Each summer, two Tufts UEP graduate students work with community partners for a 10-week fellowship through the CoRE (Co-learning/Co-education) partnership. Funded by Tisch College, fellows get hands-on experience in community planning, organizing and development. And the fellows help to deepen collaboration between Tufts and its community partners. In summer 2018, Lydia Collins worked with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative’s community land trust in Roxbury and Zoë Ackerman was a fellow with Community Labor United. Read their accounts below.
Lydia Collins, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
This summer I worked with the Dudley Neighbor’s Incorporated (DNI) Community Land Trust (CLT). A subsidiary of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), DNI was created to implement and develop a resident-driven comprehensive master plan that guides the revitalization of the neighborhood. As a Tufts UEP CORE fellow, I was placed with DNI for a summer fellowship as part of a larger university-community partnership. The CORE program, “moves beyond the typical one-off project model of community engagement towards a more reciprocal, place-based model in which both university and community partners ‘co-learn’ and ‘co-produce’ knowledge.”
During these ten weeks at DNI I engaged in many different activities with a wide range people. I worked on a youth engagement process, a fundraising initiative, multiple mapping projects, and significant community outreach. I spent my days brainstorming with coworkers, watching presentations from developers and municipal planners, and talking with neighbors. The setting of my fellowship stretched from the DNI office in Roxbury to the Tufts library printing room in Somerville to triple decker porches and many places in between.
To provide a richer glimpse into this experience, please join in a day in my life:
9:30AM-10AM: Boston is awake and so am I! I bike from my house in Somerville across city to the DNI office in Roxbury. Depending on the humidity level, some days I find myself nearly swimming down Mass Ave…
10AM: I roll into work promptly at 10 o’clock, sink into my chair, and exclaim how hot it is to my boss and past DSNI CORE fellow, Ben Baldwin, who, as per usual, passed me on his bike 20 minutes earlier. We talk briefly about the day and any upcoming meetings before getting started on work.
10:15-12: Opening my computer, I begin editing a flyer advertising an upcoming “Pop Up” event to showcase DNI’s newly acquired building in Upham’s Corner. I toggle over the (pop)sicle my coworker’s daughter modeled the previous day for the flyer and muse over how creative we are in serving this sweet treat at a pop up. I blow up the word “Pop!”, translate the flyer into Spanish, send a request to community organizer, Jose, for a Cape Verdean Creole translation, and print out copies to get feedback from other staff.
12-12:45: Hungry, I pop up over the cubicle wall and invite my coworker, Amethyst, to grab lunch with me at Nos Casa, a Cape Verdean restaurant down the street. Over couscous and fish, we brainstorm for our upcoming youth engagement meeting at Teen Empowerment.
1PM-5PM: Stomach full, I settle in for the afternoon, which could include a variety of any of the following activities: updating a database of potential urban planning professors in Boston as a fundraising strategy to bring people to the CLT for tours; walking around handing out flyers for an upcoming community meeting; dancing for 2 marvelous minutes when the development team lands a grant; completing surveys in living rooms and on porches with CLT homeowners to improve DNI’s operations; and teaching myself graphic software to update a parcel map.
5PM-6PM: Ready to talk to some teens at Teen Empowerment, Amethyst pops up from her desk, exclaims how we really need a fisheye mirror to make cross-cubicle communication easier, and let’s me know it’s time to mobilize. Twenty minutes later, Amethyst and I are standing in front of 25 young people from the DSNI neighborhood at Teen Empowerment’s summer programming. Fan humming in the background, we take turns explaining the community land trust, the recent acquisition of a new building, and why it matters that young people in the neighborhood have their voices recorded and implemented in development processes. We hand out paper and pens for the teens write down their visions for both the building and the neighborhood. They then stand up and tape their pieces of paper on a large cityscape poster of the neighborhood. We wrap up with a debrief, having them share their ideas with the group.
6:30PM: Buzzing with energy from the youth and the sugar from all the popsicles, Amethyst and I put the feedback in our backpacks and bid farewell until the next day…
I learned so much this summer and attribute much of that to the responsibility my coworkers gave me, exposing- and trusting- me with a wide range of projects and people that the organization interacts with on a daily basis. I grew not only professionally as I began to understand the realities, challenges, and victories of maintaining a community land trust, but also personally as I built lasting friendships and a deeper sense of what it really means to sustain healthy communities.
Zoë Ackerman, Community Labor United
When I think about designing an inclusive public meeting, several considerations come to mind. Is the location close to public transportation? Will there be language interpretation? A meal? Is the room physically accessible? Will there be child care?
Before my Tisch CoLearning/CoResearch (CoRE) fellowship with Community Labor United, I’d never considered that child care at public meetings is essential because there is no affordable after-hours child care system in place for families. If parents are unable to find reliable care, they can’t attend meetings, night classes, or accept jobs that operate outside of typical business hours. The dearth of affordable and accessible child care is an underestimated barrier to building a thriving economy.
Community Labor United is an organization based in downtown Boston that strives to bring together unions and community-based organizations around strategic campaigns that advance the interests of low and middle-income working families. In an effort to build a universal child care system—one that serves the needs of both families and child care providers—Community Labor United convened a coalition called “Care That Works.” A short-term goal of the coalition is to make nonstandard care available for union construction and hospitality workers’ children. When I came on board, members were trying to understand the barriers and opportunities for providers to offering nonstandard schedule care. This became my main line of inquiry.
Answering this question was not so simple, however, as conducting a literature review. Very little has been written about child care from providers’ perspectives—and recommendations I encountered also needed to fit with CLU’s values and strategy. Throughout the summer, I worked closely with CLU’s Senior Researcher Sarah Jimenez, Senior Organizer Lindsay McCluskey, and coalition members to understand their previous work and short and long-term goals. After an initial literature scan, we designed an interview protocol and interviewed 15 child care experts to fill in holes in our understanding. Sarah and I continuously checked in about our findings and methods with the base-building members’ experiences and worked collaboratively to establish priorities. By the end of the summer, we had delineated dozens of interconnected answers about how MA could cultivate a child care system that offers affordable care for families with nonstandard schedules. A few highlights of the research process included attending a CLU-sponsored briefing about child care at the State House and presenting at the Care That Works August coalition meeting. In both experiences, I learned strategies for translating dense research into relatable and action-oriented terms.
I can’t overstate how important this summer was for my development at UEP. The project not only laid the groundwork for my thesis and a GIS project, but clarified how I want to spend the rest of my time here at Tufts—learning the tools, methods, and strategies of movement-based research so that I can apply these skills to child care and other issue areas in the future.
A recent conversation with Sarah highlighted how CLU benefited from the partnership as well. In general, the organization seeks to be more intentional and strategic about drawing on existing resources available in higher education. CLU wants to work with more students and develop a pipeline for bringing them into movement research and organizing. The summer fellowship, in particular, is a valuable model because of its “full-time” nature; it’s different than having a student come in for a few hours each week. The organization is also looking to engage with academics to figure out how higher education as a whole can better support movement work. Throughout the summer fellowship, CLU developed a stronger tie with Tisch College and is moving closer to achieving these long-term objectives.
This summer showed me first-hand how a marriage between research and organizing can propel movement work forward. Even though my focus was on child care, I am deeply inspired by movement research, and look forward to applying the methods to other issues in the future: transportation, climate change, energy, housing, and more.