Project Amplify: Mixing arts, hip-hop and poetry

Students painting mural

by Reyna Brown, Performing Arts & Social Justice, Peace and Justice Studies, ’19, and
Ebony Azumah, Politics, African American History, ’19

Throughout our last 3 years at the University of San Francisco, we learned an immense amount about the ills of our country, specifically in relation to our Black community. We delved into the history of African Americans, critically considered the ethics of American politics, and explored the realms of artistic expression in search of purposeful practice. Project Amplify was just that: an avenue for us to put our knowledge to the test and leave a positive impact on our community.

(l-r) Ebony and Rayna leading the class



Project Amplify is a program that explores the history of African Americans using hip-hop as a means of personal and social truth. From African origins, all the way to present day, we discuss the
creation and purpose of music as a means to resist oppression, uplift the spirit, and sustain and evolve culture. The goal is to use art, music, and poetry to give students an opportunity to see a new perspective on the world around them, while simultaneously giving them tools to explore and create their own artistic talent.

Partners such as the Magic Zone, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, and the USF/Mo’MAGIC summer reading program gave us the perfect opportunity to put our curriculum for Project Amplify to use. We were given the opportunity to spend two hours with a group of 10-25 students between the ages of 11 and 13 once a week. Though at first two hours appeared to be intimidating, once the program began it was clear that time was speeding by. In two sessions we were able to cover the history of Black America in conjunction with the rise of hip-hop to keep students engaged and have a new perspective on the benefits of hip-hop/rap music. We then dissected poems by Maya Angelou, and dissecting lyrics from old and new rap songs to explore the hidden truths and hints towards politics that are spread throughout each piece of art.

Working with this age group was a challenge that neither of us were anticipating. Many times in class we were forced to think on the spot and change our plans to fit the circumstances we were faced with. Though this was difficult, it taught us an immense amount about the work we want to do to teach our community and what that entails. This experience has given us more than we could have asked for, and it is an experience we will take with us wherever we go.

For even more photos, check out the McCarthy Center album on Flickr!



Introducing Our Fall 2018 USF in DC Fellows!

Congratulations to our USF in DC Fall 2018 cohort! They are getting ready for an upcoming semester in Washington, D.C. in various parts of the Beltway–think tanks, law firms, non-profit organizations, in Congress, and policy advocacy shops. Please join us in welcoming our newest group of students.

Group of six girls

The USF in DC program combines a public service internship concurrent with academic coursework. During their time in Washington, D.C., students will have a transformational experience with the opportunity to connect classroom theory with real-world application. In this way, they get a front row seat to how public policy affects people and communities in our nation’s Capital.

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Kelsey Perez, Communications, ‘20
Newmark Scholar

Kelsey is most excited about building her interpersonal skills and networking with people who are interested in the same policy and legislation reform as herself. She plans to use the DC experience to gain more knowledge of legislation while trying to dip her feet in a career that she never thought she would have to opportunity to try out. After completing the program, Kelsey hopes to educate individuals on how important policy and legislative reform is and help their voices be heard.

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Ruby Homan, Politics, ‘20

Ruby is eager to expand her passion for politics in the USF in DC program. She is most excited to connect with and learn from her fellow colleagues in the internship program in regards to change, progress, and justice. For Ruby, USF in DC is the next step in a lifetime goal of political activism. She plans to refine her research and critical analysis skills in the praxis of the University of San Francisco to strive for a common good and a culture of service.

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Emma Curtis, Communications, ‘19

Emma is interested in pursuing an internship concerning either agricultural policy or public health issues. She spent all of her childhood involved in youth agricultural education programs such as FFA and 4-H in Nevada City, CA. She has volunteered for several non-profits where she has provided dental care to school children, worked at a hospital in Uganda, and provided crisis counseling to victims of domestic violence. She is excited to see the impact political action can have on agriculture and public health in the United States during her experience with USF in DC.

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Emily Hill, International Studies, Latin American Studies, ‘20
Newmark Scholar; Betty L. Blakley Scholar

Emily is most excited about gaining professional experience in a progressive fast pace city and to utilize her education and apply it to the working world. She hopes to explore her areas of interests and passions by immersing herself in a completely new environment.

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Nicole Konstantinovica, Business Administration and Legal Studies, ‘19
Betty L. Blakley Scholar

Nicole is looking forward to the diverse community and fast-paced work world that she will be thrown into. Her experience interning for Judge Brian Hill in Santa Barbara has given her a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge in time management and organizational skills. She hopes to obtain an investigating internship with the Criminal District office. Nicole is confident that Washington will prepare her for a future career in law and broaden her communication, leadership and writing skills.


Kate Pearlman, Communications, ‘19

Kate will be joining the USF in DC program to pursue her interests in political communications. She expects to gain an understanding of how the media and government works together during such a unique political period. After completing the USF in DC program, she hopes to continue her work with political communications in San Francisco.

Student Companion to Community-Engaged Learning


Star Plaxton-Moore, Director of Community-Engaged Learning

I am thrilled to share the outcome of a collaborative project between myself and McCarthy Center Director, Dave Donahue, that has been years in the making! The Student Companion to Community-Engaged Learning: What You Need to Know for Transformative Learning and Real Social Change is a book designed for students to read in the first days or weeks of their community-engaged courses. The book leads students through a discussion of why and how to engage deeply and meaningfully with communities experiencing pervasive marginalization and injustice. Students will learn about the root causes of, and connections between, social justice issues and how individuals, groups, and organizations are mobilizing to address these issues. The book provides guidance about opportunities and responsibilities that come with being a community-engaged student and suggests dispositions and practices meant to maximize learning for the student and benefits for the community.

The idea for this book came from practical experience and an observed lack of scholarship on this topic in the field of service-learning and community engagement. As a community engagement professional, I’ve spent the past 13 years supporting faculty, students, and community partners. Each semester, when the community-engaged courses would come to an end, and I debriefed with these various groups, common themes arose. In general, there was a desire to make sure students were more prepared to enter the community with humility, respect, and open-mindedness.

Faculty and community partners wanted students to shed the savior complex that commonly infuses service activities, and instead embrace their roles as apprentices to the community members leading positive change in their communities. Community partners said it would be helpful for students to do some basic internet research to learn about the organization, neighborhood, and client demographic that they serve. They also wanted students to practice a basic level of professionalism. Faculty wanted students to be primed to function as participant observers, actively connecting their community experiences to course content and integrating new experiences to inform their worldviews. In addition, students would often lament, upon reflection, that they could have made more of their experience if they had some key info at the beginning.  For example, Meghan, a student in an undergraduate community-engaged course, reflected that she wished she would have been encouraged to interact meaningfully and build relationships with the staff and clients at her host organization early on. She described how it took her several weeks to realize she could learn more from conversations with the people at her host site than from exclusively focusing on the service tasks. How much more could Meghan have learned if she went into her first day at her host site with a desire to connect with people and learn their stories in addition to participating in service activities?

The service-learning and community engagement literature is filled with scholars exhorting faculty and practitioners to prepare students for entering and interacting with the community. However, this topic was never addressed with sufficient depth to guide a general set of themes for student orientation. Our hope is that this book addresses a gap in the field and responds to the insights and experiences of our brilliant, dedicated, and critical colleagues and students.

Discovering My Passion For Public Health


Mutale Mulenga, Kinesiology, Child and Youth Studies, Sociology, ‘20

This summer I interned with Planned Parenthood, one of the most liberal organizations in the country. They are known for their outspoken progressive messaging and advocacy for reproductive rights. I worked in the California Affiliates office, where they are in charge of seven local affiliates and make sure legislation is passed to ensure reproductive rights are secured and protected in the state. When I walked into the office on my first day I was surrounded by pink. The values of feminism surrounded the entire office. As I walked through the hallway there were words of empowerment. In the boardroom, the walls were covered with past legislation they have passed with elected officials. 

During my freshman year of college, I became involved with Intervarsity, which is a Christian club that integrates social justice and religion. Through that club, I was exposed to community service and education for marginalized communities in the Fillmore district.  The club sparked my initial drive to be more involved in social justice, which ultimately led to me being interested in the Esther Madrid Diversity Scholars program (EMDS). The program allowed me to explore sociology and helped me further develop my passion for social justice and my lifelong love of hip-hop. My initial excitement to learn more about the history and the foundation of hip-hop turned into my overall desire to know more about social change and how I can take part in creating it. 

I then joined the McCarthy Fellows program, which has helped me pursue my passion for public health policy by facilitating an internship with Planned Parenthood. I had the privilege to work with an organization where I’ve been able to apply the skills I have learned in the classroom. I’ve been able to work as a campaign and advocacy intern and utilize my knowledge from previous campaign experience. My internship has refined my multi-tasking skills and increased my knowledge of reproductive health policies in California. The work culture in the office was stressful at times but I saw how committed the staff was to Planned Parenthood’s mission, even sometimes working throughout the night to complete a project on time. I truly enjoyed working under the leadership of Crystal Strait. Crystal makes sure that no matter what your position is, your voice and opinion matters in the office. As the summer is ending, I am considering working for Planned Parenthood in New York because of my great experience at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

Two women

USFVotes: Leadership as Empowering Others

Maddelyn helps to register fellow students to vote

Maddelyn Bryan, International Studies ’18

Working with the McCarthy Center has redefined my understanding of leadership. I remember feeling irrepressibly disappointed on a county election day when I was 18. Someone tried to comfort me, shrugging words of, “well at least one vote doesn’t make much difference in a state the size of California.” I could not contain my overwhelming feelings of disempowerment.

Just moments before, I was feeling giddy in the car as I drove with my brother to the polling station. After participating in civic engagement programs throughout high school, I was finally of an age to put words into action. My brother went before me in line and gave them his name. As one of the youngest and most enthusiastic persons in the room, I stepped up right after, ready to exercise my civic duty—ready to have a political voice.

Maddelyn Bryan?” the woman blinked at me. “I don’t see your name on this list.”

“Would you mind checking just once more?” I asked anxiously. 

After a few long minutes of confusion on my part, the women determined that there must have been a minor mistake in my paper registration form submitted some months earlier. I was unable to vote. 

Last summer, as I was about to enter my senior year of college, I received an email from the McCarthy Center asking for volunteers to run a new initiative for New Student Orientation. The name USF Votes intrigued me. I rearranged my schedule and headed to campus early to join the initiative and help register new students to vote. This was my chance to prevent others from experiencing the same sense of disempowerment.

At age 18, not only are students now legally adults, they are also undergoing numerous changes. Moving to new cities, adjusting to a new educational system, and navigating unfamiliar environments can be disorienting for the recent adult. The simple actions necessary to complete the voter registration form (without mistakes), or even going to the DMV to procure it, can be lost in the overwhelming pressures of adapting to a new life. Through USFVotes, the McCarthy Center staff and volunteers simplify the process for students, bringing the materials to them and guiding them in process.

During that first registration drive, the volunteers did more than register new students. They also modeled a culture of caring about one’s impact in the realm of public service. Each time I joined a registration drive, I was impressed by the dedication of the staff and volunteers.  I am pleased but far from surprised at the rate of our progress. In half a year, we already exceeded 1,000 registrations. These numbers turned USF into a nationwide campus leader in registered voters according to Turbo Vote for the 2017-2018 school year.

This process is more than watching someone fill out a form. It is telling each student that their voice matters, that USF must become a culture where the discourse of the classroom translates into civic action. It is telling them that voting is not only a right but a duty. It calls on USF students to elect representatives that reflect our values. In this way, the McCarthy Center volunteers redefine leadership as the measure of how much they empower others.

Update: In the first year, USF was able to register 1429 students! 

This Saturday, August 19th, from 8am-3pm USF Votes will be registering students at Lo Schiavo on the ground floor and Lone Mountain on the first floor. 

Our VISTA’s Year in Review

Man smiling

Michael Anderson is our 2017-18 AmeriCorps VISTA and a Campus-Community Liaison for Engage San Francisco. This fall, he will attend UCLA’s M.A. in Education Policy

In high school, I ran track under the leadership of one of the best and toughest coaches in the country. She would say to us before our most grueling workouts, “It’s going to hurt. But you have to fight past the pain. There will be times when you hurt so much that it will feel like you are having an outer body experience on the track and watching yourself from the field.”

This year was in a word: surreal. For a large stretch of it, it felt as though I was watching a mirror image of myself from afar. Watching myself speaking at a conference, watching myself help out in some organizational tasks, watching myself applying and being accepted to a graduate program, shocked at the gap between the life I was living merely months prior on a college campus in New Jersey and the one I currently experience traversing the cities of Oakland, Palo Alto, and San Francisco.

This out of body sensation seems fitting for the work I was sent here to do. The very nature of an AmeriCorps VISTA (ideally) is one who can step outside of themselves; their interests, their concerns, their uncritiqued perspectives, (their desire for a livable income) and fully immerse what’s left of them (their skills, their time, their energy, their mind power, their spirit) into the environment. I can only hope that I was able to reach this level of transcendence throughout this year. And the only people who could truly evaluate that are the broad array of personalities that relied on my presence in any manner in the last 12 months. These are the souls that have poured into me and one of my continuous aims is to fully soak in all of the nutrients they’ve dished out.

In terms of people who have committed their lives to stepping outside of themselves, I cannot overemphasize the power and the might of the Success Center San Francisco’s fearless CEO, Liz Jackson-Simpson. I recall a trip the staff and I took to LA with a group of students from the Success Centers’ G.E.D. program. The purpose of the trip was to tour the campus of USC to give the students a glimpse of campus life and discuss higher education prospects. After which we watched the Warriors take home the championship in our Anaheim hotel lobby, and spent the next day traversing nearby Disneyland. After speaking with a handful of the students about the college tour, it became apparent that the “hallowed halls” of USC, the tour guide’s sporadic shouts of “Fight On!”, not to mention the jaw-dropping tuition costs did little to spark the hearts of our young cohort.

After speaking with Liz she immediately agreed to hold a panel on our last day of the trip that would “fill in the gaps.” The panel was held in the hotel lobby after breakfast. It consisted of all the staff and chaperones on the trip. Everyone went around the circle and spoke about their educational/professional journey. They told intimate life stories about setbacks that got in the way, miraculous moments that dug them out the depths of uncertainty, and the value of persistence despite the quicksands of life.

And then we got to Liz.

It was the first time that I had the opportunity to listen to the full story of her ascension to her current role at the Success Center. She sat in front of us, stoic, Minnie Mouse ears atop her head from the day before, as she expounded about her early life. She fell in love with education early. She loved school. She was a STEM student by training. As she continued it became increasingly clear that becoming the CEO of one of the most respected non-profits in, not just San Francisco but the entire Bay Area, was not in her stars initially. Liz Jackson-Simpson living embodiment of the old church saying “making a way out of no way.” Not just in her personal life, but in terms of her approach to organizations. In a world that demands years in a field, degrees from accredited universities, and the resume to prove it all, Liz stared every door that dared to interfere with her goal of holistically helping others, and kicked it down. Time and time again, professional life demanded that Liz take on roles that she may not have been prepared for on paper, but was overqualified for in heart. Each time a challenge was proposed, she shook its hand and said “yes.” Slowly but surely, the growing community-based empire that is the Success Center blossomed as she became increasingly involved. As she spoke I felt the urgency in her tone. She wanted us to understand that people are not theoretical subjects; when real life, living, breathing, blood-pumping people are in need, time is a luxury. The time for extensive deliberation, or even for counseling one’s doubts is simply not available. People need jobs, education and financial assistance — as the old Black Panthers would say, “Not now but right now!” When everything is telling you to say “No, I’m not ready. I’m not qualified,” there has to be a stronger sense of purpose intrinsically tied to being one with the people you serve, that hits your insecurities out of the park.

We left the hotel lobby and filed into the bus waiting for us outside. As I ascended the steps to our bus, I knew I would never look at public service the same way. Liz did not say anything that I did not know. But until that moment, until I heard the tale of a walking talking embodiment of the virtue of selflessness and giving, I realized I had not felt it.

I desperately want to share more stories. Stories of highly engaging community meetings, brilliantly planned community partnerships, asides from the critical creative writing course I was entrusted to teach, transformative presentations, or warm life-affirming moments with McCarthy Center and Success Center staff. But I feel that moment in Anaheim truly encapsulates the lessons I came here to learn and to reinforce.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the individuals who helped support and mold me over the course of this year. I can only hope that I have been able to be a microcosm of the blessing that you all have been to me.


Michael Anderson and The Success Center’s, Adrian Owens


Read Michael’s earlier post here.