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.

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.

Love to the Class of 2018

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Crystal Vega, Urban Studies and Critical Diversity Studies ’18, was awarded this year’s Leo T. McCarthy Award. Below is her commencement speech. 

Dear Class of 2018, I love you. You, the first generation students who paved the road for so many to come. You, the nonbinary and trans students who are constantly pushing the university to be a more gender inclusive space. You, the Black and Brown students who will not rest until this university makes everyone feel at home. You, the Pacific Islander and indigenous students who reflect the beauty, bravery, and courage of your communities. I am honored and humbled to be speaking in front of so many student leaders and activists. And lastly, I love me, the queer Chicanx with two jobs, two majors, one minor, and three years of college under their belt. I love you: I don’t use these three words lightly. And I’ve definitely never said it to a few hundred people but I believe it serves as a crucial last lesson.

Some of you in the room may be uncomfortable right now. Having a physical reaction to the word love. It’s okay, I was the same way. There was a point in my life where I stopped saying I love you to my friends and family. I started to feel weighed down by stories of trauma and my own experiences with misgendering, microaggressions, and discrimination. So I stopped. It wasn’t until I started a romantic relationship with my current partner of three years that I finally started using the words again. He helped me to see love as personal and interpersonal healing. Although I didn’t learn about love at USF, I did start to practice revolutionary love while in a classroom. I saw Valarie Kaur’s Ted Talk on revolutionary love and watched as she reclaimed love as “…sweet labor. Fierce. Bloody. Imperfect. Life-giving. A choice we make over and over again” and our greatest tool for social justice.

Throughout our years at USF, we have heard the phrase change the world from here. But what this phrase does not suggest is the burnout that happens after we resolve to do this. This is why we need to center ourselves in gratitude and love: a love of ourselves, for others, and for our opponents. Love not only allows me to envision a world of equity and inclusivity but can also empower me to run for local office and make that world a reality. Love can drive your passions whether they be in the public sector, reinvesting in low-income communities and improving our public transit systems, or in the private sector, reimagining how people connect to one another or innovating medicine as we know it. When someone says you can’t, when you tell yourself you won’t, center yourself in love. Wonder what you are capable of, value the humanity of others, and acknowledge those who see you as different because love wins. Congratulations Class of 2018!

After a Semester with USF in DC

 

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Jacqueline Garcia, Politics ’19, is a Newmark scholar as well as a recipient of the Betty L. Blakley scholarship

USF in D.C.—what an experience! On many levels and in ways I didn’t expect, the semester I spent in Washington D.C. changed me. I’ve always had an interest in public service and the common good; one of that typical twenty-something-year-old, “change the world” mentalities. The McCarthy center gave me the opportunity to put my class teachings and my personal aspirations into practice. Experience is truly the best teacher.

During my USF in DC experience, I interned at the National Immigration Forum (NIF), a non-profit advocacy group pushing for fair immigration reform. I was the Field and Advocacy intern for the organization’s Bible, Badges, and Business (BBB) program.  This experience was extremely valuable. First, it gave me insight in regards to what an advocacy group looks like from the inside. I learned the tactics and strategies used to keep members informed and also how to include members in the process of action planning. Second, I acquired new skills while working at the NIF. In particular, I learned to use different software systems like Salesforce and Cision. Lastly, the BBB program is targeted at moderate to conservative-leaning groups. As a native Californian, some of the views these groups hold were foreign to me. At the NIF, I was provided the opportunity to get out of my liberal bubble and worked with people who had opposing views to my own. What I learned about myself was that I am more tolerant than I thought and that my own views are subject to change. This experience gave me a new perspective of the world I live in and my place in it.

While in D.C. I tried to get out into the city as much as I could. It’s a dynamic place with a lot to see and even more to learn. Nearly 50% of the population in D.C. is African-American. Almost every Lyft or Uber driver I had was an immigrant from either Africa or Latin America. This city runs on the labor of these minority groups yet the administration right down the street ignores their needs. So, going to D.C. was a great learning experience and also a form of validation for myself.

As young people, we have ideas of who we want to be, but there are inevitably moments of doubt that we can actually accomplish those aspirations. D.C. allowed me to expel that doubt. It energized my ambitions to work with the immigrant community. I took part in protests with organizations like United We Dream. I was able to experience advocacy work first hand. I sat in on conference meetings, press conferences, and networking events where I learned about research. I learned about career paths I’d never heard of. Although there is no way I could give a definitive answer to the question of what I want to do post-graduation, I have a few ideas. The ideas I have now differ from the ideas I had before my semester in D.C.

However, I gained more than professional insight. I gained perspective about myself and my place in this world. Self-care and self-love were practices that I learned to implement in my life while in D.C. How could I assist others if I wasn’t taking care with myself? I did not expect to come back with so much personal growth under my belt. As a young woman, this experience helped me find my voice. I am beyond happy with my experience. It helped me zone in on possible career paths for myself. And more importantly, it has influenced my thoughts and motivations. I’m extremely grateful and proud of the person I have become after my USF in DC experience.

How Cobb Elementary Transformed Me

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Valeria Imendia, International Studies’18

I still remember receiving an email about a literacy internship opportunity during the fall semester of my junior year and thinking it would be a great chance for me to expand my experiences in education. As a student in the Dual Degree Program for Teacher Preparation, I decided to apply to be a literacy intern through Engage San Francisco but little did I know I would be embarking on an experience of a lifetime. I am now a senior, about to graduate this coming May, and I continue to learn so much about myself and my passion for teaching with every chance I get to walk the halls of Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School.

From my very first day of the internship, I was met with nothing but kindness and support. My first impression of the school was more than I could have hoped for, and it continues to be a place of unique learning experiences for me. For one, every day at Cobb is different—whether it is because I have to work with new students and create activities for them on my own or because unexpected situations arise where I have to provide care for students. I first went in thinking of myself as a tutor for my students, but it was not long after I started my work there that I realized this job required a lot more than just academics. Every single student I have had the privilege to work with at this school has sparked so much passion for teaching within me, and I continue to think about them in everything I do as I pursue my teaching credential.

Alongside my students, my mentor at the school and my internship supervisor always go above and beyond to ensure that as interns we are being supported and guided in the best way possible. It has been thanks to their warmth and guidance that I have been able to feel like I have agency in my position as an intern. From day one, I have felt like I am a part of the school community and that is because I have been given the tools and the trust to bring my perspective into the work I do with my students. Hence, this program has been crucial in my journey as a future educator because it has shown me first-hand that there is a lot of work to be done in the classroom. It has likewise shown me in practice what my responsibility as a woman of color going into this profession looks like in order to ensure I am doing my best to advocate for our youth. My students have therefore opened up new possibilities within me and they have taken me by the hand and walked me through their life experiences and their passions, which is something that will be forever engraved in my heart. I am honored and humbled to walk the halls of Cobb and get hugs from students I have not even worked with yet and to get high-fives from the older kids who normally like to tell me they are “too cool” for doing reading activities with Miss Valeria. My students give me so much joy with all their unique ways of showing me love and affection, and I have come to understand that with this care also comes responsibility. I strive to honor these demonstrations of trust by making sure to always keep my students and their rich knowledge and individuality at the forefront of my teaching practices.

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My time at Cobb has helped transform me in only the best way. I have been challenged by difficult situations; I have been put to the test as I have had to come up with solutions without much time to prepare, and I have most importantly been shown the most genuine and pure love from my students. Being at Cobb and experiencing the day-to-day routines and witnessing what my students go through both as students and as individuals with their own interests and stories has allowed me to step back and think about the privileges I hold in that space and also as I think about my own future classroom. My students have taught me to be humble and to understand that this work is in the service of every single person in my classroom, particularly of those whose voices have historically been left out. My students—all of whom are not older than eleven—have taught me far more than I could hope to learn from a textbook. I am grateful to have wonderful teachers who push my thinking and hold me to high standards, yet it is my students at Cobb who push me even further and keep me accountable in everything I do.

I continue to be grateful for every single day that I get to be a part of this literacy program because it means I am being challenged to question the ways I engage with this work in education. Regardless of the official expectations of my position or of any titles, this work goes beyond what can be seen as purely academic at a surface level. This opportunity has allowed me to immerse myself in hands-on experiences in teaching and given me a new sense of purpose. I have wanted to go into the teaching profession because I believe our youth has invaluable lessons to teach us and because they deserve to know that their voices matter. I know that this work is difficult, but we owe it to our students to show up for them and allow them to be visible in every way that makes them who they are in order to disrupt practices that have silenced much of our youth—particularly our youth of color— for far too long. This internship has therefore allowed me to work on the skills that make this ideal a reality and I am humbled to be able to experience this with the wonderful mentors I have gained and the students that make this journey worthwhile. This journey is a constant learning experience and I am grateful I got that email and decided to apply all those months ago because now I have a new community that has given me the best gifts: a renewed sense of purpose and a greater love for teaching.

 

First Semester Tips

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Monica Bejarano, M.A. Urban and Public Affairs, ’19

I did it. Turned in my last paper and finished my last presentation. My first graduate semester is over! Tired and rather chronically exhausted and all I want to do is lay on the floor and veg out to Netflix for an ungodly amount of hours. But, what do I do with all the information of the past four months? After the first semester, what do I take away to improve the subsequent semester in my academic journey? How does graduate school change me?

Well, just four months ago, I began my academic journey at the University of San Francisco Masters in Urban and Public Affairs Program. I walked in to my first class holding the book Imperial San Francisco by Gray Brechin, determined to unfold the array of questions I had after reading the introduction. I am not originally from San Francisco, but I knew by attending Urban and Public Affairs graduate program I would be fascinated by the roots of politics, activism, and urban change of the city. In this short amount of time I have come to realize that graduate school does not only teaches one new things, but it teaches one to question everything.

No longer is one learning about how history has changed the urban politics of the city, but one learns ways to question how it happened and how it was done and how it is affecting us today. I realized that I am not here to regurgitate information, but to be part of the conversation that creates it. This was a big step for me during my first semester.

I cannot emphasize enough how hyper-organized this program made me. After eight to nine hours of  classes each week, an internship at City Hall, and a part-time job I definitely understood the importance of time management. One learns valuable planning skills of when one can go out and have a drink and when one has to hunker down over a book for three hours for a paper due next week. Although graduate school has taught me to ask questions and be extremely organized with my time, I’ve also found it important to say “yes” to opportunities and take time to relax.

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Branching out into new areas of higher education can help one discover her interests, ignite new passions, and keep a career fresh and exciting. I learned that employers may also prefer a well-rounded resume. The more responsibility one takes on, the more one will be able to learn and gain experience. In the first semester, one will learn to juggle graduate school, homework, internships, and a personal life. It’s about finding a balance between all commitments to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Make time to relax. Graduate school should not be one’s entire life. You are an individual and should prioritize your own personal health and well being first. Make time in your schedule to relax, spend time with friends and family, pursue your hobbies, etc. I find it helpful to schedule breaks during the day, even if they are only five minutes long. Being happy and healthy will boost productivity.

Everyone’s experience is different, but the experiences I’ve had thus far in the Urban and Public Affairs graduate program has prepared me for the next chapter of my academic journey. I had my ups and downs this past semester, but nothing that will stop me from continuing my education.  My passion to formulate equitable policy solutions for the community of San Francisco has been invigorated and I know it will only grow stronger as I continue this program.