the campus-community partnership evolving?

My personal dream would be growing Handful Players to accompany residents of performers who also work as teaching artists and start a touring company to different educational institutions, like to different schools in the area. I would love for that work to be generated by teaching artists and performers as well. That’s like my huge dream. I think Engage San Francisco and USF can continue to cultivate and develop relationship with interns from the department of Performing Arts & Social Justice to create that pipeline of skilled teaching artists. Hopefully some of the students will enjoy working enough that the want to stick around I hope that we can continue to build a base and lay groundwork to continue broadening the reach of Handful Players. I think it’s amazing what we’ve been able to do with so little and I imagine if we had not even that much more we can really broaden our range and make our message that much more impactful. I would love to try to incorporate artists who incorporate this vision of social justice into their everyday lives that’s not just a gig. I’m still a performer and I still perform when I can and have those opportunities, but I also think that the social justice component of a huge factor of my artistic life overall and I would love to be able to keep growing Handful Players to get to that point where we have and continue gaining visibility in the community.  People know us when we walk around the neighborhood and that’s a great feeling of community.


Chris Matthews Visiting Professor Inspires Millennials


Lauren Feuerborn
Master of Public Affairs candidate’17

At the beginning of the semester in Proseminar of American Politics, our professor told us that Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s HARDBALL would be guest lecturing sometime in November. As time got closer the arrival of Matthews expanded to a reception, a breakfast event and two lectures. We were all pretty excited.


Then the terror attack in Paris on November 13th changed everything. While we collectively mourned for those lives lost and changed forever, we knew that our time in class would change as well.


(Artist: Jean Jullien)

Due to safety concerns Chris Matthews was unable to join our class in person. But as a testament to what an amazing person he is, Professor Matthews decided to join our class via video chat. Leading up to our discussion we read his book, Kennedy and Nixon, The Rivalry that Shaped Postwar America, so we were prepared to chat about the political history of the U.S and what it looks like today. But what we go was so much more.


From the minute Chris Matthews sat down in front of the computer he captivated our class. He didn’t just lecture at us, he talked with us. He wanted to know what we thought and how we felt. Professor Matthews’ has an impressive ability to talk about complicated politics like it’s a story. His wealth of knowledge taught me so much about the details that are sometimes hard to find when you read a book or the newspaper. Matthews adds humor and personality to stories that otherwise depress us e.g. gridlock in D.C., political scandals and shady officials. Being a millennial means I wasn’t around during the post Cold War time in America, I don’t know what it feels like to experience air raid drills in school but Matthews is a product of that era. It informs his understanding of politics and thus it provides our class a context for understanding a world that we didn’t live in.



For me, Chris Matthews is the kind of person I could listen to forever. His undeniable intelligence combined with his honesty and humor make everything he says interesting! Clearly it shouldn’t surprise anyone why his TV show is so successful. Most impressive to me was the sense that if he can work as many hours as he does (he joined us after his work day at 9:00pm EST) read as much as he does and learn as much as he does, then I too can balance everything I have to do and I should never complain because I get to do what I love.

As we wrapped up our conversation, I felt hopeful about the future of politics. Professor Matthews reminded me that it is within the power of my generation to make change and create the kind of world we want to live in. I can only imagine how inspired we would all be if Chris Matthews had joined us in person. Hopefully he joins us again and we will continue to learn from him.

Chris Matthews, Visiting Professor in the Masters of Public Affairs program returns to USF campus

Brian Weiner

Professor Brian Weiner
Master of Public Affairs faculty

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s daily news commentary series HARDBALL, political journalist and author, is returning to USF and the Leo T. McCarthy Center as a Visiting Professor in the Masters of Public Affairs program.”

Chris Matthews teaching Master of Public Affairs studentsIn 2014, through a series of serendipitous connections, Chris Matthews spent nearly a week on our campus. Matthews had met Father Privett and expressed an interest in teaching, and his connections to the city (Matthews had written for both the SF Examiner and SF Chronicle) and to Jesuit education (he earned his undergraduate degree from College of the Holy Cross) made USF a good fit, and the Leo T. McCarthy Center the perfect home for Matthews’ foray into teaching. I was slated to teach one of the core courses in the Masters in Public Affairs program (MoPA) entitled, “Public Affairs and Applied Democratic Theory”, and jumped at the chance to host Matthews (a fellow Philadelphian) in our seminar. This course aims to bridge the disciplinary gap between practical issues of public policy and normative questions of political theory, asking students to reflect both on pragmatic questions of what can be done as well as ethical questions of what should be done to meet our most pressing policy dilemmas.

In brief email conversations with Matthews prior to his arrival on campus, we decided to have students read Matthews’s best-selling book, Hardball (for which, of course, his daily news commentary series on MSNBC is named) and to use the book as a jumping-off point for our four seminar discussions.  Hardball describes a political world full of grey—while naïfs tend to be hoodwinked in this world, those without morals are ultimately exposed and fail to achieve their self-serving aims.

Chris Matthews teaching Master of Public Affairs studentsWe explored this vision of politics with Matthews, challenging him to clarify for us the distinction between what he calls, “clean, aggressive Machiavellian politics,” and politics that goes beyond “hardball”, becoming “dirty” politics. We also asked him to reflect on whether the lessons of Hardball are still applicable to contemporary Washington. Students wondered whether our politics has become so fractured, polarized, and mean-spirited that many of the lessons of the book – preaching the virtues of compromise, working with members of the other party, and deal-making – may have become outdated. Matthews seemed inspired by his time in our seminar (and the students definitely had a blast), and in fact, he spoke of his experiences in our class on one of the Hardball shows taped in San Francisco that week.

Notwithstanding the success of Matthews’ first experience teaching for us in MoPA, when outgoing Leo T. McCarthy Center Director Corey Cook asked me to invite Matthews to return to our classrooms, I harbored little hope for a positive response. Not only, of course, are we in the midst of (a ridiculously early) campaign season, which takes Matthews around the country, hosting post-presidential primary debate shows, but his wife is running for Congress.  I had underestimated him—or possibly the pleasure he had experienced engaging with our students—for he accepted our invitation and once again will be leading seminar discussions with our MoPA students.

Kennedy & Nixon by Chris MatthewsThis time he will visit our core seminar in Applied American Politics, where discussion will center around another of his books, Kennedy and Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America. This book provides MoPA students with Matthews’ lively first-hand account of American politics, chronicling his time working in the Senate, running for Congress, serving as a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, and as a top aide to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.

We excitedly await our opportunity to engage with Chris Matthews in our attempts to understand American politics more deeply, to reflect on the continuities and discontinuities between American politics and culture, 1946-1970s, to the contemporary period, and to glean his insights as to how one can engage effectively in American politics without losing either one’s soul or one’s sense of humor.

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Diving into our Nation’s Capitol

Presley Attardo

Presley Attardo

As a Media Studies major, I had always been interested in the news, but desired a deeper understanding of political processes. When I heard about USF in DC, I jumped at the opportunity to participate to broaden the scope of my education at USF. Through the program, I gained experience and critical insight to our political system through working, studying and living in our nation’s capitol.

USF in DC is unique since it requires students to work a full-time internship while attending politically oriented classes. For my internship, I worked as a video production intern for the progressive think tank, The Center for American Progress. Since the video department only consisted of two full time employees, I had many individual responsibilities including producing and editing short explainer videos, recording and livestreaming events and guest lecturers at the center, and transcribing audio for our short documentary pieces.
Each week on my day off from work, I attended three classes that focused on political journalism, research, and professional writing. Since the classes dealt with current news headlines and happenings, they often analyzed the subjects I produced videos on for The Center for American Progress. While studying and working in politics concurrently was intense, the combination of theory and praxis gave me a dynamic understanding of how our government operates.

Even outside of my internship and classes, politics dominated most conversations I had in DC. It was exciting living in an environment where everyone was politically savvy and hyperaware of current events. I was always extra motivated to be on top of the latest news in order to join in on conversations and jokes in the student lounge area of the UCDC building and at happy hour after work. These conversations were interesting since, compared to San Franciscans, DCers had a wide range of political viewpoints. Not only did I learn how to navigate conversations with people of differing opinions, but I also learned to be a better listener and learn from those with alternative perspectives.

When I reflect on my time in the USF in DC program, it amazes me how much I experienced in just four months. The skills I gained in DC have carried over into places that I least expected. For example, the professional writing skills I honed in DC improved my overall communication ability and enabled me to excel in my next position as a marketing intern. Additionally, the political knowledge I gained in the program added depth and meaning to course work in my major upon returning to USF. In my media theory classes, I often make connections between the media and politics and am able to share unique insights and anecdotes during class discussions.

Elections and Democracy – San Francisco Style

Corey Cook headshot

Corey Cook 
Corey Cook, Professor of Politics is currently on leave but is still a critical observer of local, state and national politics. Professsor Cook regularly contributes to the McCarthy Center blog while he establishes the School of Public Service at Boise State University.

As my friend Jon Bernstein pointed out in a Bloomberg View piece last year, the timing of our elections can have a profound consequence for policy and governance. For instance, the specific timing of the economic crash in 2008 had important implications for President Obama’s agenda. Had the recession started sooner, unemployment would have likely bottomed out before the president assumed office (rather than in October of his first year). In that scenario, the Tea Party summer might have never occurred and John Boehner is still Speaker, if not Nancy Pelosi. Alternatively, had the recession started just a few months later (unemployment began rising in May of 2008 before spiking between the election and inauguration) most certainly the 2008 election would have been closer and the Democrats would likely have gained far fewer seats in the Congress. In other words, a later recession, and there is probably no Affordable Care Act or second Obama administration, an earlier recession, and there is likely no Tea Party revolt. In either case, Obama still wins the 2008 election, but the meaning of that election – the size of the mandate, the context in which the new executive takes office and governs – is quite different.

So what does this have to do with San Francisco?

Next week, somewhere between one third and two-fifths of San Francisco registered voters will participate in a municipal election. It’s a sleepy election. Of the five citywide races, three involve incumbents running unopposed, the mayor will win re-election easily against underfunded challengers, and one race, the election for county sheriff, is considered competitive, though it likely won’t be close. Instead, most of the attention on election night will be focused on a single supervisorial district (which will reportedly exceed $1 million in campaign spending) and a handful of hotly contested ballot measures. You might suspect that San Franciscans overwhelmingly approve of the job that Ed Lee is doing as mayor and endorse his policies, and surely his supporters will make that claim next week, but that would ignore the context of the election.

Make no mistake, Ed Lee will win handily and his supporters will declare it a clear affirmation of his policies. But the reality is that San Francisco voters remain conflicted. While the mayor is credited for presiding over a sustained economic boom (unemployment fell from over 9% to a shade over 3% during his five years in office), San Franciscans remain deeply troubled by the skyrocketing cost of living, the displacement of lower and middle income residents, and a general loss of community. They are dissatisfied with the state of transit and infrastructure and the failure of the city to adequately address homelessness.

Just over ten months ago, when leading contenders to challenge the mayor contemplated taking the plunge, the mayor’s solid poll numbers and extensive (some might say excessive) campaign war chest dissuaded entry into the race. He was coming off a successful fall election and about six months of good press. But since that time, it’s been anything but smooth sailing. One of the unforeseen consequences of the shift from a majority runoff to a ranked choice election is that a late insurgency (like that waged by Tom Ammiano against Mayor Willie Brown in 1999) are all but precluded. It’s not enough for someone to hold the mayor under 50% and take a shot in a runoff. Instead, an insurgent candidate would have to win outright in November, a tall task. But were the election six months from now, I wonder if the mayor would face a far stiffer challenge. And, as is always the case, his detractors are likely to claim some victories of their own in down-ballot contests and on some of the ballot measures.

“Elections Matter”

To quote president Obama, “elections matter”. But our interpretations of election results are typically vast overreaches that depend too much on the randomness of the timing of an election. And if history is any guide, the battle over which faction “won” is likely to be as hotly contested after the results are announced as before. As Bernstein writes, “if we see (election outcomes) as registering the preferences of voters on the issues and regard them as definitive, then we weaken democracy.” While those candidates who emerge victorious on election day have earned the legal mandate to govern, let’s not presume that voters have endorsed the victors’ positions on every issue and embrace the simplistic notion promulgated every four years that we have effectively “handed over the keys of the car.” Democracy demands much more than that.

Seeing the Past in the Present: A History Lesson Through Walk SF

Benjamin Rosete-Estrada

It was my second week working with Generation Citizen in a classroom. On the projector, there was an image of a map of San Francisco, displaying the districts and neighborhoods shaded in different colors to represent varying levels of unemployment. In front of me, the students, all 9th and 10th graders, took turns asking questions and pointing out things they noticed on the map.

In between questions and explanations however, my thoughts wandered back to when I’d been along the waterfront of the city as part of a historical walking tour several weeks before. The history walk was a requirement for the Ethics and Service Learning class I was a part of during the first week of the Fall 2015 semester course work. At first, I’ll admit, I had a hard time figuring out why I needed to know more about local history in a class centered on Aristotle and John Stuart Mills.

For three hours on that Saturday afternoon, I walked between buildings and stretches of shade, while listening to accounts of important events in San Francisco history organized by Shaping San Francisco. Along the different stops on that Saturday walk, we’d learned about the city’s long involvement with labor, from the “Eight Hour Work Day” movement to the general strikes of the 1930’s. Then there were the insights we’d gained into the changing cultural landscape of the city — how different immigrant groups left their legacy in San Francisco, how in spite of discrimination and political limitations, diverse communities survived.

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Some weeks after the walk, the service learning component of the class started and I was selected to work with Generation Citizen, an organization devoted to encouraging local action and teaching participation in democracy through the classroom.

Fast forward two weeks to the third class I was teaching when we discussed unemployment in the city. I started to draw connections between the history I had learned on the walk, and the work I was doing in the classroom. Even though I hadn’t realized it in the moment, learning what I did on the history walk gave me perspective I hadn’t had before; helping me see how events in the present — issues that the students in my classroom wanted to confront — had come about over time.

Many of the problems had changed, but beneath it all, different structures allowing for exclusion, discrimination and injustice were still in place.

Having had to the opportunity to go on the walk connected me in a personal way to the story of the City. It encouraged me to be more aware of current events in San Francisco, and take a closer look at the City’s past. At the same time, it allowed me to see the importance of local political action, and the need for me to become more engaged in civics.

It’s clearer for me to see now that this history serves as a backdrop for the narrative of San Francisco today. A narrative that I, the students I work with, and so many that live and work in the City, are a part of.

Seeing LGBTQ Struggles Through Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s Eyes

Master of Arts in Urban Affairs

Chris Bardales
Master of Arts in Urban Affairs Candidate 2016

Having the opportunity as a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs student, to take part in a 2-day seminar with the iconic former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano was nothing short of extraordinary. To be in the presence of a legendary progressive activist like Tom was something I will never forget.

Tom AmmianoIn the first part of our session we watched the award winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, with special commentary from Tom. Although having seen the documentary a handful of times, I am always moved to tears and never grow tired of re-learning about the historic struggles that the LGBTQ community had to endure in order for me to enjoy the privilege of rights I have today.

On the second day of our workshop, we were able to have an intimate Q&A with Tom on a variety of topics ranging from Harvey Milk, legislative policy and the gentrification of displaced communities in San Francisco’s history. With a breadth of knowledge on the history of San Francisco and an impressive resume of political achievements, it was an honor to receive such great advice from Tom. Although only lasting about three hours, I found myself thinking that I could have spent the whole day engaging in conversation with such a legend.

As part of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, I take pride in continuing to fight for the progressive values that Harvey would be surely fighting for if he were with us today. Although our community has come along way in the past 40 years, there is still much work that needs to be done in order for all marginalized individuals to attain basic civil rights.

Tom gave me the motivation to continue fighting for the rights of all oppressed people. Thank you Tom for being a great leader, a great role model and an aspiration to us all!

Tom Ammiano

Learning to Become an Advocate for Community Engagement with Upward Bound

Greta Karisny

Greta Karisny
Advocate for Community Engagement

When I first heard about the Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) program through the Leo T. McCarthy Center, I knew it would be an incredibly unique opportunity for me to explore my passions surrounding social justice. As a Sociology major at the University of San Francisco, I spend most of my days talking about inequality among races, classes, genders, etc. However, with all these problems presented to me daily, it has been hard to find action to create change. Becoming an ACE and working with my community partner, Upward Bound, have been wonderful resources for me over the past two months in developing my passions towards social justice and identifying how I to put these passions into action.

The community partner that I am working directly with this semester is Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS). This organization gives a number of important resources to students in economically and educationally disadvantaged high schools in order to help them strive in a university setting. While I am only a couple months into working with UBMS, I have already gained a more practical perspective of both education inequality in San Francisco and the difficulties that arise within non-profit organizations. It has helped me take the statistics and practical knowledge I have gained around racial, economic, and social inequality and apply it to the real world.

Within my initial ACE training I’ve gained a better idea of how I can use both my experience working with Upward Bound and the experience of the UBMS service-learners and apply them to larger issues of inequality and social justice in San Francisco and across the nation. The training itself maintained an open dialogue where I felt comfortable asking questions and discussing hard topics like racial oppression and economic inequality.

The day of service at the San Francisco Food Bank made these open discussions particularly important and meaningful. While I have done single-day trips to food banks and soup kitchens before, having a post-service reflection made the experience far more meaningful. The reflection made all of us critically question why this service is necessary and who this service benefits. While the day started as a simple act of service, it ended with a far more comprehensive understanding of why we serve. This is something that I hope to bring forward with my role as an ACE for Upward Bound, the students that serve it, and the community it affects.

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Dispelling Stereotypes and the Importance of Memory: A Walk Through the Fillmore District

Mary CruzMary Cruz
Advocate for Community Engagement
Esther Madriz Diversity Scholar

As an alumnus of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS), a living learning community on campus that strives to embody the Jesuit ideals of education and social justice, I was naturally ecstatic to have the opportunity to blend my role as an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) with my experience in the EMDS program. However, I am most excited about being able to work with the students in the current cohort as they navigate their journey of learning about social issues within the Fillmore community and Cuba, as well as its relation to Hip Hop.

This year EMDS has partnered up with the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center (EHHCC) in the Fillmore to work on an amazing project to preserve the histories of the change makers that are portrayed on the mural on the exterior of the center. As the ACE for EMDS I have the opportunity to participate in this project as part of my direct service with the Fillmore community.

Part of the importance of having this project partnership between the EHHCC and the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars is to create a social consciousness about the histories of the Fillmore community and preserve these stories first hand while the change makers are still available to give their personal testaments of their involvement in the community as well as how they have observed the community evolve.

Last month, to introduce students to the space and community that they will be recording in their mural projects, EMDS participated in a tour of the Fillmore community led by the Director of Engage San Francisco for the Leo T. McCarthy Center, Karin Cotterman along with community members Lynette White and Altheda Carrie.

Participating in the walk through of the Fillmore allowed me to learn more about the inviting environment of the community. Many times we are put off by the exterior or stereotypes of a community without actually entering the space and drawing our own impressions or understanding the issues facing a community. During the tour, the students and I experienced a number of community members who were not a part of the tour, come up to us and tell us their memories about the history of the Fillmore. This interaction which happened naturally, definitely helped humanize the people within the community and reinforce the importance of our service project as we continue to record the oral histories of the community members in the Fillmore throughout the semester.

Check back for shared oral histories in future blog posts!

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Public Service and Community Engagement Minor Opens Doors

Leadership for Civic Engagement adThe Public Service and Community Engagement Minor guides students to explore and analyze intersections between themselves, their communities, and pervasive social justice issues while integrating a range of opportunities to develop and implement skills for effective civic engagement.

This 20-unit minor draws on courses from across disciplines to provide a holistic learning experience that is relevant and engaging to students with diverse majors, interests, and career paths. A new 2-unit Leadership for Civic Engagement course, launched this Fall serves as an introduction to the PSCE Minor, providing a framework for analyzing the program experience, and connecting students in an intimate learning community.

Lunna Lopes

Lunna Lopes, Research Associate with the Public Policy Institute of California

Lunna Lopes, a 2006 USF alumna with a PSCE Minor reflects back on the value of the Minor. The Leo T. McCarthy Center Public Service Minor was really a great opportunity for me to just meet a lot of really interesting fellow students who are still some of my best friends. I’ve even lived in London with one of my friends and fellow Public Service Minor where we both had the opportunity to gain international public service experience.

Back home in San Francisco, the Public Service Minor allowed us to get to know a lot of public servants, from Mayor Art Agnos to a historian, Kevin Star. They were able to come into our classrooms’ small seminars where could truly talk to them in-depth about what it’s like to work for the people of California and develop policies that could really improve their lives. Having that opportunity to sit in such a small seminar class and engage with guest speakers was useful to get some insight into what the life of a public servant actually is and the different type of public service that you can pursue in your careers.