Review of ‘Preparing to Win’ by Longtime Organizer James Mumm

The book goes to the “very heart of what it means to be an organizer in the 21st century,” writes Mumm.

In a recent post published on Medium, James Mumm, former campaign director of Greenpeace USA, and a longtime community organizer and activist, reviewed “Preparing to Win: Developing Community Leaders, Organizers and Allies” — a book authored by CLP founder Andy Mott that outlines how our national network of community change studies programs is expanding the pool of community change leaders in low-income, working class, and communities of color.

In his review, Mumm recognizes the impact of CLP’s programs on the field of community organizing — and the opportunity to scale this impact even further. Our network’s vision to create degrees and certificate programs across the country, designed specifically to prepare low-income people and people of color to become leaders and organizers, can be “a straight-up antidote” to social ills like poverty, discrimination, white privilege and classism, Mumm writes, “and that’s one hell of a standard to set for the organizing movement.”

Mumm has graciously permitted CLP to republish his essay — which was also published in Vol 51 of Social Policy Magazine — in the post below. We encourage you to read the essay in it’s entirety, which also includes a review of another important book, Prisms of the People: Power & Organizing in Twenty-First Century America. Please also visit Mumm’s website for additional essays, and to learn more about his work. 


How Long Must My Journey Go?

An Organizer-Bodhisattva’s Guide to Enlightenment

Republished with permission by the author, James Mumm. This post was originally published in Medium on February 10, 2022

“How long must my journey go? And my sorrow no one knows.” — Subrosa

It’s tough to be a bodhisattva these days. Sorry, I mean community organizer. Or anything in between. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, a bodhisattva is someone who gets close to enlightenment, yet chooses to forgo liberation until every other being is also enlightened. This always struck me as eerily similar to what organizers try to achieve through their work.

I’m now three decades deep into the craft of organizing. But two years of a global pandemic have tested my commitment. “How long must my journey go?” I wonder. Then I hear the rising voices that always inspire me — my mentors in organizing, and the grassroots leaders I’ve known — then I find my feet again. Yet I ask myself this question over and over, as I get lost now and again.

This burning question led me to two books that get to the very heart of what it means to be an organizer in the 21st century. Andrew Mott’s Preparing to Win: Developing Community Leaders, Organizers and Allies (2020), and Hahrie HanElizabeth McKenna, and Michelle Oyakawa’s Prisms of the People: Power & Organizing in Twenty-First Century America (2021).

Andy Mott has been in and around organizing for half a century. Having seen him in action, I can easily imagine Andy holding the door to enlightenment open so every other being can go through before him. Preparing to Win, indeed, strikes me as a kind of bodhisattva’s guide to how to prepare others for this journey

Mott describes a highly intentional start to this journey, one that focuses on bringing BIPOC people into organizing with a strong foundation to build upon.

Preparing to Win is not a beach read, or even a gripping narrative. Yet it’s well worth every minute of your attention. This is a comprehensive how-to guide and adaptable model for setting up programs at community colleges, colleges and universities that prepare people for careers as organizers. This blueprint for programs that will dramatically increase BIPOC people and those from low-wealth communities to become paid community organizers and social justice leaders.

Mott’s experience leading Community Change and the Community Learning Partnership, which he founded to create pathways into social justice careers, has led him to four fundamental conclusions:

  1. Low-income communities must become the prime movers in community, social and political change efforts to ensure that the future responds to their needs and priorities.
  2. They must build their own democratically controlled organizations to represent their interests, and they must hold those organizations accountable.
  3. Those efforts require volunteer and staff leaders with broad knowledge and skills, experience in involving people and developing leaders, a long-range vision and sophisticated strategy.
  4. People with lived experience with poverty and discrimination bring unique insights, knowledge, commitment and interpersonal skills as well as enormous latent talent to leading and staffing organizations working on these issues at the local, state, regional and national levels, and they also are uniquely qualified to be role models for other potential leaders, organizers, and change agents.

Preparing to Win goes through the ins and outs of “creating College Degree and Certificate programs which are designed specifically to prepare low-income people and people of color to become leaders and organizers, tackling issues of poverty, discrimination, power, community-building, and reinvigorating our democracy.”

This goal may sound too nuts-and-bolts, but creating a credential for BIPOC and low-wealth communities to get a foothold into successful careers is essential to progress. And getting one that opens the door for these communities into a career in social change is even better. These programs are a straight-up antidote to white privilege and classism and that’s one hell of a standard to set for the organizing movement.

Low-wealth and BIPOC people and communities need to be in the leadership of multiracial, cross-class movements, Mott argues, because “Leadership on issues of poverty and race must come from the people who are most directly affected by those issues, and this will require bold measures to build outstanding community leaders and democratic organizations.”

He goes further to say something crucial to all of the billionaires and foundations out there who think they can just create their own change-making machines, then expect them to spew out progress.

“Well-led low-income community organizations and social movements are essential to the success of other partners committed to positive community change,” Mott explains. “Without effective systems for involving low-income people themselves, efforts to transform the lives of poor people and minorities will fail. So will initiatives to bring people together across race and class lines to confront the growing inequities, divisiveness, and racial tension which are ripping our social fabric apart.”

My on-the-ground organizing career in Chicago and The Bronx tells me that he is right. I have seen what happens when the wealthy and big foundations start to think they know more than the communities most impacted by today’s biggest issues: they, and their well-meaning initiatives, fail. What’s worse, they reinforce dominant narratives that blame poor people and people of color for failing to follow their brilliant blueprint.

Lasting change will only come from organizations led by the people most affected by injustice, who take the lead in building a “Bigger We” that brings together a critical mass of constituencies to create multi-racial, cross-class movements.

The track record of the Community Leadership Project is impressive. Mott describes how by 2020 they had helped create 14 college degree and certificate programs in Community Change Studies, with over 1,000 students enrolled (80% of whom were people of color and 70% were income-eligible for Pell grants, and 15% had experienced homelessness during the school year.

CLP’s vision is to expand this to 30 programs by next year, and more than double the number of students enrolled. He continues to describe how the findings from a recent CLP alumni survey suggest that the model is working. Of those who are working, over 60% have found jobs with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or educational institutions where they can contribute to community change.

The CLP curriculum reads like a mashup of the best organizer training programs in America, where they are also leading on “issues of race, cultural identity, class, prejudice, white domination, historical trauma and healing, and, especially, how they relate to a person’s sense of agency and identity as an agent of change.” And for those who assume this is grounded solely in the teachings of Saul Alinsky, Mott clarifies that CLP and its partners “draw lessons from a wide variety of movements and traditions of nonviolence, including the civil rights, Chicano, and American Indian movements, Welfare Rights, the Poor People’s Campaign and Black Lives Matter. The Women’s, LGBTQ, global climate change, student-led and criminal justice reform movements have added greatly to the richness of experience in bringing about change.”

In Preparing To Win, Mott also shares the perspective of his long-time colleague and friend, Nakota/Yankton Sioux leader Syd Beane, who “disagrees with Alinsky about making anger central to organizing. He thinks anger separates and divides and that instead the emphasis should be on pain and healing.”

This is a true bodhisattva’s insight — that a variety of sources can, and should, inspire our work as organizers. I appreciate the diverse traditions that my mother, Maureen Dolan, drew upon and shared with me in her lifetime of organizing work, as well as the legacies of civil rights leaders and Alinsky I came to know through Shel Trapp. I know that I would be further along in my own journey if I had gone through the rich grounding that CLP is calling into being on campuses across the country.

Mott knows firsthand the deep history and development of major community organizing and support networks in the United States and he understands their evolution around elections, as well as race and gender, internally and externally. Increasingly, multiracial, class-conscious, anti-oppression values and politics define their operations and campaigns. There is no perfect organization, but one can take heart that the arc is bending in the right direction.

So if we accept Mott’s invitation, we have the tantalizing prospect of thousands of budding bodhisattvas supercharging community organizing all in the United States. But as every organization and network discovers, this requires public support. Mott delivers an answer here, too. Paid fellowships modeled on the California Youth Leadership Core or “earn while you learn” programs at community colleges would make these programs attractive and possible for students from BIPOC and low-wealth communities. This model is a real public service and deserves serious public support.

Mott concludes Preparing To Win with his own question to us: “What does it mean to be an organizer who is really contesting for and wielding power? Who can you be?” For some real-life examples, let’s now turn to Han, McKenna, and Oyakawa’s Prisms of the People to learn more about the strategies and successes of some of the best living bodhisattvas. Uh, I mean community organizers.

These three authors add insight and depth to the literature on collective action, showing that the power of the organizations they study is due to the breadth of their strategic choices — not just the sum of their resources, “the leaders and organizations we studied were able to exert power in large part because they were grounded in constituencies that had committed to standing together, to becoming something new together that they could not be alone.”

As you might expect from the title, the authors use the metaphor of prism to describe how the internal design of the organization “determines what kind of power (or light) is refracted outside.” They continue, “The organization (a term we use to refer generally to vehicles of collective action) is the prism that refracts the actions of a constituency into political power. The shape and extent of the vector of power the prism can project depend on design choices internal to the prism.”

The four core organizations they study are familiar to students of the game — ISAIAH in Minnesota, The Amos Project in Ohio, Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), and the New Virginia Majority. Two extension groups were also studied — Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

What these groups all have in common is a “dynamism” about the relationship they establish between power and constituency-building. These are state-based, grassroots organizations that came into being mostly in the early twenty-first century or reoriented to the project of building independent political power during this period.

This book is a gripping narrative. If you love organizing stories told at the bar or the campfire, gather ‘round — because Prisms of the People is chock full of them.

In Before the Storm: The Unmaking of the American ConsensusRick Perlstein chronicled Goldwater’s election to the Phoenix City Council. This presaged his run for the U.S. Senate in 1952, when he also asked his cabal of proto-New Right acolytes to run for Arizona State House seats on a statewide GOP ticket.

Goldwater won, and so did lots of Republicans on his coattails. This catalyzed Arizona’s transformation into a red state, only broken half a century later in the crucible of the immigrant rights fights that exploded in 2010. The state purpled, and then blued.

Arizona’s rebirth was not an accident, as these authors explain:

“In the six years between 2010 and 2016, a strategic coalition of immigrant rights groups emerged and won a series of important local and state victories. They helped entangle SB 1070 in lawsuits, oust a key architect of the law through the first statewide recall in Arizona history, win five seats on Phoenix’s city council, advance a municipal ID policy, and win a new minimum wage law. In 2012, the coalition tried to remove Sheriff Arpaio from office, but lost by six percentage points. By 2016, however, this coalition had built enough power that they were able to help defeat Arpaio, beating him by a margin of more than eleven percentage points.”

In 2018 ISAIAH and Faith in Minnesota ran a faith-delegate campaign to “influence the narrative around race, class, and immigration” in the 2018 governor’s election “by running ISAIAH leaders as delegates to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor state-party convention.” Check this out: they ran 500 people for elected office in the party, and turned out 3,800 people (actually turned out, not just texting or cold calling) to attend state caucuses with a united agenda on race and class.

Now that’s a story worth sharing. Since it’s Minnesota perhaps it would be best heard over some hot dish in an ice house.

In Ohio, a once reliably Democratic state Donald Trump won in 2016 by 8 points, “62.2 percent of Cincinnati voters elected to pass a municipal levy to fund preschool, a levy that would raise taxes by $278 per year for every $100,000 of a home’s value. The levy contained key concessions to AMOS’s People’s Platform, including guarantees that families living at up to 200 percent of the poverty line would be served first and that preschool providers would receive a $15 per hour wage.” AMOS was a player in this initiative because they organized a constituency rooted in values and beliefs, and their People’s Platform demanded that “any universal preschool program should allocate funds to directly address Cincinnati’s racial disparities and guarantee a minimum base wage of $15 per hour, paid sick time, and affordable health insurance for preschool providers.” The AMOS constituency was the winning factor in the final two years of the campaign leading up to the passage of the initiative.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is similarly guided by a north-star vision of a world that lives up to their shared values of multiracial democracy and economic justice for all. Their vision statement guides their strategic choices, including a robust community and democracy internally that powers their progress. Virginia restored voting rights for 173,000 formerly incarcerated citizens in 2016, a victory directly tied to New Virginia Majority’s multiracial, statewide constituency and strategic choices in their inside-outside game. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) played a critical role with allies like the Culinary Union to win a statewide corporate tax increase to fund education while the national headwinds were going in the opposite direction on taxes.

The “prisms of people power” Han, McKenna and Oyakawa introduce us to create space for low-income constituencies of color to exercise political power, because they do not mistake scale as a proxy for impact, and efficiency over effectiveness. This is a deep and powerful observation, yet it may surprise some in the organizing world, as it runs counter to arguments articulated by critics of “structure based organizing,” such as Mark and Paul Engler’s This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the Twenty-First Century and Becky Bond and Zach Exley’s Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything (both previously reviewed for Social Policy Magazine, the former here and the latter here). So let’s look closer to better understand this.

There are four key elements, the authors say, to the logic of prisms and their expression in people’s organizations that you can cultivate where you organize:

First, organizations seeking constituency-based political power are working toward political outcomes that are dynamic and fragile. The fragility is particularly heightened for low-income constituencies of color that have been historically marginalized… achieving political power requires sustained work over a long period of time, and strategic creativity to overcome long-standing structural hurdles.

The reason organizers build organizations, these authors argue, is because that is the best way to institutionalize the leadership of BIPOC, low-wealth, youth, women, gender non-conforming, disabled, and others who experience structural oppression. It’s not perfect, but the organizations in this study are definitely on a journey toward justice that creates and holds space for this leadership.

Second, given the dynamism and fragility of their work, and their inability to anticipate all the challenges that will come their way, the most strategic choice that leaders seeking durable political power can make is to cultivate resources that will give them the most tools in their toolbox to respond to contingencies… Our argument thus shifts the focus from asking what resources organizations have to asking what strategic choices are enabled by the resources they have.

What a great way to think about organizers’ work: our goal is not scale, but the ability to make strategic choices. The ability to act itself is power, and Han, McKenna and Oyakawa clarify that the purpose of organizations is to create the conditions that allow leaders and their constituencies to make such choices.

Third, for people-powered organizations, the resources that expand their strategic choice set are constituency bases that have three key characteristics: independence, commitment, and flexibility. Independence means they possess resources that are not beholden to another person or group’s assessment of value… Commitment means the members are loyal to the organization… Flexibility means that the constituency can adapt as political circumstances shift.

It’s not just any constituency we’re talking about here, but one that’s intentionally cultivated, trained, invested in, in order to bridge across identity so intensely that their commitment to each other is far stronger than the issues.

We all know that political winds ebb and flow, so the key insight here is that being able to make strategic choices no matter which way the winds blow is the path to sustainable power.

Fourth, prior choices leaders had made about how to design their prisms determined whether they had independent, committed, and flexible constituencies that were prepared for uncertain negotiations for power. These leaders recognized that in order to develop constituencies as an independent source of political power, they could not treat people’s engagement like a spigot that could be turned on and off. Instead these leaders had to be accountable to and in a durable relationship with that constituency…To maintain that kind of relationship, however, they had to build a set of relational ties, cultivate a set of bridging identities, and distribute the work of strategy in ways that would give their base ownership over and capacities for engaging in the work of collective action.

Building constituencies in this way is about trust, vulnerability and faith in people. It is about formation of self in the context of others, self-interest. When we tell stories about who we are and how we got this way, we open up space to connect deeply with others. Do that thousands of times in crucible moments, in training or house meetings or one-to-one, and you have the makings of a powerful grassroots organization.

Things are changing in the field of organizing for the better. Han, McKenna and Oyakawa describe how:

A new generation of leaders, many of whom are now directing and guiding the most significant local and state-based organizations, have driven changes in organizing and organizational form in response to a shifting political landscape that includes challenges such as political polarization, changing demographics, a globalized economy driven by multinational corporations, surges of migration, urbanization and deindustrialization, and persistent structural racism and extreme wealth inequality. In response to these changing political conditions, practitioners have pushed their organizations and the field to adopt a stronger analysis of race, class, and gender into their work and to develop a deeper analysis of the kinds of structural changes needed to enact the goals they want.

This is the way of the organizer-bodhisattva. It is open to anyone who wants freedom and liberation, but who remains fully engaged in the world until we are all free.

So how long can my — your — and our journey go? It will be long, and one with starts, stops and new beginnings. But collective enlightenment is worth every step. And it is also the heart of the Bodhisattva Vow:

Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.

Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

BOOKS REVIEWED:

Han, Hahrie, McKenna, and Oyakawa. Prisms of the People: Power & Organizing in Twenty-First Century America. University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Mott, Andrew. Preparing to Win: Developing Community Leaders, Organizers and Allies. New Community Press, 2020.

Job Announcement: CLP Communications Associate

About the Community Learning Partnership (CLP) 

The Community Learning Partnership is a national network of community change studies  certificate and degree programs – based at community colleges and public four-year  universities. These dynamic programs partner with social justice organizations and community  leaders to prepare low-income students and students of color to become community organizers and young leaders who can effect transformative change with and for their local communities.  

In 2021, CLP collaborated with its state partners to launch the California Youth Leadership  Corps (CYLC), a statewide partnership focused on expanding learn-and-earn community change  career pathways at selected community colleges. CYLC is designed to serve marginalized youth  – particularly young people of color, young people living in poverty, Opportunity Youth and  immigrant youth, offering young people pathways to postsecondary educational opportunities,  internships paying a living wage, and community change careers. 

Through its partnerships with community colleges and community-based organizations, CLP has been working to expand community change career pathways in the areas of leadership and  social change, public and community health, clean energy planning and development,  community planning and economic development, environmental justice, and career pathways  that provide critical services to immigrant communities with low incomes.  

Position Summary 

The Communications Associate will work closely with CLP Executive Director and the CYLC  Program Director to carry out the day-to-day communications in support of CLP’s mission and  goals. This is a full-time position with benefits. This is a remote position and candidates  considered may be based in any location in the U.S. Strong connections to California media  outlets are a plus. Position will remain open until filled; a review of applications will begin on  May 1st

Key Responsibilities 

The Communications Associate will have responsibility for carrying out day-to-day  communications in support of CLP’s mission and goals, working under the direction of the CLP  Executive Director and CYLC Program Director, including: 

  • Work closely with the Executive Director to develop communications messaging for the  organization. 
  • Assist with the development of a new website and regularly update website content.
  • Create a plan for increasing CLP and CYLC’s digital/social media presence, enhancing  current channels (Facebook) and launching new social media channels (e.g., Instagram). 
  • Produce messaging for print and digital campaigns, including media kits, event flyers,  website, and social media assets, event programs, e-newsletter, and other projects. 
  • Create original content for and post on social media channels. 
  • Create graphics and/or videos for social media and web use. 
  • Monitor digital and social media analytics. 
  • Build a media distribution list and assist CLP and CYLC programs with pitching stories to  local and national media outlets. 
  • Draft and distribute press statements to a variety of audiences. 
  • Create and curate a space on social media for CLP program participants and alumni to  be part of a supportive online community. 
  • Collaborate with CLP network members to promote their program activities. 
  • Prepare regular newsletters. 
  • Attend regular CLP and CYLC staff and program meetings. 
  • Other tasks as assigned.

Desired Qualifications and Competencies 

  • 3-5 years of experience in nonprofit advocacy and communications or other  comparable/related experience. 
  • A demonstrated understanding and use of nonprofit advocacy and communications  tools. 
  • A Bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as communications, journalism, political  science) strongly preferred, but not necessary. 
  • Familiarity with social media platforms (IG, FB, Twitter), and basic graphic design (Canva  and/or Photoshop/Illustrator). 
  • Experience creating engaging social media posts and designing basic graphics for social  media. 
  • Knowledge and ability to utilize video and photo editing software (Adobe Creative Suite,  iMovie, etc.) and graphic design to create content. 
  • Experience with posting new content and making basic website changes using Word  Press. 
  • Strong interpersonal skills, as well as verbal and written communication skills.
  • Team player with the ability to work both independently and in close collaboration with  others. 
  • Attention to detail, organized, and able to meet deadlines with simultaneous projects.
  • Passion for and commitment to social justice, community organizing, and movement  building. 
  • Bilingual English-Spanish speaker preferred.

Salary Range 

Salary range is $60,000 – $75,000. 

How to Apply 

Please submit cover letter discussing your interest in Community Learning Partnership’s mission  and goals and your experiences and skills that qualify you for this position, and your resume to: Hilary@communitylearningpartnership.org 

CLP is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to racial equity, diversity, and inclusion.  People of color, women, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities strongly encouraged to apply. All  qualified applicants will be afforded equal employment opportunities without discrimination  because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, genetic information, disability or marital  status.

California Youth Leadership Corps & Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Announce $1 Million Jobs Initiative for Low-Income Youth

The partnership will create “learn and earn” career pathways at two Los Angeles area community colleges within rapidly expanding economic sectors: public health and clean energy

Today, the California Youth Leadership Corps (CYLC) and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced a new partnership to develop and launch two new community college career pathway programs for youth with low incomes in Los Angeles. The $1 million initiative aims to increase access to good jobs for young people and people of color in growing sectors of the economy through the creation of “learn and earn” career pathway programs.

Under this Hilton Foundation grant, the CYLC-LA program will collaborate with selected community colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District, the Emerald Cities Collaborative, and nonprofit organizations to recruit, enroll, and train 160 young people in career pathway programs in two rapidly expanding sectors: public and community health and clean energy planning and development. These career pathway programs will provide young people with postsecondary credentials and state-subsidized internships at local nonprofit organizations, where students will earn at least $15 per hour and do meaningful community-based work. Program participants will also receive critical academic and social-emotional supports, leadership development opportunities, and mentoring to help them succeed.     

“The new CYLC initiative comes at a critical moment as the City of Los Angeles seeks to recover from the economic and public health devastation caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” said Rosa García, Executive Director of CYLC. “It is estimated that 42 percent of job losses within the low-wage sector, which disproportionately employ youth from communities of color, will be permanent. We are thrilled to be working with the Hilton Foundation to connect young people to the growing sectors of our economy, like public and community health and clean energy.” 

Through these paid, experiential learning opportunities, participants will increase their civic engagement, and expand their leadership development skills. Through pre- and post-program surveys, policymakers will gain a better understanding of issues facing youth with low incomes and communities of color — helping to create more inclusive workforce pathways in public and community health and clean energy planning and development and related fields.

The CYLC program will target the geographic locations of Downtown Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, and South East Los Angeles — areas where many young people with low incomes have faced significant barriers to education and employment, but that also have strong community-based organizations interested and well-positioned to participate in the program. The CYLC program will have a specific focus on “opportunity youth” — those between the ages of 18-25 who face barriers to postsecondary education and employment due to poverty, lack of college access and opportunity, immigration status, homelessness and other circumstances. 

“Even before the effects of the pandemic, over 145,000 of young people in Los Angeles were disconnected,” said Elizabeth Cheung, Senior Program Officer of the Opportunity Youth Initiative at Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. “We’re proud to partner with the CA Leadership Corps and the state of California to ensure that young people throughout the county receive training for two important career pathways and the leadership skills and support they need to become leaders within their own communities.”

As part of the partnership, CYLC will also document its learnings over the two-year period and share best practices with other community colleges and stakeholders across the state who may be interested in replicating the model.  CYLC program staff will also conduct trainings and host convenings for students, faculty and program staff from the participating sites over the course of the two years. 

The California Youth Leadership Corps (CYLC) is a new statewide partnership between the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, selected California community colleges, the Community Learning Partnership, local nonprofit organizations, the California Endowment, the Hilton Foundation and other philanthropy and community partners. CYCL is preparing a new generation of young people to become community organizers and change agents in their local communities. 

International hotelier Conrad N. Hilton established the grantmaking foundation that bears his name in 1944 to help people living in poverty and experiencing disadvantage worldwide. Today, the work continues, concentrating on efforts to improve early childhood development outcomes, support older youth as they transition from foster care, ensure opportunity youth can access career pathways, prevent homelessness, identify solutions to safe water access, help integrate refugees into society and lift the work of Catholic sisters. Additionally, following selection by an independent, international jury, the Foundation annually awards the $2.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to an organization doing extraordinary work to reduce human suffering. The Foundation is one of the world’s largest, with assets recently growing to approximately $7.5 billion. It has awarded grants to date totaling more than $2 billion, $207 million worldwide in 2020. Please visit www.hiltonfoundation.org for more information.

For more information, contact David Dodge, CLP Communications Coordinator, at dgdodge@gmail.com.

‘Preparing to Win’ Provides Blueprint for Creating Pathways to Community Change Careers

A new book, “Preparing to Win: Developing Community Leaders, Organizers and Allies,” by Andy Mott, provides a roadmap for creating educational pathways into careers and leadership positions tackling many of the most challenging issues facing America today. “

“At this time of crisis and great uncertainty, it is inspiring to see brilliant, far-sighted and determined young people step forward and assume leadership.   They have begun leading remarkable mass movements on racial justice, the climate crisis, immigration, community safety, democratic renewal and social reform.  It is time to invest heavily in fully preparing these and other emerging leaders for long-term leadership roles and careers tackling the awesome challenges facing America and the world.  

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”  Preparing to Win reviews how the Community Learning Partnership is using that powerful weapon to strengthen the next generation of community leaders and organizers so they can meet our country’s deep challenges.  The book draws from CLP’s extensive experience creating 14 educational pathways into community and social change work, currently reaching over 1000 students, 80% of whom are students of color.

The book mines from Mott’s experience creating and helping grow the Community Learning Partnership (CLP), a national nonprofit bringing together robust partnerships between colleges and grassroots community groups to prepare large numbers of  knowledgeable and skilled leaders and organizers to address issues of poverty, race, climate change, community building and strengthening faith and participation in our democracy.

Mott brings to this work over five decades of experience organizing alongside low-income leaders, and building organizations seeking to make progress on issues in their communities. Before founding CLP, Andy served as Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, a national nonprofit which helps grassroots groups build the power and capacity to change their communities and public policies for the better.   

“I’m excited to share our learnings in this new book from our collective experience building highly creative learning Partnerships developing many new approaches,” Mott said. “It has been challenging and fascinating work, which I hope will provide insights and strategies to others seeking to strengthen efforts to achieve progressive, community-based change.”

Organized around 23 chapters, “Preparing to Win” touches on specific aspects of learnings and resources developed while growing the CLP network — which now includes affiliates inSan Jose, Los Angeles, Minneapolis / St. Paul, Mississippi, New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Southeast Michigan. Specific chapters explore- best practices for recruiting students to Community Change Studies programs; ways to connect students to community change jobs; and practical field experience to  deepen key competencies required for those careers, among many other topics. 

The book also explores key ways to support leaders from low-income communities and communities of color — including chapters devoted to student finances, peer support, and community change career counseling navigation. “It’s a key tenet in community organizing that leadership on issues of poverty and race must come from the people who are most directly affected by those issues,” Mott said. “But less discussed is how to recruit, train, and support these leaders, which is exactly what CLP-affiliated community change studies programs across the country are doing every year.”  

The CLP network, which inspired the book, is premised on the idea that community colleges and public universities are uniquely positioned to attract and train a broad constituency of future leaders, across racial and class backgrounds IF they develop genuine partnership with organizations deeply rooted in communities often left behind.

“These are spaces where students can create dialogue, build relationships and friendships, and develop a shared vision of what our future should hold,” said Mott. “It is time to invest in helping growing numbers of young people to prepare fully for the awesome challenges facing the US and the whole world.”

Towards that end, the book includes  the perspectives of several CLP alumni, who recount how CLP programs have helped shape their community change work. For instance, the book includes the experience of CLP alumna Angelica Esquivel, who obtained a certificate in Leadership and Social Change (LSC) from De Anza College in Cupertino, California. Now a member of CLP’s national board, Angelica said she appreciates how her LSC classes relied on the lived-experiences of students in the program. “Usually, it’s the other way around,” she said. “You take what you learn in the classroom, and then apply it in your life.” In the LSC classes, she said, “I brought to the class what I had from my experiences on the streets. That’s the whole message of LSC — Come here with your experiences. Your experiences are important.”

“Preparing to Win” comes as the CLP network enters a new phase of growth. The network is on the cusp of expanding to five sites in California, while expanding existing programs at sites across the country.  

The book is available immediately on the CLP website for free, as well as on Kindle or paperback on Amazon.

A ‘Year of Wins’ for Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action

Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action is a group of young people organizing to combat climate change in their local communities through aggressive public policy initiatives.The group, co-founded by Cynthia Kaufman — who coordinates the Community Learning Partnership program at Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action at De Anza College — released this video that includes some of the group’s impressive wins from the last year, which include wins like:

  • Helping bring aggressive building electrification codes to Santa Clara County and San Jose
  • Securing new bike and pedestrian funding at VTA
  • Passing an all-electric/carbon-free building code in Mountain View
  • Helping organizing a “climate strike” with over 2,000 attendees. 

Check out the video below and be sure to visit their website to keep tabs on their exciting work.

Dawn Wilson-Clark on Making Kids Smile — As a Clown and Community Leader

Dawn Wilson-Clark, who is 47 years old, was clowning around one day (quite literally — she works as a professional clown) in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood when she passed a for sale sign at a house that caught her eye. When she decided to buy the house and move her five children into it everyone she knew thought she was crazy.

“Brightmoor was the hood — like hood hood,” she explained. But Dawn was determined to make a home for herself in the house and neighborhood. “All I saw was a brand new house, nice neighbors, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Dawn with husband, Jonathon

10 years later, Dawn is still there — and clearly saw something in Brightmoor that put her ahead of the curve. Soon after she moved to the neighborhood, The Skillman Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the future of Detroit’s children and families, selected Brightmoor as a priority area and began to heavily invest in it.

Skillman’s arrival would also mark the beginning of Dawn’s development as a recognized leader in her community. When the Foundation began advertising neighborhood meetings to gather community input and discuss their plan for investing in the community, Dawn decided to attend. “I had no idea what a grant was or how that worked,” Dawn laughed. “But I learned that they were giving out small grants to organizations that were doing things to help kids.”

As a mother of five whose profession is to bring joy to children as her alter ego — Kuddles the Clown — the mission of Skillman spoke to her on a visceral level. Intrigued, she wanted to know more about the group’s work, so she began to volunteer. “I started learning about all this community work happening that I didn’t know about before,” she said.

Dawn meeting with state representatives on education policy
Dawn meeting with state representatives on education policy

It didn’t take long for others to begin recognizing her leadership potential. Soon after volunteering with Skillman, she was recruited to serve on the board of the community-based organization, the Brightmoor Alliance. Later, she began working as a lead organizer and researcher for the grassroots education group, 482Forward.

There, she  learned of the Community Leadership Program at Henry Ford College from the group’s Executive Director. “I’d been doing a lot of community work by the time I enrolled in the program,” she said. “But I didn’t have a degree, and wanted to get some more training.”

Dawn, who is currently in her third semester, said she didn’t know what studying “community change” meant at first. “I’d been doing this work already so it seemed to me like community change is something you do, not go to school for.”

She quickly learned, however, that CLP-affiliated programs are not typical of many other areas of study. “Each day is different,” she said. “The classes introduce new concepts, and new ways of looking at things.”

In her first semester, she enrolled in Professor Robert Yarhmatter’s “Introduction to Community Leadership” course. Though she had already been working as an organizer, she said the course “opened her eyes” to new skills — like different ways to move different types of people to take action. “I have three teams of people I work with in my jobs,” she explained. “They’re all so different, but I’d been approaching them all in the same way — you need to recognize what is going to move one person to do something isn’t going to work on someone else.”

She also took a field trip as part of her coursework to hear Ruby Bridges speak, who at the age of six became the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South. “Having the opportunity to listen to her was so incredible,” Dawn said. “I realized it could have been one of my aunties up there talking, who went through the same stuff. What she went through wasn’t all that long ago.” 

Ruby Bridges

As for what’s next for Dawn, the dedicated children’s champion unsurprisingly already has her eyes set on helping groom the next generation of community leaders. “I want to help train people who think they don’t have a voice, to be a liaison between where they are now and being leaders in our communities,” she said. For her, that means continuing her role as a community organizer in education policy.

Though she’s juggling multiple jobs and leaderships roles at this point, Dawn also still plans to keep clowning around Detroit. “It’s something I just kind of stumbled into after my aunt needed a clown for a cousin’s birthday party,” she explained of her side gig. “I’m not going to give it up — I just love making kids smile.”

Felecia Bennett-Clark of Macomb Community College Receives Award for Excellent Teaching

Felecia Bennett-Clark, a professor at Macomb Community College who teaches political science courses in the CLP-affiliated Certificate in Community Leadership program, received the 2019 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award. The honor is given to recognize community and technical college educators who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment and contribution to their students and colleagues.

To be eligible for the honor, faculty members submit an essay that demonstrates their teaching philosophy, and also must receive a recommendation from the dean in their academic area. The members of NISOD, an organization “committed to promoting and celebrating excellence in teaching, learning and leadership,” review each nomination prior to selecting each year’s recipients. 

Congratulations to Felecia on the much-deserved honor!

Nyeelah Rousseau, On Leveraging Privilege for Change

Nyeelah Rousseau, a senior at West Chester University, is the first to recognize her own privilege. “I attended a private high school,” she said. “And grew up with both parents in my house, and always had someone there for me.” But not everyone in her neighborhood where she grew up, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, can say the same. This disconnect—between her relatively advantaged upbringing and others in her community—is what first drew her to pursue an education and career in social change.

“Growing up, I noticed the distances between people who look like me but weren’t afforded the same opportunities as me,” she said. “I was in a position of power and privilege, and started to see it as my duty to bring awareness to people experiencing different things than I was, not even a block away.”

“I noticed the distances between people who look like me but weren’t afforded the same opportunities as me.”

Though she knew she wanted to give back in some way, she wasn’t sure exactly what form it would take. She explored a number of different areas of study—everything from business to physical therapy—before meeting Hannah Ashley, Director of the Youth Empowerment and Urban Studies (YES) program at West Chester University. “I was actually attending La Salle University at the time, but was on campus for a conference,” Nyeelah said. During a session on community development, Hannah told Nyeelah more about the YES program, “and I knew immediately that this is what was going to help me serve my community.”

She was impressed from her first day with the program, during an exercise in which students were asked to wear stickers displaying different strengths they possess. “It helped everyone in the class realize where you come from,” Nyeelah said. “You may be wearing a sticker that says one thing, but the person right next to you might have something that says something completely different—who are you, and what do you bring to this space?”

Nyeelah particularly liked that the program prioritized getting students out of the classroom and into the community. “We spent a semester learning about the theory,” she said. “But by the second semester, they were like, we’re going to train you to get out there, start talking to people, and working with community organizations.”

The experiential learning component of the YES program, Nyeelah said, was particularly impactful for her. And she knew pretty quickly after transferring to West Chester University what she wanted to do for her internship—give back to the community she came from. “I started a pilot program at my old high school to build a curriculum to help with student government work,” Nyeelah said.

“That very first day we defined what we wanted student government to look like at the school—are you just voting on prom themes? Or do you want to go into the community?”

Even though she was just a few years older than the youth she would be working with—“a near peer,” Nyeelah called herself—she says her training through the YES program prepared her for the challenge. “That very first day we defined what we wanted student government to look like at the school—are you just voting on prom themes? Or do you want to go into the community?”

The high school students weren’t used to being asked such direct questions, which was a barrier Nyeelah worked to overcome. The pilot wasn’t about a college student lecturing a high school student, and telling them what to do, she said. “It was interactive; we had two hours each session—so you tell us your thoughts on gentrification, or bullying, or whatever else is going on in the school, and what we should do about it.”

At the beginning of her pilot program in the school, Nyeelah said she had just a couple of students attending regularly. After four months of engaging with the high school student body—and listening to concerns and ideas for fixing them—she had upwards of 20 to 30 students attending each session. “About three months in, we had students self-organizing to stuff like handing out flyers to get people involved in a neighborhood cleanup.”

“For me, this minor was critical to helping me find out who I am, and what my purpose is.”

As Nyeelah is finishing up her senior year, she’d not totally sure what will come next for her in her career. But if she had her choice, “I’d keep doing exactly what I was doing in my old high school—building new curriculums, and helping students learn how to live in their communities, not just survive.” And whatever she sets out to accomplish next, she says she’ll credit the YES program for helping her get there. “For me, this minor was critical to helping me find out who I am, and what my purpose is.”

 

 

 

 

 

How Leadership Students at Macomb College Are Channeling Their Histories Into Action

The Community Leadership Certificate at Macomb Community College in Detroit is often used to enhance any number of degrees at the college, including those in the public service and business management sectors. But many social work students, in particular, have found the certificate program particularly useful as they continue pursuing their careers and professions.

“Social work is a natural fit for the leadership certificate,” said Professor Rachelle Zarenek, who oversees the CLP program at Macomb. “It helps enhance what social workers will be doing, naturally, in their careers, so it’s kind of the cherry on top of their education.”

Many of program’s students, moreover, have used the Macomb College leadership certificate to channel often difficult elements of their past into action that can benefit others. We caught up with three graduates of the CLP-affiliated Community Leadership Certificate to see how the program has prepared them to pursue careers, or further their education, in the social worker sector.

“I realized, through this program, that where I actually wanted to be was in the community.” –Christina Young

Prior to pursuing her degree in social work, Christina Young, a 33-year-old graduate of the certificate program, and a mother of two, already had a lot of experience in the field of mental health. She had worked as a medical assistant for many years, as well as in a couple of group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities.

It was through this work that she eventually met Professor Rachelle Zarenek, who  encouraged her to enroll. “The program really sucked me in,” Christina said. “I was so eager about other ways that I could benefit the community.”

If it weren’t for the certificate program, Christina—who is now pursuing her social work degree at Wayne State University—suspects she’d still be working in a hospital setting. “That’s what I had done before, and it was great work, but I realized through the program that where I actually wanted to be was in the community.”

While Christina points to many skills and invaluable lessons from her time with the program, like the ability to work with diverse groups of people and organize them to affect change, she says the most impactful part of her time was what came after. “I found my job through Professor Zaranek,” she said. Christina’s current boss, who works at the Macomb County’s Crisis Center, spoke to her class one day about her work. Christina was so inspired, she “went right up to her afterwards and asked if they were hiring.” They weren’t, at the time, but Christina was determined, and sent along her resume anyway. “She saw how much I wanted this, and basically created a position for me.”

Christina is working within the area of suicide prevention, she says, in part because it’s an issue close to her heart. “I went through a domestic violence situation,” she said. “And so did my kids.” While this was eight years ago, and Christina says she and her children have all moved on, she remains struck by the lack of resources available to people in similar crises. “I want to be able to help people who are feeling as bad now as I did then,” she said.

Christina has wasted no time applying her leadership skills to her new job. Soon after starting, she came up with a simple but impactful idea after one of her kids came home from school with a painted rock as part of a school project. Inspired, she gathered a bunch of rocks and paint, and took her kids and their friends to a park around the block. They spent the afternoon painting rocks, some with inspirational quotes, others with bright designs. The activity encouraged other neighborhood kids to join. As they painted, Christina was struck by how the art project helped many of the kids open up about their struggles with anxiety and depression. One boy spoke with Christina about his fears coming out to his mom as transgender. Another spoke about a friend’s mother who had recently passes away.

Recognizing the power of the project, Christina applied her leadership training by reaching out to the City of New Baltimore to ask for funding to expand her rock painting project. The city agreed, and there are now three of Christina’s “Kindness Rock Gardens” located across the county. “Before I would have been a nervous wreck if I had to go before a city panel and ask for money like that,” she said. But her social work training, and her education at Macomb, “helped me to apply certain skills and be more confident.”

“I learned how to deal with people, which you need if you’re going to go into social work” – Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson, a 52-year-old graduate of the certificate program, originally from Troy, Michigan, spent 28 years in prison prior to enrolling at Macomb College. And at first, he had little interest in pursuing higher education.

“I wanted to be a truck driver when I first got out,” he said. “I figured it would be easy, and a decent paycheck, but I couldn’t get the funding to afford the license.” So instead, he enrolled in school. He figured he’d eventually be able to find the money he needed, through a combination of grants, loans and work, to afford the license, so at first he said he just enrolled in “whatever coursework tickled my fancy.” He took a geology course, for instance, and a welding class.

Eventually, however, he met Professor Rachelle Zaranek, who introduced him to the CLP program, and helped inspire him to consider his educational future. “Once I realized I wanted to pursue a degree, I got everything together, and took all the coursework I needed to for the community leadership certificate,” he said. Eventually, he transferred to Oakland University, where he is currently pursuing his social work degree.

He completed the certificate program at Macomb last year, and says he’s taken much of what he’s learned with him as he continues pursuing his studies. “I learned a lot about politics, politicians, lobbying, activism, social policies, workplace psychology, organizations, types of people, types of leaders,” he said. But probably the most useful takeaway from his time in the program, he said, “is how to deal with people — you need to know how to do that if you’re going to go into social work.”

As for his plans once he graduates with his degree, Bob says he’ll be “somewhere helping people,” he said. “I’m trying to turn my negative past into a positive future.” He says he specifically wants to work with others who have experienced incarceration since he knows, first hand, the many barriers that come along with those touched by the criminal justice system.

“I want to be an example to others to take advantages of the opportunities like the community leadership certificate when they come your way,” he said. “Once you’re out of prison it can help you stay out.”

“If what you hope to do is deal with people or care for people — really, anything to do with people — I definitely encourage you to look into the program.” –Isaiah White

Isaiah White, a 34-year-old graduate of the Community Leadership Certificate from Highland Park, Michigan, enrolled in the army in 2002, where he served until receiving a medical retirement discharge in 2014. That same year, he started at Macomb College with a simple goal in mind: “I wanted to find ways to help other veterans,” he said.

Isaiah figured the best way he could do so was through pursuing a social work degree. “I suffer from PTSD myself,” he said, using the acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He said he personally understands, then, the beneficial role that psychology and social work fields can have on the lives of veterans. “There’s such a high suicide rate among veterans, we really need people to talk to, but it can be hard for a lot of people to relate,” he said.

The most impactful part of the Community Leadership Certificate, he says, was the internship, a required component of the program, which he fulfilled at the Veterans Service Department of the college. “I learned there how important it is to not just have the veterans involved in these conversations, but their families, too,” he said. “Change doesn’t come without the families.”

Isaiah sees the applicability in the organizing and leadership components of the program to his future career in social work—skills that couldn’t be more different, he says, from the way he was taught leadership in the military. “It’s easy to just point at someone and give direction and say, ‘do this,’ and expect people to not question whatever your superior tells you,” Isaiah said of his military training. “It’s a lot harder to understand what might motivate someone to do something, or how to guide someone to where they need to be.”

Isaiah plans to continue his studies until he earns his degree in social work, after which he hopes to open his own private social work office that will strictly serve veterans. The role the Community Leadership Certificate and Professor Zarenek played in helping inspire and encourage this vision, he said, “was beyond anything I expected from anybody.”

As for other students at Macomb who are considering the Certificate, Isaiah has this piece of advice to share: “If what you hope to do is deal with people or care for people — really, anything to do with people — I definitely encourage you to look into it,” he said. “The program helps you start to pay attention to things you might have been ignoring before.”

 

Staci Lowry, On Developing a Community Change Network

Staci Lowry, a 35-year-old mother of three based in Detroit, Michigan, experienced an incredible scare in 2014, when her youngest child suffered a stroke. Her daughter is fortunately fine today. “She’s the most rambunctious of my three children, so she’s resilient,” Staci said. But this moment still obviously counts among the most traumatic of her life. If there is any silver lining, however, it’s that the experience preempted something of a political awakening in her.

At the time of her daughter’s stroke, she was working full time at a major conglomerate as a customer service rep. (She declined to mention the company, for reasons that will become apparent, but added, “you’d definitely know the name.”) After she had exhausted the 12 unpaid weeks she was legally permitted to take off of work through the federal Family Medical Leave Act in order to care for her daughter, she was fired. “They let me go while I was literally still in the hospital caring for my child,” Staci said. Staci, who was struggling to make ends meet even before her daughter’s stroke, soon found herself unable to make mortgage payments, and she eventually lost her home to foreclosure.

While attempting to get herself back on her feet, she started examining the injustice she’d experienced with a new vigor. “You can’t make people choose between caring for their children and work,” she said. “It’s just not fair.” While her daughter was recovering, Staci found it incredibly difficult to find a job. “No one would hire me because of the many doctors and therapies that were needed,” Staci said. So instead, she began volunteering for campaigns that advocated for things like Earned Paid Sick Time and increasing minimum wage.Her volunteerism led her to work for that local nonprofit and working on numerous campaigns for mothers and working families.

She began to think about going back to college to further her studies in these areas, but with so many competing priorities — her job, family, and volunteering — she couldn’t figure out how to pursue a degree on top of it all. “There was no way I could juggle everything,” she said.

But then an opportunity arose. She found a new job at a small consulting firm that had flexible enough hours to allow her to go back to school part time, which is how she suddenly found herself enrolled at Henry Ford College. Through her organizing work, she met Susan-Hooks Brown, a program lead with the school’s Community Leadership Program, who encouraged her to apply.

Professor Robert Yahrmatter’s leadership class, Staci said, made a particular impression on her. “His class was like no other I’d ever taken,” Staci said. “I was used to having teachers throw me a book, tell me to memorize something and then tell me to take a test.” The Community Leadership Program, however, exposed her to new ways of thinking and approaching societal problems. “Professor Y allowed us to decide with him what we should include on the syllabus,” she said. “I’d never been a part of a class where the professor was like, what do you want to get out of this?”

One of the biggest advantages of the CLP program at Henry Ford, Staci says, is the opportunity to become credentialed in community change work. Prior to enrolling in the program, she had amassed years worth of volunteer and paid work with various nonprofits around Detroit. Each time she tried to advance, however, or apply to jobs that worked nationally, she was turned down. “I think part of the problem is I didn’t have the degree,” she said.

She’s also learned the importance of self-care through the program. “We’ve really come to rely on one another and think of ourselves as a family,” she said of her fellow classmates. Developing the type of a network she’s gained through the program, she said, will be critical to sustaining the type of community change work she envisions doing for the long haul. “Whether I like it or not, this is my calling,” Staci said. “But you need to learn how to network, maintain healthy working relationships and take care of yourself so you don’t burn out.”

Today, all of Staci’s personal and professional experiences, education, and volunteering has led her to her current job, which she started just this past April, as the Wayne & Oakland County Regional Organizing Director for NextGen Michigan. Whatever comes next for her, moreover, she knows she’ll take what she’s learned from the CLP program with her into the future. “I’ve learned how to kick down the type of doors that used to be in my way,” she said. “And I want to help other people do the same.”