“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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Planting Seeds of Change Together

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Melissa Tang, Director of Programs, CommunityGrows

As San Francisco is dealing with the consequences of unequal economic growth and gentrification, there is a greater need for communities to band together in solidarity.  

I work for CommunityGrows, a small grassroots youth development organization grown out of the needs of residents from the Western Addition.  Twenty-three years ago, residents came together to reclaim green spaces in the Western Addition. CommunityGrows cultivates gardens with over 1,300 youth each year in low-income diverse communities.  

 

What I love about working for CommunityGrows is our emphasis on collaboration and building bridges with partners.  Community development takes time, presence, persistence, active listening and patience.  Being a small organization, we understand we need to depend on the strengths on our partners in order to achieve our overall mission. It’s through the Mo’ Magic Collaborative that organizations create and develop programming that address the needs of children, youth and their families in the Fillmore District and Western Addition communities.

At the Mo’ Magic meetings, we developed long term relationship and I know I can ask McCarthy Center staff for resources or to collaborate on community-wide projects. McCarthy Center staff attends all our community meetings and listens to what partners need.  Here’s just a few ways how our impact is amplified through our partnership with McCarthy Center:

  • Environmental Studies students and staff worked with us to maintain a garden at New Liberation Church and to develop workshops for our teen program.    
  • We partnered on joint community events like the Mind, Body and Soul health pop-ups, where we led a healthy cooking demo and gave away veggies from our gardens to residents we normally wouldn’t reach.   
  • We are recipients of USF’s Retired Technology program!  For a the last two years, we were able to provide a workstation for each staff member and dedicated our funding towards programming.

 

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During my time as a graduate student at USF (Masters of Nonprofit Administration, ‘16), I heard USF’s motto: Change the world from here.  Through these partnerships, not only are students learning how to change the world in the neighborhood that surrounds the campus but they engage them in real problems that affect real people, people who happen to live directly next to the campus.  There are a lot of dedicated folks who are doing great work to make changes in the Western Addition but they can’t do it alone. USF partnerships will strengthen the work of these organizations and provide education to students that a book can’t teach you.  So when USF asks students to change the world from here, the change is not on USF’s campus, but right here in the neighborhood—in the Western Addition.     

 

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.

Engage San Francisco’s Mind, Body and Soul

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Dr. Lisa De La Rue is an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Psychology Department, where she also serves as the fieldwork coordinator for the Marriage and Family Therapy program.

Eat fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. We are all familiar with the common pieces of advice to promote wellness, and to fight off physical diseases. If we actually follow that advice … well that is another question. But what can you do to prevent depression? How do you cope with difficult life experiences? How do you manage symptoms of anxiety? Fewer people would have ideas on how to address these needs, despite the reality that millions of adults and children experience mental illness in a given year. Many cannot answer this question because we largely keep conversations about mental illness in the shadows, where it takes on a certain taboo, a stigma that we do not see when talking about physical ailments. As a result many people do not know what to do when they or someone they love is suffering from mental health concerns, let alone know where to access services.  

As a psychologist, and a professor who works to train the next generation of clinicians, I am constantly thinking about how to raise awareness of mental health and to increase knowledge around how to access support services. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in a given year, and 1 in 25 adults will experience a serious mental illness that will interfere with their ability to engage in one or more life activities (e.g. work, being with friends or family, going to school). Additionally, 1 in 5 young people between the ages of 13 and 18 will experience a severe mental illness within a given year. Despite these numbers, too many people do not receive the treatment or support they need to get better, and just like with a physical disease, untreated mental health concerns can get worse.  

We know that one of the barriers to people receiving the support they need is a result of the stigma associated with mental illness. Name-calling, derogatory terms, and dramatized negative portrayals of people with mental illness all contribute to an atmosphere where people may be reluctant to share their struggles or to seek out support. Part of addressing this stigma is to increase awareness of mental health and illness. Another barrier to addressing mental health concerns is a lack of awareness around where to access services. Some people may not realize that mental health treatment can address the symptoms they are experiencing. For others, they may know treatment is needed but do not know where to look for these services.

Addressing these barriers is an essential component of ensuring people with mental health concerns get the support they need and have the opportunity to live healthier and happier lives. The Mind, Body and Soul Pop-Ups provide an example of how to address these exact barriers.  

Engage San Francisco’s Mind, Body, and Soul Pop-Ups  are community based resource fairs that bring together service providers from across the Western Addition. These Pop-Ups provide community members with information on services available in their community, and educational materials on how to promote physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Spaces like these provide a wonderful avenue in which to increase awareness of mental health and treatment, in manner that feels safer. For example, someone can come in to gather information on nutrition, and then casually wonder to the next table where information is being provided about depression.  Not only does this format increase the number of people who are provided with information, but can also allows those who may feel stigmatized to gather information in a manner that is less overwhelming. Having conversations about mental illness, and wellness, alongside conversations about managing diabetes helps reduce stigma around mental health treatment and places it in the realm of diseases that can be treated. And indeed this is the realm in which it belongs.

As we continue to have conversations about mental wellness in the Western Addition, the hope is that some of the stigma around mental illness will be reduced. This can allow more people to feel comfortable seeking out support, which can help prevent a mental illness from getting worse. However, reducing stigma is just one part of the puzzle; people also need to know where they can access treatment. Events like the Mind, Body, and Soul Pop-Ups and efforts like the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s program Black to the Future are wonderful examples of how to raise awareness of services that are available, and to encourage people to access these programs.

Mental illness is a disease that does not discriminate. It knows no age limits, and impacts people across racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. It is also a disease that often responds well to treatment and interventions. As such, community engaged efforts are essential to ensure that people can access the mental support services they need, and do not feel shame in doing so. 

The next Mind, Body and Soul event is on June 29th! Check out photos from February’s Mind, Body and Soul event here.

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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