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.

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Ready, Set, Engage! The Authentic Video Guide to Community-Engaged Learning

Star Moore, Director of Community-Engaged Learning

Star Moore
Director of Community-Engaged Learning

The Leo T. McCarthy Center’s Communty-Engaged Learning team is currently developing a video series entitled, “Ready, Set, Engage! The Authentic Video Guide to Community-Engaged Learning”, designed to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for participation in community-engaged courses and activities. This series features University of San Francisco students, faculty, and community partners sharing their perspectives, insights, and reflections on their experiences with community-engaged learning.

Making its debut in May, this series will gradually be integrated into service-learning and community-engaged courses next fall.  A curriculum guide will be developed this summer to accompany the videos, and will offer an array of learning activities, discussion prompts, and additional resources that faculty can use to engage students more deeply with the themes and issues discussed in the series. We are also exploring the possibility of licensing and selling the series to other institutions.  For a sneak preview of the video series, we encourage you to watch the promo!

This series has been designed in collaboration with our creative and visionary filmmaker, Elizabeth Dausch, who has worked closely with us to capture compelling interviews and dynamic footage of our students in action on campus and in the community.

Sociology major, Mary Cruz is among the students featured in the series. She speaks passionately about how the community action project in the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars Program fostered her academic learning, personal growth, and vocational calling.

We also interviewed community partner, Sam Dennison from Faithful Fools, who emphasizes the importance of entering community with an open mind and open heart.

Associate professor of sociology, Stephanie Sears described in her interview some of the community-engaged projects that have provided mutual learning and benefit for her students and community partners.

These voices, accompanied by many others, will guide students to think deeply and critically before they leave campus, so they can enter into their community-engaged experiences with humility, respect, enthusiasm, and a predisposition toward learning.


What does community-engaged learning mean to you? Share your answer in the comments section.

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EMDS Goes to Cuba: Discovering “Chino”

USF ID

Jazlynn Pastor
Communication Studies Major
Public Service and Community Engagement Minor
Asian Pacific American Studies Minor

Named after the University of San Francisco’s late and great Esther Madriz, Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) living-learning community focuses on Hip-Hop and its use for social change. To me, being in EMDS means learning how to become a better activist through our own strengths and passions. A part of our experience includes going on a transborder travel experience during winter intersession.

This year, our Cohort, EMDS’ 10th Cohort, traveled to Cuba — with support from the Leo T. McCarthy Center — to meet with different community resources and builders in the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba. We learned about Cuba’s social problems and how the people are working together to create solutions. We also reflected on how we can apply what have learned back home. The best way to describe my Cuban experience is through the words of our tour guide from a community organization called Muraleando: “See what happens when you look deeper into a community?”

My most meaningful takeaway from our trip to Cuba was being able to find my Asian identity within a Latin country. Our main tour guide, Sara Daisey, said there was an Asian population but I did not see it until my cohort and I went deeper into the communities. As we met with different centers and escaped the tourism, I finally saw the Cuban “Chino” narrative. I saw the art of Cuban artists like Wildredo Lam, passed by Havana’s Chinatown, heard the Chinese trumpets in the congo music, read names like “Sebastian Herrera Chan,” and of course, met some of Cuba’s Afro-Chinos. My favorite moment was a community party hosted by Committees for the Defense of Revolution.

That night, EMDS met people of all ages and complexions. As we danced to son, the heart and music of Cuba, an elderly gentleman started to dance with me. We did not need language to communicate but instead, we did what I do and love best, dance. Like an abuelo (grandfather) teaching his nieta (granddaughter) how to salsa, we shared a moment that did not require us to speak.

After my salsa lesson, EMDS’ Advocate for Community Engagement, Mary, helped translate the gentleman’s words. He shared how I was the first person he danced with that night and how he is the eldest member of the community being 99 years old. I learned that his name was Miguel, and he learned that my name was Jazlynn. Curious to why he had chosen me to be his first dance partner, he simply touched my eyes and said “camarada,” meaning comrade in Spanish. From that experience with Miguel, I discovered and embraced what it meant to be a Chino in Cuba. What “Chino” means in the US does not compare to what it means in Cuba. Here in the US, it is a derogatory term that carries a painful history, but there in Cuba, it is an identifier and something to be proud of.

After a couple more salsa lessons, I had to say goodbye to my new compañero (friend). He concluded our farewell by saying, “do not forget this place, and do not forget me.” I intend to keep my promise to Miguel and overall to the members of the API community, by continuing my work in social justice and pursuing my studies Asian Pacific American Studies and Public Service and Community Engagement.

By “crossing borders and discovering home” in Cuba, I am able to continue my step towards change by telling others: “See what happens when you look deeper into a community.”

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Generous donations from supporters like you helped make this experience possible for our students. Every little bit counts and allows us to enrich our students’ educational career with us – donate today.

Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars Research the Western Addition’s Inspirations Murals

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This academic year the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) are gathering the stories of African American leaders depicted on the Inspirations mural outside of Ella Hill Hutch Community Center. In fall students drew names out of a hat and were tasked with researching individuals and writing biographies that they shared in their fall final presentations. This spring student teams are linked with living Inspirations so that all students have the opportunity to interview an African American leader. Bios and photos of individuals on the mural will be compiled into a book that will be shared with community members.

This project is a continuation of work started by community members Ms. Altheda Carrie and Mrs. Lynette White. Ms. Carrie and Mrs. White began collecting stories from the Inspirations mural years ago, when the City of San Francisco provided funding and District Supervisor Wendy Nelder was involved. That project was temporarily set aside during shifts in City leadership and funding sources, but it was eagerly picked up again when Ms. Carrie and Mrs. White brought it to USF as a possible collaboration. It is a natural outgrowth of the blossoming collaboration between EMDS, the Leo T. McCarthy Center and Engage San Francisco. Sociology Professor Stephanie Sears is the faculty director for the program and Leo T. McCarthy Center Associate Director for Community Engaged Learning, Andrea Wise is collaborating with Professor Sears on the partnership by facilitating class discussions on community assets and campus community partnerships.

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Dispelling Stereotypes and the Importance of Memory: A Walk Through the Fillmore District

Mary CruzMary Cruz
Advocate for Community Engagement
Esther Madriz Diversity Scholar

As an alumnus of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS), a living learning community on campus that strives to embody the Jesuit ideals of education and social justice, I was naturally ecstatic to have the opportunity to blend my role as an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) with my experience in the EMDS program. However, I am most excited about being able to work with the students in the current cohort as they navigate their journey of learning about social issues within the Fillmore community and Cuba, as well as its relation to Hip Hop.

This year EMDS has partnered up with the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center (EHHCC) in the Fillmore to work on an amazing project to preserve the histories of the change makers that are portrayed on the mural on the exterior of the center. As the ACE for EMDS I have the opportunity to participate in this project as part of my direct service with the Fillmore community.

Part of the importance of having this project partnership between the EHHCC and the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars is to create a social consciousness about the histories of the Fillmore community and preserve these stories first hand while the change makers are still available to give their personal testaments of their involvement in the community as well as how they have observed the community evolve.

Last month, to introduce students to the space and community that they will be recording in their mural projects, EMDS participated in a tour of the Fillmore community led by the Director of Engage San Francisco for the Leo T. McCarthy Center, Karin Cotterman along with community members Lynette White and Altheda Carrie.

Participating in the walk through of the Fillmore allowed me to learn more about the inviting environment of the community. Many times we are put off by the exterior or stereotypes of a community without actually entering the space and drawing our own impressions or understanding the issues facing a community. During the tour, the students and I experienced a number of community members who were not a part of the tour, come up to us and tell us their memories about the history of the Fillmore. This interaction which happened naturally, definitely helped humanize the people within the community and reinforce the importance of our service project as we continue to record the oral histories of the community members in the Fillmore throughout the semester.

Check back for shared oral histories in future blog posts!

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