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January 5, 2021
By: Christina Valeros
During a time fraught with challenges — in which crisis upon crisis have converged on each other — it is critical that we continue to advocate for the needs of children, youth, and families. Joining this fight are the newest graduates from CCC’s civic engagement programs, the Community Leadership Course (CLC) and the Youth Community Leadership Course (YCLC). Both programs had to pivot to virtual platforms for the first time ever due to the pandemic, and CCC celebrates the commitment of the youth and adults who spent these past few months engaged virtually in fact-based advocacy.
Youth Community Leadership Course
This Fall’s Youth Community Leadership Course brought together 25 young people from all 5 boroughs to conduct research on family homelessness in New York City. Over Zoom, they analyzed data, read reports and articles, interviewed service providers and advocates, and presented their findings and recommendations to elected officials.
Through their research, students examined various facets of family homelessness, such as the disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities as well as the lack of personal protective equipment in shelters. On what she had learned about the issue, Saira Rodriguez, a sophomore at the Trinity School, said, “One surprising fact was that homelessness also includes families that are doubled up, multiple families who live together. It was interesting and jarring.”
But the learning in the YCLC extends past the topical. The course is largely skills-based, and the process of advocacy — from exploring the facts to deciding on which recommendations they necessitate — helps students work on their debate, consensus building, and research skills.
“Advocacy is like a muscle,” said CCC Director of Civic Engagement Programs Laura Jankstrom. “You get better at it the more you do it.”
For Saira, who has always been invested in furthering change and social justice, the YCLC strengthened her connection with advocacy and helped build skills that will serve her passion for activism in the future.
“Researching, collecting data, surveying and interviewing people are skills to equip myself to better fight [against] injustices and for equity and equality,” said Saira.
Pharrell Kendall, a sophomore at the Life Sciences Secondary School, said one of the skills that he will take away with him is the ability to communicate his ideas to others “in a manner where it doesn’t step on anyone else’s toes.” The course has also strengthened his desire to do advocacy, and he credits it for instilling confidence. “There is a difference between wanting to do it and having the courage to do it,” said Pharrell.
For many high school students, the course serves as their introduction to fact-based advocacy, as well as a pipeline to additional civic engagement opportunities that are available through YouthAction NYC.
“Some adults don’t realize how involved teenagers really want to be,” said Pharrell. “They just don’t have the opportunity to.”
Community Leadership Course
The Community Leadership Course engaged 22 adults over 10 weeks to explore different children’s issues and effective child advocacy campaigns. Course sessions cover a wide range of issues, including food and income insecurity, homelessness and housing, child welfare, and education. Every Wednesday, they attended virtual seminars with staff from different partner organizations and CCC. They participated in small group breakout sessions to ask questions and process the course material that had been newly compiled on Google Classroom.
The course culminated this year in a Community Day centered on the North Shore of Staten Island. Participants heard from 2 panels made up of community stakeholders and watched a documentary film screening of “Our Urban Town” with a Q&A with the filmmaker. The documentary followed issues related to the North Shore’s waterfront development in the community and how urban renewal and maritime education could be pathways to revitalization for the whole community.
Christopher Dowling is a Staten Island resident, Director of the Staten Island Community Partnership, and a member of the 2020 CLC Cohort. Christopher described watching “Our Urban Town” as gratifying. For those who are not from Staten Island, he said, “You got to see what Staten Island is about. A lot of people see Staten island with high income, which rises with geography. There’s all mansions there, but that only accounts for 10% of the population.”
“I thought that it was eye opening,” said Athenia Rodney, another CLC participant. “I have gone to areas of the island that are impoverished, but the majority of the island is not publicized that way.”
Participants also had the opportunity to pursue an independent study, a new addition to this year’s course. The project served not only to cultivate camaraderie across the class, but to explore in-depth other topics related to child well-being.
In small groups, participants prepared and presented in late October on topics such as policing in communities, the school to prison pipeline, domestic violence, foster care, and infant mortality. For Athenia and her group, the focus of their independent study on policing in communities was on what is meant by recent advocacy efforts to defund the policy and invest in communities.
“Funding goes to police officers in the school system instead of alternate means of utilizing social workers or psychoanalytic workers to be able to support the needs that are happening in the school,” said Athenia.
Though participants vary in their motivations for taking the CLC, Margarita hopes that the graduates come out of the CLC with “learning, awareness, and value-add for their experience.” CLC Co-Chair Marcy hopes the course has instilled an appreciation and appetite for more data, as well as the recognition of how great the need is. Above all, she hopes that participants have come out of it with an eye towards the systematic – that “in order for people to thrive, we have to understand racism, oppression, policy and data in our assessment.”
For Athenia, the fact that the systems that the CLC discussed are no different from the systems that she was part of many years ago reinforced the importance of her work.
She said, “It confirmed that the work that I’m doing is that much more important in helping people to understand the place that they house and how they can make a change in their community.”
Moreover, the abundance of connections that the CLC provides has given her another avenue of support to draw from in the realm of policymaking.
Christopher echoed the value of the relationships forged during the course.
“Down the road, I’m going to have a problem, look up the person I took the course with or [the data team at] CCC, [and say] ‘Let me go out and talk to them.’ Just from a resource level, it’s invaluable.”
Other takeaways for Chris included acquiring knowledge of other organizations and resources for his own organization to use and the importance of using data to support one’s work.
On the value of the course, CLC co-chair Margarita Soto said, “There is a great hunger for this.” Moving forward, the opportunities to draw from the successes of this digital course – from having materials accessible on a digital platform to assigning independent studies – to inform next year’s CLC are numerous.