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.

Ready to Lead the Labor Movement

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Alexandra Catsoulis, Urban and Public Affairs ’19

Since February of this year, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with the California Labor Federation (CFL). The organization is made up of over 1,200 unions and represents over 2.1 million union workers across California. Every person in my office, along with our affiliates, have dedicated their lives to the labor movement and to fight for all working Americans to have a living wage, benefits, and worker protections at every job. I’ve never seen a group of people collectively organize and fight for a movement as hard and as long as the people involved in labor.

So far I’ve lobbied with Tesla workers in Sacramento against worker abuse and racism, as Elon Musk and his cronies continue to union bust and fire workers who try to organize. I’ve lobbied with the silence breakers and victims of the #MeToo movement, including Time’s Person of the Year Juana Melara, pushing for the passage of our sponsored bill AB3080, which will end forced arbitration agreements in the workplace. I’ve helped facilitate trainings and communication toolkits in response to the SCOTUS Janus decision, which has been detrimental to the labor movement, forcing every state to move to the “right to work.” I’m a consistent contributor to our labor edge blog and have been the CLF’s field journalist at rallies, protests, and actions.

Last week I attended our Biennial Convention in Orange County in which we endorsed the politicians, legislation, and resolutions that support workers across California. I was also able to meet Dolores Huerta, a civil rights activist, labor leader, feminist, and founder of the United Farm Workers, who is still very much involved in the labor movement at age 88! It has truly been such an honor working as the political communications intern for the California Labor Federation. The California labor movement is the most progressive force in this country when it comes to fighting for the rights of minorities, immigrants, women, and ALL working class people across the nation. My internship has proven that millennials and young adults should all be involved in the labor movement because I’ve learned that it is the last true fighting force against capitalist elites and greedy corporations.

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Congratulating Our Holstein Scholars

Please congratulate our three Holstein Scholars for the 2018-19 school year who demonstrate a commitment to public service, scholarship, and public policy-making programs for the common good.

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Pascal Boctor, ‘19 – International Studies, minor Middle East Studies

Pascal Boctor is a Junior majoring in International Studies. He was raised in Egypt as a Christian in a Muslim majority country. Upon arriving in the U.S., he was exposed to issues of oppression and persecution, particularly in his own experiences in Egypt. His passion for public service developed when he attended public high school in Irvine, California. As a student at USF, and a current McCarthy Fellow in Sacramento interning for the CA Secretary of State, he continues to be involved with the Center and looks forward to participating in the USF in DC program in Spring 2019. Pascal intends to build the skills and knowledge to be a change agent and advocate for marginalized communities in Egypt and in the United States.

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Madeline Campbell, ‘20 – Politics, minor Public Service and Community Engagement and Criminal Justice Studies

Madeline first became involved in public service during her senior year of high school in Sacramento and has continued her engagement during her time at USF. Madeline started working with the McCarthy Center through their USF Votes initiative, helping to register over 1,300 new student voters in its inaugural year. She is currently a McCarthy Fellow in Sacramento and interns with Pinnacle Advocacy, a strategic advocacy and lobbying firm, and has will join the USF in DC program in Spring of 2019. Madeline also works with the ASUSF Senate and Reading Partners in SF.

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Aliyah Forbes, ‘20 – International Business and Cultural Anthropology

Aliyah Forbes is from Orange County, CA and comes from a family of five. Prior to USF, she had little exposure to social justice and activism. However, as a member of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars Cohort 12 and an Eco-Educator within the Office of Sustainability, Aliyah has developed a passion for public service and the environment. As a part of EMDS, Aliyah was an intern at San Francisco Rising and participated in public service throughout the Bay Area, in particular, organizing around the College For All ballot initiative. She plans on continuing her commitment to public service at USF by staying involved with SF Rising, studying abroad in the East and partaking in one of the McCarthy Center’s programs such as USF in DC or McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento.

Out Of The Closet And Into The Future

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Nick Large, Master of Public Affairs ’18

Every June we celebrate LGBT pride here in San Francisco. Timed to coincide with the historic Stonewall Riots in June of 1969, pride is a time when Market Street dawns rainbow banners and corporations offer targeted pride advertising only seen in carefully selected markets. Bringing in upwards of 1 million into the city, San Francisco Pride is one of the largest pride festivals in the world, but has it lost its meaning? As someone who moved to San Francisco in 2011, my first pride celebration here brought a flurry of feelings. I had been to pride celebrations before, but it was odd coming to one so full of young people dressed ready to rave. How many rainbow tutus does it take to achieve equality?

Coming from suburban Los Angeles, my context of gay America was much different. In 6th grade, I remember learning about Dan White’s Twinkie defense. I didn’t fully understand it or have the historical context then, but I knew from one of my English teachers that he had basically gotten away with the murder of Harvey Milk, a gay man. Despite happening in 1978, I also knew that the history wasn’t as far in the past as it had seemed. Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998 after all. I remember learning about his murder because I saw Ellen on TV crying at a rally. “Why is she so upset?” I asked.

I remember the day I first realized how different I was from the other kids asking each other to the school dances. I remember when I wanted to be a woman. It happened right off of Bank and Fair Oaks Ave. It was right before band class. I stopped exactly where I was, and it was one of those moments where you have a sudden realization and it changes your life. I thought it was a secret I would have to die with. Luckily it wasn’t.

Now, as a drag performer prepping for a busy month, I think about the changing landscape of LGBT people in San Francisco and the changing attitudes. Two years ago, I had a teenager in drag come up to me saying they were a fishier version of Divine. From the way they were dressed and from what they continued to say, it was clear they had no idea who Divine actually was. The experience was conflicting for me because I was glad this teenager was able to get creative with their gender expression, but in many ways, it was also symbolic of a loss of history of sorts that I think is dangerous.

As someone who has spent the past year studying LGBT movements in San Francisco, I firmly believe that the stories of the most marginalized among us can teach us the most. When you lose this history, you lose some of the most valuable lessons our society has struggled to put forth. Only being 28, it’s strange for me to think that I’m not much older than people experiencing their first pride, but that the context is still dramatically different. Discrimination is still very real for many under the LGBT umbrella, but there are also many who have no such experiences. Without the history to guide us into the future we are doomed to make the same mistakes. Doomed to continue the same policies that have created a homeless youth population that is roughly 50% LGBT. This pride, it’s time for us to listen to the most marginalized. It’s time to take the lessons of our forgotten past and apply them to the future, and importantly, it’s time to get some of these corporate pride groups to give their money to actually help LGBT causes.

Interested in marching with USF for the San Francisco Pride Parade on June 24th? RSVP here.

Introducing the 2018 McCarthy Fellows

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Congratulations to our newest cohort of McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento. This upcoming summer, thirteen students will be experiencing first-hand the policymaking and advocacy in our California state capitol. In addition to a rigorous course on California politics, the Fellows will also be interning full-time at various organizations, department agencies, Assemblymember and State Senate offices.

This 12-week program combines a service learning course concurrent with a real-world application through a public service internship. Our Fellows will get a front row seat to observe and learn how public policy happens at the state level and build the skill set necessary to be change leaders in their communities.

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Alexis Arellanes, Politics ‘18

Alexis completed her BA in Politics with a minor in Legal Studies. Her undergraduate work experience includes a congressional internship in Washington D.C, lobbying for funding on behalf of USF here in Sacramento, and working with various educational nonprofit organizations that aim to help underfunded schools. Throughout her academic and work experiences, Alexis witnessed first-hand how income inequality negatively impacts school funding and jeopardizes access to educational resources. During her time in Sacramento, she hopes her exposure to legislative research and policy-making processes will provide the knowledge and skill set needed for a hands-on approach to policy formulation.

Male student

Alhaji Kabba, Nursing ’20

Alhaji is a rising nursing student excited about joining the McCarthy Fellows cohort. He is originally from Sierra Leone and is excited to experience California state politics, particularly public policy issues as it relates and connects criminal justice issues with health-related policy. He looks forward to learning more about policymaking, improving his advocacy skills, and being in a better position to affect change at a community level and strengthen the capacity of vulnerable communities.

 

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Pascal Boctor, International Studies and Sociology ‘19

Pascal Boctor is a Junior majoring in International Studies. He is most excited about to build upon the skills he has established at USF and to acquire new professional skills. His goal for the summer is to achieve a better understanding of state legislation and has aspirations of one day running for office on either the state or federal level. Pascal hopes that with the experiences gained, he will have a better understanding of topics, cultures, and identities that are different than his own.

Female student

Madeline Campbell, Politics, Public Service and Community Engagement ’20

Madeline is excited to join the McCarthy Fellows to acquire more knowledge about the policymaking process at the state level. Born and raised in Sacramento, she is well versed in the city’s issues but is eager to learn more about state politics. Madeline is interested in the intersection of criminal justice and education policy and wants to enhance her policy analysis skills so she can positively affect her community.

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Teresita Estevez, Politics and Peace and Justice ‘18

Teresita is excited to be joining the McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento this summer and looks forward to gaining first-hand experience working with and expanding her knowledge of California policy-making processes. Through this program, she plans to further develop her interpersonal engagement and analytical skills in the public service sphere.

 

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Tanya Leon, Chapman University, Political Science and Peace Studies ‘19

Tanya Leon, is a rising Senior at Chapman University. She is excited to expand her understanding of the unique Californian political climate and legislative process. She also hopes to continue to develop her research and analytical skills. Her time in the McCarthy Fellows program will give her the skillset to take what she learns in Sacramento and apply it back at home in Southern California.

Male Student

Glenn McDonell, University of San Diego, Political Science and Economics, ‘19

Glenn has spent the past two summers observing the convention process at the RNC as a media intern and interacting with policy in a non-profit advocacy setting. He will be joining the McCarthy Fellows Program in Sacramento this summer to gain an understanding of California policy-making and hopes to develop skills in research and writing. He also hopes to do discern a career path in policy, whether that means public service or non-profit advocacy.

Female student

Tara Minaee, Nursing, ‘20

Tara will be joining the McCarthy Fellows Program in Sacramento this summer to pursue a different side of nursing, the legislative side. She plans to use this time to see what goes on behind the scenes in healthcare, to get a better understanding of the policies and laws that she learns about and abides by in nursing school. With this whole other side to nursing and healthcare, she hopes to gain valuable experience that can be utilized throughout her nursing career.

Female Student

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

Mutale has spent the past year working for San Francisco Rising, an organization focused on creating an electoral alliance that helps to build power for working class communities of color in San Francisco. She has worked on a year-long inclusive campaign to fund college tuition for Californians that would include the formerly incarcerated and undocumented students. The McCarthy fellowship will provide a different perspective of how change is made on a governmental scale compared to the grassroots level to help her navigate how she would like to create change in healthcare.

Female student

Cassie Murphy, Sociology & International Studies ’20

Cassie will be joining the McCarthy Fellows cohort to expand on her political research skills and see California environmental policy up close. She’s excited to expand her network and meet people with similar passions. After the program, she wants to apply this new knowledge as a starting point for her work with conservation policy in rural Peru as she conducts research abroad next semester.

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Justin Nkemere, Communications Studies, ‘20

Justin is a rising Junior and is excited about joining the McCarthy Center cohort. He most excited about not only learning the in’s and out’s of state government, but also how to help his community in the future. He wants to expand his knowledge of how state and local politics works and how to best go about changing the inequitable circumstances of specific populations. Justin is also looking forward on sharpening his professional and networking skills through in this experience by working with and learning from various legislatures and agency organizations.  

 

Female student

Lillian Tu, Communication Studies & Environmental Studies, ’18

Lillian is really enthusiastic about learning the general California policy and politics this summer and becoming more familiar with environmental policies in particular. She is ready to take up a new challenge and get informed on some important local issues and their legislation. After completing the program, she hopes to apply her hands-on experience towards a future career in environmental advocacy and policy.