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.     

 

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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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