“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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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.

Beginning a Literacy Partnership with Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School

Dr. Mary Murray Autry

Dr. Mary Murray Autry, Associate Director
Engage San Francisco Literacy Programs

 

When first visiting Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School (Cobb) in October 2016, with hopes of beginning a literacy partnership, I vividly remember entering the office area and being pleasantly surprised to see a wall covered with banners. These were not just any banners but banners representing various universities throughout the United States and graduates from this very elementary school. I had no trouble identifying the principal’s office door that had been labeled with the name of his alma mater. The banners clearly sent a message to me about the mission of the school and the value of education. Because I really did not know what to expect from this meeting, I began with, “The University of San Francisco, through its Engage San Francisco initiative within the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good would like to partner with you in creating a literacy program.”

We have made significant strides since our initial meeting. The literacy program began as a pilot with a shared vision to improve reading proficiency and support K-5 students to reach grade-level proficiency. We also agreed to place university students as volunteers in a first-second grade combination class and a third-fourth grade combination classroom to provide relevant literacy experiences for classroom students.

One freshman and four juniors comprise the pilot of cohorts and began as interns working with elementary students and our community partners in spring 2017. These interns are undergraduate candidates in the Dual Degree in Teacher Preparation Program at the University of San Francisco. Under the guidance of Engage San Francisco staff, the school’s literacy coach, and classroom teachers, interns work six to twelve hours a week to improve K-5 literacy proficiency while fostering competent communication while speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Interns, required to complete the entire semester must consistently demonstrate the same professional and ethical behaviors expected of teachers, and are enrolled in a 1-unit Directed Study course. The course, Literacy, Environments, and Assessments, emphasizes the basic history of the community, literacy instruction, social emotional development, trauma informed approaches, and effective use of the learning environment.

Several questions guide the development of the literacy program. These include: What would this literacy program look like? How do we define literacy? What are the literacy goals of the school? What is best practice for TK-5 students? What are worthy and reasonable goals for university interns? How do we involve teachers? How do we build a relationship of trust with the school in light of the fact that a previous partnership folded? From these inquiries, these key questions emerged:

  1. How do we create a literacy program for traditionally disenfranchised K-5 students who consistently perform lower than their white counterparts in spite of laws and policies designed to support their academic achievement?
  2. How do we create a literacy program for teacher candidates, that models effective teaching, embraces diversity, addresses biases, and focuses on community?
  3. How do we move the conversation from “volunteers” in the classroom to members of the school community?

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The initial launch of the pilot has been far from perfect, but we have learned as we face challenges, and we make changes and restate our commitment to moving from the pilot stage to executing the literacy program in the fall of the 2017-2018 academic year. Feedback from school administrators has led to discussions on expanding the program and including two prekindergarten classrooms. Initial findings thus far suggest that although only 20 percent of interns had any involvement with the school community prior to placement, 100 percent see themselves committed to continuing the internship during the 2017-2018 academic year. We have also learned that the school’s literacy needs were broader than the original plan. Instead of teaching in only two classrooms, interns work in classes across the grade span and have begun the process of seeing themselves as more than volunteers in the school but actually members of a community.

Learn more about Engage San Francisco’s literacy programs and other community partnerships by contacting Karin Cotterman, Director of Engage San Francisco <kmcotterman@usfca.edu>

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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Profiles in Community Engaged Learning- Nicola McClung

Nicola was asked, what inspires you to integrate service-learning or community-engaged pedagogies into your courses?

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Nicola McClung

Assistant Professor, University of San Francisco- School of Education

Excerpt from the August 2016 Profiles in Community Engaged Learning. Professor McClung teaches Early Literacy.

I was first inspired to integrate community-engaged pedagogy into my course when looking for books for my daughter. She is a beginning reader, and I had difficulty finding books I wanted her to read.

Although multicultural children’s literature clearly makes an important contribution to the pursuit of equity and justice for all, it continues to be limited in several ways. Enter any classroom, home, or pediatrician’s office where an effort is being made to include diverse perspectives, and one will typically find books about able-bodied heteronormative white children living “normal” lives: a new puppy; bedtime; mom, dad, and baby; expressing emotions; going to school. In the same room, recent titles reflecting diversity might include: Heather has Two Mommies; Don’t Call Me Special; Black, White, Just Right; It’s Okay To Be Different; I Love My Hair; Day of the Dead, The Skin You Live In, Some Kids are Deaf, or Everybody Cooks Rice.  That is, few books include characters that come from diverse backgrounds in which their social markers (e.g., the disability, being black, having gay parents) are not the focus of the book. Furthermore, when diversity is reflected, many authors fail to write in such a way that allows for independent reading and maximally supports children’s literacy skills. For example, although there are some picture books that contain anti-oppressive themes (e.g., African American History) they are almost always books that must be read aloud to children.

I also draw from my experiences as a teacher in San Francisco schools, including at Rosa Parks Elementary in the Western Addition.  The project is based on the assumption that having access to texts that reflect diverse perspectives is motivating; in addition to high quality multicultural literature, we need books that contain universal themes depicting minority characters living everyday lives—e.g., a scientist who is a black female, a school principal who is multilingual, a soccer player with a disability, a mailperson who is trans, or kids simply having fun! These types of books are greatly needed for children from minority backgrounds to identify as readers and to see themselves as valued members of society. At the same time, such books allow students who identify with the dominant culture to come to see their minority counterparts as central to a well-functioning society (Dean-Meyers, 2014).

At the end of the summer, seeing the Prince Hall students excited about being authors, and seeing themselves in the books, inspires me to continue to the project and sustain the community partnership. Likewise, knowing that we are in some small way closing the cultural/linguistic distance between teachers in training and students in urban schools provides a purpose to the work that is important to sustain.

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Resiliency – as an Act of Political Welfare

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 Nolizwe Nondabula, Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator

   Engage San Francisco, USF Campus-Community Partnership

 

Reflecting back on my journey with USF’s Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program, I definitely did not see myself continuing a relationship with the Leo T. McCarthy Center after graduation in Spring of this year. My first year in the program was a critical time as the Movement for Black Lives gained momentum and the conversation between police and state violence on Black people made national headlines. My focus as a graduate student was on racial justice, which meant taking classes with an emphasis on racial policies, interning at Race Forward, and working with the Brown Boi Project and PolicyLink.

When I wasn’t in the classroom or in the office, I was on the bus to Ferguson, waking up Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf, and shutting down the Bay Bridge. I was angry and determined to interrupt business as usual until folks knew that all Black Lives Matter.
And while my body told me to slow down, I refused to listen. The urgency I felt from the movement told me to find a way to balance my activism life with my academic life. And though I carried the magic of my ancestors, I soon realized that I also carried the weight of those that came before me.

As I began my last year of grad school, I burned out…hard. My anxiety was at an all-time high, I was tired of being tired, and the desensitization of Black death made it harder for me to attend class, go to work, or get out of bed.

Through the guidance and support of my tribe, I made appointments to see my therapist (and stuck with it) and I thus began to unpack my personal journey around mental health and trauma. This journey is not easy but as a Black Queer Woman living in the United States, it’s necessary. Said best by Audre Lorde, womanist, writer and civil activist,  “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political welfare.”

I believe that we will win this fight for equality, but we need the presence of everyone in the movement to do so. So what happens if, as another tactic, we focus on the resiliency of our communities? Both individually and collectively? In pursuit of my own healing, I’ve recognized my need to lean into the discomfort and stigmatization around trauma so that I can plant my seeds of affirmations and self-love.

So when I was told about the position of the Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator as part of USF’s Engage San Francisco Campus-Community Partnership, I felt like I was planting another seed towards this continuous journey. Engage San Francisco is very hyper-local in its focus and is asset-based in its philosophy so I have had the privilege of witnessing community magic bask from within, while building relationships with different stakeholders. I’m honored to be a part of spaces where the collective passion and eagerness serves as the foundation to produce community-identified goals in the Western Addition.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.23.12 AM.png

Within my position, my focus is on the emotional well-being of Western Addition youth. I work closely with Western Addition service providers, community members, city agencies and USF staff and faculty in crafting a shared vision of behavioral health. Last week, Engage San Francisco, in partnership with Rhonda Magee, USF Professor of Law with a Social Justice focus, started a 7-week course on Mindfulness and Compassion Based Skills for Stress Management. Classes are free and open to Western Service Providers and community members. And if the amount of vulnerability I’ve already seen is any indication of what’s to come, then I can only imagine how transformative this course will be for those enrolled.

I’m grateful to be a part of the conversation on youth wellness in the Western Addition. I look forward to learning from existing community partnerships while holding on to the fact that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams. Because, in the end, we are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.

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