“Success” in the Western Addition

Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson, Campus-Community Liaison / Engage San Francisco 

At any given moment we suffer the curse of being banished to the present. The totality of human beings on the planet right now are given no option other than right now. At no points in one’s life is an individual least cognizant of this fact than in their childhood and their early twenties. One appears to be the most alive and yet they are alive without context. Influences behind decisions go unanalyzed. Tomorrows go unplanned and yesterdays are quickly forgotten.

It is within this vortex of the “hyper-now-ness” that I reflect on my short time with the Leo T. McCarthy Center. The time lapse between my first day and today feels almost negligible in length. Still the value I extract from this time is more than invaluable. I don’t want to be cliché here. I have never experienced this much personal and professional growth in such a short span of time in my entire life, so valuable that I fear the threat of passively experiencing. I constantly take time out to reflect and write down everything.

I sit on staff at the McCarthy center as a member of the Engage San Francisco Initiative. I am the second AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) to assist at the McCarthy Center, and one more will follow once I leave. I spend most of my time working off-campus at the Success Center San Francisco. On the surface level my workplace helps people get back into the workforce and attain their G.E.D. Beyond the surface is a community-rooted family that not only strives to help the Fillmore community, but heal it simultaneously. The word “success” holds no empty, income-based, meaning. At the Center, there is a more holistic view of the word. This view includes life at work, home, school, and beyond. And the people carving out this road to “success” for the community are born of the same soil.

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I am not of San Francisco soil. My stomping grounds are a continent away in the heart of New Jersey. So this leaves me with the task of deciphering my role within a community based organization while having no direct roots to the community.

I can say that the day-to-day stories that walk through the doors of the Success Center are not far from a wider national story that I know on an intimate level. It is from this personal intimacy with the heartbreak that accompanies financial hardships that I am able to draw my empathy.

Still, there are wounds specific to the Fillmore area that I am still acquiring a sensitivity for. Whether it’s two redevelopments, displacement, or public housing mismanagement, the after-effects show themselves through the stress our clients carry into the Success Center. The heavy heartedness is complemented by the overarching optimism and will to change their circumstances that also accompanies our clients as they cross our threshold.  

The McCarthy Center has proved itself to be an extended family member of the Success Center. As I become a more active participant with the Engage San Francisco (ESF) Initiative, I learn what it takes to cultivate a productive, community-centered, partnership. The level of engagement– sad to say– is stunning. Whether it’s the entire ESF staff attending the bi-monthly community led meetings at the Hayes Valley Community Center, or McCarthy Center staff showing up to lead just one faculty with the same vigor they bring to crowds on their multiple walks around the Fillmore district—the commitment to hearing the community and acting on what’s heard  is evident.

In both spaces I’m still growing and observing. The staffs at both centers have embraced me and challenged my thinking. I’m looking forward to the remainder of this year of service and to further collaborations with the community.

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Reviewing 15 Years

 

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One month ago we celebrated our 15th anniversary. As part of the festivities, we created a photo collection of some of our most memorable moments over the years. The process allowed us to reflect on how many students, faculty, community partners and staff have contributed to our success. The photos capture moments ranging from our students traveling to Bolivia and India with the Privett Global Service-Learning program, interning at senate offices with USF in D.C., to protesting at the Women’s March in multiple cities, to inviting some of the most influential leaders of the day. The slideshow highlights our commitment to preparing students for lives of ethical public service and the common good. Thanks to all of our generous sponsors who make our work possible!

 

Planting Seeds of Change Together

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Melissa Tang, Director of Programs, CommunityGrows

As San Francisco is dealing with the consequences of unequal economic growth and gentrification, there is a greater need for communities to band together in solidarity.  

I work for CommunityGrows, a small grassroots youth development organization grown out of the needs of residents from the Western Addition.  Twenty-three years ago, residents came together to reclaim green spaces in the Western Addition. CommunityGrows cultivates gardens with over 1,300 youth each year in low-income diverse communities.  

 

What I love about working for CommunityGrows is our emphasis on collaboration and building bridges with partners.  Community development takes time, presence, persistence, active listening and patience.  Being a small organization, we understand we need to depend on the strengths on our partners in order to achieve our overall mission. It’s through the Mo’ Magic Collaborative that organizations create and develop programming that address the needs of children, youth and their families in the Fillmore District and Western Addition communities.

At the Mo’ Magic meetings, we developed long term relationship and I know I can ask McCarthy Center staff for resources or to collaborate on community-wide projects. McCarthy Center staff attends all our community meetings and listens to what partners need.  Here’s just a few ways how our impact is amplified through our partnership with McCarthy Center:

  • Environmental Studies students and staff worked with us to maintain a garden at New Liberation Church and to develop workshops for our teen program.    
  • We partnered on joint community events like the Mind, Body and Soul health pop-ups, where we led a healthy cooking demo and gave away veggies from our gardens to residents we normally wouldn’t reach.   
  • We are recipients of USF’s Retired Technology program!  For a the last two years, we were able to provide a workstation for each staff member and dedicated our funding towards programming.

 

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During my time as a graduate student at USF (Masters of Nonprofit Administration, ‘16), I heard USF’s motto: Change the world from here.  Through these partnerships, not only are students learning how to change the world in the neighborhood that surrounds the campus but they engage them in real problems that affect real people, people who happen to live directly next to the campus.  There are a lot of dedicated folks who are doing great work to make changes in the Western Addition but they can’t do it alone. USF partnerships will strengthen the work of these organizations and provide education to students that a book can’t teach you.  So when USF asks students to change the world from here, the change is not on USF’s campus, but right here in the neighborhood—in the Western Addition.     

 

Reflecting On 2017

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Professor David Donahue, Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Sankofa, the African word that means we need to know and understand our past to head intelligently into our future.  Sankofa is usually symbolized by a bird whose feet are moving forward but whose head is looking back.  Sankofa is an apt metaphor for the McCarthy Center as we head to the end of 2017.  This year marks our 15th anniversary.  It also marks a year of strategic planning to chart the course for the next five years.  

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As with Sankofa, there is much wisdom in the McCarthy Center’s past that can inform what we value: integrity, knowledge, and service.  Recently, we have been conducting oral history interviews with some of the people who knew Leo McCarthy well. Over and over, we hear about Leo’s humanity, his compassion for those who were marginalized by society, and his commitment to doing what is right. At our 15th anniversary celebration on November 9, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi described Leo as a person who could see the “divinity” in everyone.  If only this generosity of spirit were the norm in politics now.  In the meantime, it animates the kind of community we create in our programs at the Center.

Leo’s values speak to us as we look ahead.  We began this new school year with a sense of heaviness and anxiety as racism and white supremacy, which have always been part of the history of this nation, became especially visible and were given permission to manifest by our nation’s president. That heaviness has as women have come forward to tell their stories of sexual harassment, including by our elected officials.

As 2017 ends, we are resolved to engage for racial, gender, and other forms of justice.  Our strategic planning process will give us direction toward those goals as we support students eager to engage in their community and in political life.  We are developing a new program for next year to connect USF students with community organizers and advocacy organizations.  We hope to engage students in city government as we continue to recruit students for state and national government internships.  Since the start of the fall, we have registered over 800 USF students as new voters who are ready to make their voices heard.  Early in 2018, we will launch our gubernatorial speakers series, bringing candidates for the “second most important office in the nation” to campus so they can engage with students, staff, and faculty.

We are eager to hear your ideas about what you see as strategic directions for the McCarthy Center.  Please feel free to share your thoughts with us any time.  Our efforts are stronger when they reflect a collective vision.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section here or email ddonahue@usfca.edu

In D.C.’s Public Defender Service

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Vivienne Pismarov, Psychology ’19

This fall semester, through the USF in DC program, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with the Public Defender Service. Everyone working there is tasked with one job and one job only: do everything in your power to support your client. As an investigative intern, I request records, locate potential witnesses, serve subpoenas, canvass the scene of the crime, and more. Even though sometimes this role requires me to work late into the night and over the weekends, I’m honored to do this job because I believe every client deserves someone who is genuinely in their corner ready to fight against the giant criminal justice system. 

Working in the Special Litigation Division, we defend clients who were sentenced to life in prison as juveniles and are now eligible under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act to have their sentences reduced or eliminated altogether. To be eligible for re- sentencing, individuals must have already spent 20 years or more in the prison system. These institutions often do not prioritize the rehabilitation of their inmates; instead, inmates are exposed to terrible living conditions, daily violence, racism and abuse. Such conditions make a transition back into society difficult and also make successful re-sentencing challenging.

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My first client, who I have spent most of my time in D.C. working with, was sentenced to life in prison when he was just sixteen years old after being misidentified as the perpetrator of a drive-by shooting that injured four teenagers in his own neighborhood. While there were witnesses and multiple examples of false testimonies to prove that our client was not at the scene of the crime and that the police involved in the case bribed witnesses to lie, my client has been imprisoned for the entirety of his adult life. This injustice astounds me. I have grown up with the privilege of having a supportive family and an education that has opened up infinite doors for me. Meanwhile an innocent young black man from the Southeast quadrant of D.C. has spent this same amount of time wrongly imprisoned and deprived of experiencing the world that he so desperately wants to be a part of again. Every day I come to work with a goal that one day this man will be able to enjoy a life of freedom.

We have witnesses who’ve confessed that they lied to the police. We have a solid alibi for our client. And we have proof that one of our client’s friends actually committed the crime. But while serving time in prison, our client was provoked by other inmates and was involved in a fight. Before he knew it, our client killed another man in prison.

From the bottom of my heart, I know that our client was not involved in the drive-by shooting that relegated him to a life in prison. However, I also cannot deny that a man in prison was killed at the hands of my client but I certainly believe that he would not have killed anyone if my client was never wrongfully convicted in the first place.

My client’s situation is not an anomaly. He had a great defense going for him and an amazing likelihood that he would be released from prison given the evidence that we had gathered in his favor. However, the prison system cultivated an environment where my client felt that he had to resort to murder just to live another day. Now, my client will likely continue living within the four walls that he has been living in for more than 20 years, while I have the world at my fingertips.

Given my client’s situation, I still will not give up fighting for his rehabilitation and release. Avis Buchanan, the Director of the Public Defender Service in D.C., emphasizes making a connection with a client and recognizing their humanity is required to successfully assist them in their defense. This is the challenge of the criminal justice system.

Avis Buchanan says that when you cannot see the humanity in your client, “that’s when you know it’s time to leave.” My time participating in the USF in D.C. program has taught me to never forget that everyone is human and deserving of someone being in their corner. While my internship is quickly coming to end, I’m not ready to leave and I’m not ready to stop fighting for the people who have been overlooked by society. When I leave this internship program at the Public Defender Service in D.C., I know that I will continue to advocate for people like my client who have been victimized by the prison system.

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The Legacy Of Art Agnos

Kick-off Cocktail Reception for the 15th Anniversary of the Leo T. McCarthy Center at USF

The Foghorn’s editor-in-chief, Ali DeFazio, a McCarthy alumnae who participated in the the USF in DC program, recently interviewed former Mayor Art Agnos, who is the recipient of the inaugural Leo T. McCarthy Center award for Public Service. He is being honored at this week’s McCarthy Center’s 15th anniversary on November 9th.  His former colleague, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, is the special guest speaker for the event. Both of them were mentored by Leo T. McCarthy. Ali and Mayor Agnos discussed his impressive career, which included fighting the AIDS crisis in the city, standing up against housing developers and promoting diversity hiring, appointing people of color and LGBTQ individuals to key leadership roles in his administration. The interview highlights why Mayor Art Agnos is a model for public service and the common good. Read the full interview here.