Conditions are primed for organizing and public work, and citizen-driven change has never been more needed.
To be most effective in this environment, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship is developing a partnership with the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities. Through this network of liberal arts colleges, we will be able to further multiply our work and engage more young people across the Twin Cities in such initiatives as Public Achievement, the Jane Addams School for Democracy, and the Warrior to Citizen Campaign.
As of today, we will be located at Augsburg College in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. We value our long association with the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and other units of the University of Minnesota and will retain these strong ties as we further our work.
Last summer, Larry Simpson says he spent 300 hours on the streets of his St. Paul, Minn., neighborhood, both walking and driving in a white Crown Vic' with "Community Watch" emblazoned on the sides. Simpson bought the car himself on eBay when he decided he couldn't adequately cover the streets on foot.
In January 2007, there were two violent rapes in one week in Simpson's Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Residents were outraged and afraid. At a community meeting, Simpson says he heard "a typical outcry for the chief of police, mayor, and city council representatives to 'solve this problem,' to protect us."
The civic movement in Iran since the election on June 12 inspires all who believe in deep and living democracy. It shows the yearnings for empowerment, bottom up change, and civic agency stirring among young people across the Muslim world, what we also hear and read in the stories of Public Achievement teams in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan.
Frank Coyne, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning at the University of Denver, wrote this guest post.
Here at the University of Denver (DU), we just wrapped up our sixth successful year of Public Achievement. This year we worked with six school partners in Denver Public Schools with over 20 teams, over 40 DU coaches, and over 250 K-12 students. The projects ranged in scope from improving school lunches to working on police harassment.
While we could tell you about several success stories this year, I will spend just a minute to tell you about our most unique PA site.
At Denver's South High School, we have been working with the Future Center--a center focused on college access for the high school students. Several DU coaches have been volunteering there for two years, and this year they took what they learned in PA last year and then worked with 15 high school students to improve the college access programs for the students at South. Many of these students are immigrant refugees and never thought of college as even remotely possible before they set foot in the Future Center. PA has helped to turn that notion upside down.
This year, the PA team has worked to develop a peer mentoring program where juniors and seniors are working with underclassmen to create a pipeline to college. These coaches and students worked together to build a strong program that will now be part of the Future Center and the school for years to come.
We are excited about what lies ahead next year at this site and our other six schools. For now, we will spend the summer assessing and planning.
The World Youth Movement for Democracy invites essays on democracy by young people age 18 to 30. Three essay writers will be chosen from each of these regions: Asia, Central/Eastern Europe & Eurasia, Middle East & North Africa, Latin America & Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Winners will be invited to participate in the 6th Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in Jakarta, Indonesia, in April 2010.
Essays are due by September 15. More information.
A recent op-ed by Bill Doherty and Albert Dzur is very helpful, it seems to me, in agitating in a positive way beyond the service frame the Obama administration is using to define citizenship so far.
"The truth is that ordinary citizens will not become involved in tackling the nation's problems unless the professionals who run government, health care, education and social services change the way they think about their work. Fortunately, there is an alternative mindset growing among professionals: citizen professionalism, where professionals see themselves as catalyzing and working alongside everyday citizens who share the mission to improve health care, education, criminal justice, the environment and other areas. The citizen professional understands that to begin to fix wicked problems, he or she needs active collaboration with real publics, not symbolic or virtual ones. Not focus groups but focused communities."
Through the Warrior to Citizen Campaign, several University of Minnesota student journalists will be embedded with Minnesota National Guard soldiers during annual training exercises this summer.
Like real embedded journalists, the students will go into the field each day, identify story ideas and conduct interviews, then write, produce and file their work.
The "embed" was the brainchild of Lt. John Hobot, an Iraq War veteran and public affairs officer with the Minnesota National Guard. Lt. Hobot saw firsthand how difficult it was to be exposed to media for the first time during battle and felt soldiers could benefit from media training.
This week, photo journalism students Heather Rudloff and Teagan Higley are at Camp Ripley in north central Minnesota. Teagan is shown above with First Sergeant Juan Esquivel, who is preparing to fire an M16. Photo: Heather Rudloff
The "embed" provides an example of the power of relationships - in this case, between the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, University of Minnesota students, and the Minnesota National Guard - which are vital to any organizing effort. It is also an example of students creating opportunities for themselves to develop a variety of skills that will serve them as professionals and citizens.
Charla Agnoletti believes that in order to change the world, one must start at home.
“She literally walked into our office the summer before her freshman year and said, ‘I want to do Public Achievement, I want to work with Denver public school students,’” says Frank Coyne, associate director for Denver University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning. “And Charla never looked back.”
“Through Public Achievement, I’ve learned that change is a process and it’s not something that an individual can do themselves. You have to build relationships and understand what you want to change before you can do it,” Agnoletti says. “I’ve also learned a lot about the U.S. public education system and the realities facing the students and schools.”
Agnoletti plans to work in the field of public education reform. She has been accepted into the Teach for America program and will teach language arts for two years at the new Manny Martinez Middle School in Denver.
Lourdes Sanchez is the student leader of a Public Achievement group at Humboldt High School in St. Paul, Minn. As her PA coach, I encouraged her to write this reflection about our team's work over the past school year.
We began in September 2008. We were told by our teacher, Colonel Johnson, that we would do Public Achievement this year. We decided that for a topic we wanted to see changes in our school. Therefore, we wrote a list of ideas of things that needed improvement. Once we agreed on beautifying Humboldt, we needed to get our ideas down into one project. We decided on a mural on our pillar and to put benches outside to make the school more comfortable and friendly looking. At semester change, we were surprised that we lost four students from our group and new ones were put in. We also hit another road block when we found out that the University of Minnesota already had plans for the school grounds.
For a few weeks, we were down, because we did not think we could go through with our plans. After attending a few site council meetings and talking with our principal, we realized that the school was on our side. We pushed forward with the project!