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

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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.

Save the Date – Nov. 9 for Our 15th Anniversary

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On November 9, 2017, friends and supporters, alums, faculty and currents students will celebrate the Leo T. McCarthy Center and 15 years of training a new generation of ethical leaders. It’s an evening of recognizing the vision and legacy of co-founder Leo McCarthy, former San Francisco legislator, California Speaker of the Assembly and Lieutenant Governor.

We’ll mark this milestone by celebrating the continuation of Leo McCarthy’s values of service for the common good through the current programs of the McCarthy Center with students who have participated locally and internationally through the Privett Global Scholars, USF in D.C., McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento, Advocates  Community Engagement and our graduate degree programs in Urban and Public Affairs.

The night will begin with a reception followed by the presentation of the inaugural Leo T. McCarthy Award, to be given to the The Honorable Art Agnos, former San Francisco mayor, assembly member and regional head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

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Today more than ever, the world needs future leaders who think critically and respond compassionately. Join us in preparing the next generation of ethical leaders and the programs that serve them—by becoming a sponsor or attending. Visit http://rsvp.usfca.edu/mccarthy-sponsorship-2017 or email Leslie Lombre, Associate Director at  llombre@usfca.edu or call (415) 422-2983.

Save The Date

Building Community Through Engage SF

For several years now, my Engage San Francisco colleagues and I have taken students, staff, faculty, supporters, and administrators on walks in the Western Addition. We intentionally don’t call them tours, as this is the neighborhood we work with, and community partners and community members join us on the walks. Most importantly, the word ‘tour’ rings of voyeurism and doesn’t challenge the ethical implications of looking at a community rather than working with a community.  We walk seeking connection and knowledge. Inevitably we see the things that we plan, and also inevitably something happens that is unplanned, which is part of the magic of being with community.

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We walk to learn about the history of the Western Addition, the Fillmore, Japantown, San Francisco, and the United States. We learn about and discuss how policies contribute to systematic injustices that impact residents in the Western Addition, particularly residents who struggle to make ends meet. We learn from and with community members and community partners and we discuss  connections between USF and the Western Addition. These walks are customized for the participants and they are intentional in their design. The community partners who join us before, during, or after the walks vary because we don’t want to take folks for granted or overburden our partners with the work of teaching USF-ers how to enter and exit community respectfully. A few of the partners who have joined us include: African American Art & Culture ComplexCommunity GrowsCollective ImpactAfrican American Shakespeare CompanyAfroSolo and the SuccessCenterSF.

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The guidance I provide folks on the walk typically includes an overview of where we will go and who we will visit with along with some historical context about redevelopment and outmigration, but the most important instructions I give are: 1) Stay curious. 2) Pay Attention. 3) Examine your assumptions. This is because flexibility is required to work with community, and curiosity is needed to learn as opportunities emerge. Some examples of how the magic of community knowledge appears (because despite our best attempts, we are always obviously walking through community as a majority group of strangers) include:

The time we were walking down Fillmore with Professor Stephanie Sears, Ms. Altheda Carrie,  Ms. Lynette White and the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars and a man stopped us and said,

“If you are here to learn, one thing you need to know is that we (African Americans) all came here during the war (WWII) to build ships and then they tore our homes down. We worked here for the war and then there was no where to live. If you learn anything today, that needs to be the one thing you understand.”

The time we ran into Bicycle Bob at every turn, totaling four unplanned meetings during the course of a 2-hour walk. He was flyer-ing for an upcoming Sunday Streets event and we continued to cross paths, making the neighborhood seem small and familiar.

The time that we visited the garden at Rosa Parks elementary and Melissa Tang of

IMG_20170906_143241107_HDR (1)Community Grows offered the opportunity to hold one of the chickens from their chicken coop.

The time we saw Rico Hamilton of Street Violence Intervention Project (SVIP) outside McDonalds and he knew numerous USF-ers on the walk and generously stopped to talk with all of us about the ways his work has intersected with USF.

The first walk I went on was led by Rachel Brahinsky, Assistant Professor and Director of our Masters in Urban and Public Affairs. We ran into Reverend Al Townsend, who has been a community leader and activist for decades. Rachel knew him from interviews she had conducted with him for research and writing. He shared with Rachel’s graduate students a bit about his experience with community organizing that dates back to his days as a student at SFSU, and he joked that if he had picked a different path, perhaps he would have become as famous as his classmate, Danny Glover.

Many, many years ago a friend taught me that stories from our lives are gifts we have to give. So we take the walks to learn about the community organizations that host and teach our students, we take these walks to make history real and see the ongoing impacts of redevelopment and reflect on what is no longer there. We take walks to see the outcomes of our partnerships with the Western Addition. We also take these walks to hear stories and receive the gifts that the community has to offer. For this we are grateful because without the trust and teachings of community members we would not be able to do this work.   — Karin Cotterman, Director of Engage San Francisco

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Support ESF here. Visit the USF Western Addition resource page here.