Our VISTA’s Year in Review

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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.

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Michael Anderson and The Success Center’s, Adrian Owens

 

Read Michael’s earlier post here.

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.

A Day at Prince Hall Learning Center in the Western Addition

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The Prince Hall Computer Learning Center (PHLC), an Engage San Francisco community partner in the heart of the Western Addition, is a year-round learning enrichment program that provides structure and support in the form of emotional and academic enrichment programs. Through after-school and summer programming, Prince Hall develops individualized support for children based on their academic needs and family situation. The small scale of this program (up to 20 children) allows for customized, personal interventions that are sustained and based on a strong groundwork of trust.

 

As one enters Prince Hall you are welcomed by Ms. Miram Desmukes, who has 18 years of experience directing the Prince Hall Learning Center. Along with Ms. Andi Horde, who has been an Associate Director with the program for 10 years, one immediately sees the center as an intuitive, loving environment that is labor intensive and intimate.

An initial question comes to mind:  What kind of methods of teaching do they use in their program? Ms. Andi explains as one of the children leaned on her and she kissed her on the head and said, “We are a nurturing education-based program, lots of hugs around here.” While Ms. Andi and Ms. Miriam are extremely humble in how they describe their work, it is clear that it takes extraordinary expertise and time to understand and relate to the kids on a level much deeper than hugs.

“There is a certain amount of respect that we try to embody so that they don’t feel that they need to act out. We respect them. They respect us. Everything is pretty much communal around here. The older children look out for the younger ones and give them pointers.”

Prince Hall is an active partner with several USF literacy projects including America Reads, the Masters in Teaching Reading/reading specialist program, and the Xochitl Book Project and as such, ties into the values USF holds close to heart:  education, social justice and leading to succeed. Collaboration with families is essential, especially to the Prince Hall Learning Center.

The Center is a program of Bethel AME Church and the Allen Community Development Corporation, which is the for-profit arm of AME Church along with the parishioners who support the program by purchasing snack items of need that are listed in the church newsletter. Ms. Miriam and  Ms. Andi also contribute snack items as well as learning aides such as  flashcards, vocabulary cards and books. They provide transportation to the after-school program from some of schools on a daily basis.

When asked what items they needed, they said, “state of the art equipment, like learning tools, some technology, standing desks, writing materials, educational supplies, equipment, toys, materials.” Given additional resources, they would formalize their teen group; facilitate more conversations and mentorship with the Center’s graduates who return home from college and meet up to discuss the transition to higher education, and build out their technology program. It is clear this program is rich with vision, inspiration, deep intergenerational relationships, and succeeding despite many unmet resource needs.

Prince Hall reflects the values and vision of USF and Engage San Francisco, which is why it is great partnership site for USF students to learn. In addition to the teaching the Center does with Western Addition children, they also offer a supportive learning environment for USF undergraduate and graduate students who work with them.

If you woud like to support Prince Hall Computer Learning Center, or USF’s partnerships with them, visit http://www.princehallclc.org/ to see how you can support them or contact Karin Cotterman, Director of Engage San Francisco, kmcotterman@usfca.edu.

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Alumnus Sees the Future of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center

 

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Jerry Trotter

Program Director, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center

Ayah Mouhktar, our Communications Assistant, interviewed Jerry Trotter at the construction site for the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center. Below is a reflection on her experience meeting Jerry, discussing the new facility and what it will mean for the families and children of San Francisco.

Putting on a hard hat and entering a construction site was not how I planned to spend my Thursday afternoon but what came out of it ended up being one of the most eye opening and inspirational experiences I have ever had.

Walking into what would soon become the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center left me with a sense of hope of a brighter future for the children and families of San Francisco.

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Jerry Trotter, Program Director of the facility, is a University of San Francisco alumni (’02) and was recruited by the Multicultural Retention and Recruitment program, which traveled to high schools and recruited students to USF to continue their studies in social justice and the Jesuit mission.

“USF brought me to San Francisco and San Francisco brought me to Booker T. Washington” said Trotter when describing what gave him the drive to want to help the local community.

The new facility is being built at 800 Presidio Avenue and will be made up of 5 floors compiled of 49 housing units, an NBA regulation size gym, a mind/body health center, computer and career lab and a community garden on the roof. It began as an idea as a place for families in the community to convene and organize and is a realistic way to meet the needs for food, education and secure housing. Trotter cares for the children of San Francisco and wants one simple thing to come out of all the great work he does, “we want to have them stay and live in the city they grew up in”

San Francisco and USF in particular played a large role in Trotter’s work and his passion for social justice and the mentality of leading to succeed, and not just to seeing himself succeed alone but taking rising with the community as a whole. The hard work of Jerry Trotter is one that is admirable and inspirational not for just the common citizen but especially USF students who look to actually change the world from here- less than a mile away from the center of campus.

USF Engage San Francisco – Working with the Western Addition

Karin CottermanKarin Cotterman
Director, Engage San Francisco

It is just over a year since USF launched Engage San Francisco, a place-based initiative that partners USF with the Western Addition to respond to community identified needs. More than partnering to support the provision of direct services, the vision of Engage San Francisco is one of transformation through engagement. Through Engage San Francisco, we work in partnership with community-based organizations, schools, the City and County of San Francisco, business entities, and other partners to respond to community-identified needs while keeping in mind the assets of community.

This means we are leveraging resources from all the Schools at USF, and the College of Arts and Sciences as well as co-curricular resources, even looking at our business practices, and asking ourselves, how do we conceptualize our work through the lens of this commitment to the Western Addition? How do we embrace this notion of service as wholly transformational, not only for our students, but for our institution? 

We know that powerful learning can take place inside and outside of the classroom. We know that powerful connections to USF can evolve from our shared commitment to a more just world. We also know that as an institution committed to life-long learning and creating a more just world, we can embody these values in our day to day operations as well as in our classrooms.

In concrete deliverables, this means we are entering our second round of community engagement grants. Last year’s grants supported the creation of study guides for the African American Shakespeare Company; music education for youth at the Church of St. John Coltrane; student internships with Handful Players; program assessment for the Village Project and the beginnings of a PhotoVoice project. These grants help support one of the best practices of campus-community partnerships by providing continuity in relationships and building capacity of community partners who are co-educators.

Also, after a successful pilot mobile health clinic in February, the School of Nursing and Health Professions is gearing up for a second mobile clinic at Ella Hill Hutch June 20th, with a third clinic planned for August. These clinics allow USF faculty, staff and students to work in partnership with community based organizations and offices of the City and County of San Francisco. Services provided included health screenings, Covered California enrollment, vision exams, nutrition counseling and more.

Engage San Francisco allows the entire university to participate collaboratively in research, reflection, dialogue, and learning that tries to find solutions for some of the most stark inequities that currently face San Francisco.

Join us.

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