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.

Preview the 2018 Capstone Symposium

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The University of San Francisco Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Master of Public Affairs invites you to join us for the 2018 graduating classes’ capstone presentations on May 14th and May 15th.  The capstone project is the final requirement for the completion of their master’s degree and includes a well-researched analytical paper that applies the knowledge, skills, and methods of the program, in addition to an oral presentation. We are incredibly proud of our graduate students and believe their research will inspire positive changes for the common good.

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Rebecca Charlton, PublicAffairs ’18

That’s Not Our Job: Individualism and State Responsibility After Welfare Reform

In 1996 President Bill Clinton overhauled our nation’s welfare system with drastic spending cuts and new work requirements. This capstone will explore the legislation’s cultural framework, punitive impact on low-income women, and offer a policy re-write to lift single mothers out of poverty.

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Maya Chupkov, Public Affairs ’18

Care and Cash: Addressing San Francisco’s Homelessness Crisis With A Basic Income

Maya is exploring the intersection between basic income and preventing homelessness in San Francisco. She situates her research with a case study of Care Not Cash, a measure passed in 2002 that altered the homeless delivery system. She performs an in-depth analysis of San Francisco’s current homelessness problem, including the preventive strategies that could be strengthened with cash assistance models.

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Amy Dundon, Urban Affairs ’18

Finding “Free City”

Finding “Free City” retraces the story of the City College of San Francisco, a public two-year community college, through its recent troubles and eventual resilience. In the span of five years, the college went from nearly closing its doors to offering classes free of charge to San Francisco residents. The research offers a critical analysis of the recent historical educational and economic policies that have shaped City College. Through the frame of class struggle, Finding “Free City” grants insight into community building and labor union organizing, questions normative economic systems, and evokes a new interpretation of the right to the city.

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Leslie Gordon, Urban Affairs ’18

Building a Better Map: Imagining Racial Equity in Oakland

Leslie’s research investigates visions of racial equity among institutional and grassroots actors who have a role in shaping Oakland’s urban space. As the city of Oakland works to codify and institutionalize racial equity through several initiatives, including the formation of the Department of Race and Equity and a new downtown planning process, how do we imagine a racially equitable Oakland? How would such a city look, feel, and function?

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Nicholas Large, Public Affairs ’18 

Fierce Landmarking: Representation and the Queering of Political Power

This capstone examines place-based organizing for the LGBT community in San Francisco. Comparing contemporary memorializations like the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District and the Harvey Milk SFO Terminal to the Stonewall Inn, it offers a look into the movement behind the places. Operating under a context of gentrification, this capstone asks if it is the story or the place that matters, and what the implications of each are for a rapidly changing community fighting for equity.

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Briana Gonzalez, Public Affairs ’18 

The Invisible Population: Providing Family Services for Single Student-Mothers at USF

Briana’s capstone is on the growing population of single student mothers in academia. She conducts a comparative analysis of several higher education institutions, highlighting the family services they provide. Briana focuses on the University of San Francisco to raise awareness of the lack of family resources on its campus. In her capstone, she demonstrates why USF can no longer ignore this group of students and how the university can implement family resources of its own to assist single mothers in achieving academic success.

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Taking the Initiative: Are Ballot Measures Failing SF’s Homeless Crisis?

Through an analysis of the 2016 San Francisco Proposition Q campaign, this paper will analyze if the ballot measure/ initiative process is the best way to tackle homelessness. In doing so, I will explore why members of the Board of Supervisors continue to use the ballot instead of other legislative processes to correct this major issue.

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Bernice Rosas Belmonte. Public Affairs ’18

Room at the Table: Inviting Latino Familial Support into the Discussion of College Access

Bernice’s research examines modes of encouraging and supporting Latinx first-generation college student families, specifically in Stockton area high schools. Her findings highlight the necessity of bringing Latino families into the conversation of college access in order to further first-generation college students’ higher education goals.

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Justin Balenzuela, Urban Affairs ’18 

Rounding Up Outlaw In-Laws

San Francisco is experiencing an economic boom that’s driving population growth and housing costs. As pressure builds, the accessibility of affordable housing options is constrained, and options are reduced to illegal or substandard housing conditions. Justin’ research focused on in-law units, which can be illegal and include substandard housing conditions, and addressing the conundrum of bringing units up to code without affecting tenants. His goal is to improve unit safety by encouraging the legalization of illegal in-laws, all while preventing the displacement of existing tenants while units undergo renovations.

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Denise Garcia, Urban Affairs ’18

Just Transit: Governing Sustainability in Los Angeles

As more cities experience the detrimental impacts of climate change, the need for sustainable planning implementation increases. Throughout various cities, regions, and the state, sustainability plans have been developed and implemented, but questions remain as to whether their approach or implementation will have the desired mitigating impacts. Drawing from an equitable framework, this paper includes a comparison analysis to critique current sustainability plans developed from 3 different levels of governance.

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Aaron Gordon, Public Affairs ’18 

Do Tech Workers Care About San Francisco? Analyzing Political Engagement

Over the past decade, there have been tensions between the tech Industry and long-term residents of San Francisco. Many people are concerned with the influence that large tech companies have on local politics. But what effect is the average tech worker having on San Francisco politics? This study aims to answer that question.

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Erika Sandberg, Public Affairs ’18 

The Secret Door: Transparency and Privacy in the California Juvenile Justice System

Erika’s research addresses the imbalance between transparency and privacy in the California juvenile justice system, and the effects this heightening of opacity have on judicial and governmental accountability. The rationales for increased privacy are rehabilitation and avoidance of youth stigmatization, yet decades of legislative enactments suggest a shift towards more punitive measures. This research will propose recommendations to optimize the balance between the two competing concepts while keeping the privacy of youths intact, because without insight, who are we really protecting? The children or the institution?

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Jessica Lindquist, Public Affairs ’18 

Protecting San Francisco Residents From The Wolves of Wall Street: A Case Study

In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the Obama administration created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal agency responsible for protecting consumers from abusive, deceptive and predatory practices of the financial services industry. The CFPB’s consumer complaint database has been an important resource for the American public for the past seven years. However, the Trump administration has declared its intentions to remove the database from public view, an action lobbied for by the financial services industry. Jessica conducts the first deep data analysis of the public complaints filed to the CFPB Consumer Complaint database by San Francisco residents. Her case study highlights how consumer financial harms are a citywide problem: San Franciscans living at every income level and in every part of the city are struggling to resolve their financial issues with the wolves of Wall Street, the financial services industry.

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Ceaundra Thomas, Urban Affairs ’18 

Reframing Deficit Theories about Black Boys in Oakland Schools

Deficit oriented theories have been used in the United States education system as a means of justifying the disparities we see amongst gender and racial groups, specifically Black boys. Ceaundra’s capstone focuses on how these deficit theories can be reframed to more accurately capture the root of these disparities. Over time, systematic barriers have presented a multitude of obstacles that hinder people of color from receiving the same quality of education as their white peers. By focusing on the African American Male Achievement program implemented by Oakland Unified School District, she antagonizes the master narrative of Black boys underperforming because of their culture, and conceptualize ways that the education system can better serve Black boys.

Trump Exposes America’s Value

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Amir Abner

M.A. Urban Affairs ’17

Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States. President-Elect Trump has spewed racism, sexism and xenophobic ideals since his campaign started and it carried him all the way to victory. As soon as it was announced that he would win the bid to be the next President over Hillary Clinton, you could hear a collective gasp from the city of San Francisco and while many were shocked a man with his rhetoric and past could become the face of this country, I was not.

San Francisco and other cities in the Bay Area are really no different in their approach compared to southern cities and their residents that are constantly looked down on. The city still clings on the reputation built in the 1960’s and 70’s as this utopian place of solidarity and free thoughts. The “progressive” San Francisco is all but gone, not that it ever really existed (check out Urban Renewal in the Fillmore) but whatever you pretended it to be, it has been displaced. When was the last time residents of San Francisco looked themselves in the mirror and checked their own racist views and actions? You would think the unjust killings of civilians by police officers would do it… right?

Most people in San Francisco can ignore the issues that are faced by many people when it doesn’t directly impact their lives, in fact it actually helps their quality of life. The $5 coffee shops, that displace the corner store, can be seen as a cool hip place to meet friends and get work done, but what about the family of the person displaced? Look at the Mission District today, some will argue that communities naturally change over time, but being in the Mission makes me feel like I’m living during the apartheid in South Africa. Every corner you can see the historical importance of the Latino community with murals and cuisine but the high rents of residential spaces attract rich white transplants from other cities. The new residents walk around looking down on long time residents and it’s a bit sickening. The same can be said about the Fillmore district and Western Addition, but most of the black owned businesses in that neighborhood were displaced during the 1960’s and 70’s, so it’s a bit harder to find the history there. The destruction and mistreatment of people of color is constant so when a friend asked me “aren’t you afraid of Trump because he’s racist?” my answer is simply, no.

The racism in this country is very real, but we pretend to ignore it whenever we can. I am still not over how the government treated the people of New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. If you think we’ve moved passed that, you are sadly mistaken. Every month there is a public lynching in the form of police executions taking place. I watched historically black communities become displaced over the last few years, a few examples are, Harlem, North Philadelphia and Oakland. The education systems in urban areas are crumbling and I watched how state officials dis-invest in HBCU’s. During this same time mass incarnation is still an issue and I watch people rejoice over the changing marijuana laws that will enrich thousands of white owned corporations. Even with these new state laws, federal law still classifies marijuana as illegal so if you’re black please be aware of this because we will continue to profiled while driving and stopped and frisked for the color of our skin. Last time I checked the water in Flint is still toxic and the Chicago police department continue to hold civilians illegally for years. Whenever there seems to be a pinch of black progress in America, ignorant white rage rises up in an attempt to reverse it (read White Rage written by Carol Anderson). The sentiment for most Americans is, in order to have winners we must have losers. If President Obama symbolized progressed in the eyes of millions of black folks, it must have meant the decline in the eyes of millions of white folks. Donald Trump’s rise should have been expected. If it took for a monster for America to address its racist nature then so be it.

When the hypertension dies down, will those who oppose him and his views still be on the front-line fighting for fairness? Or will they become reclusive due to his ignorance having no major direct impact on their lives as they were led to believe he would? Americas oldest tradition is racism and it will carry on with the electing of Donald Trump unless the people from the hardest hit communities come together rise up.

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