Monday, September 7, 2015

Linda Vista Leaders in Action: Community Changemakers in Our Midst

By Dr. Mike Williams

At USD, we are dedicated to collaborating with members of our community to advance social justice and social change.  The Changemaker Hub, along with many other units on campus, such as the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness, and Social Action are always seeking to find ways to create more sustainable and meaningful interactions with our campus and local communities.  In this post, I want to share about efforts that are being made to enhance our relationship with our partners in Linda Vista community.

But first, I have a confession.  Despite the fact that I graduated from USD in 1992, lived in Linda Vista for year while attending USD, and I have been teaching at USD since 1999, until the last year, I was unaware of the many partners that USD had in Linda Vista.  Most importantly, I did not realize the extent to which Bayside Community Center is the hub of community organizing in Linda Vista and the importance it has for the educational mission of USD. 

Established in 1932, the Bayside Community Center has many important programs for the Linda Vista community and USD has collaborated on many of these programs for decades.  One such program is the Resident Leadership Academy.  The Resident Leadership Academy (RLA) is an innovative program that “helps residents gain knowledge and tools to make positive changes in their community….”  Through a ten-course curriculum offered at Bayside Community Center, community members are provided with the opportunity to further their knowledge and skills of leadership, community issues, and community organizing.  Upon graduating, these community members are expected to continue to be leaders in the community and to empower others to promote for positive social change in Linda Vista.    

 In 2014, Resident Leadership Academy graduates – also known as Linda Vista Leaders in Action – articulated their desire for further educational opportunities that would build upon their RLA training.  In response, Bayside developed the Cooperative Leadership Academy, a program that would provide even more training for the Leaders in Action to make a positive difference in the community. 

As Bayside was working with community partners to implement the Cooperative Leadership Academy, Dr. Viviana Alexandrowicz (Associate Professor in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences) was simultaneously working with Bayside through the Impact Linda Vista Initiative (a program supported with a grant from U.S. Bank and coordinated by the Changemaker Hub and the Mulvaney Center).  After her many discussions with community members at Bayside, she proposed establishing a program called the USD Open University Initiative, which would provide the Leaders in Action with the opportunity to take classes tuition free at USD.  The result is that this semester, there are six Leaders in Action who are enrolled at USD as part of this community-based initiative. 

The current Executive Director of Bayside, Corey Pahanish, explains the evolution of these programs and initiatives in this way: “Bayside Community Center was working closely with San Diego Cooperative Charter School, which offers a model that inspired Cooperative Leadership Academy. It was clear that the need for a deeper understanding of community challenges could be addressed in a harmonious business model that leveraged the academic prestige of USD and the community development understanding of Bayside, while empowering our diverse community to provide the wisdom and sweat-equity to impact change.... The RLA birthed the Cooperative Leadership Academy in conjunction with Bayside Community Center, a process within an existing movement [called One Linda Vista]…  The [] Cooperative Leadership Academy … best captures the One Linda Vista social movement, as well as the true nature of our collaborative community model and efforts….  This co-dependent model could not happen without USD’s Open University Initiative.”

The benefits of this initiative are many – for the Leaders in Action, for the USD students and for the
faculty.  As Dr. Viviana Alexandrowicz states, “From the USD perspective, Open University Initiative is a social justice initiative where we will have culturally and linguistically diverse community members as expert guests in our courses having equal access to curriculum. As a result, faculty plan to provide a richer learning experience for our USD students and participants alike.”

Last week, I was honored to meet the six Leaders in Action who are will be the first group to participate in this initiative.  As are all students at the beginning of the semester, they were both excited and nervous about their classes.  They had just returned from meeting with President Harris and they told me how welcomed they felt at USD and how anxious they were to “join” our community and for our USD community to “join” theirs.  They asked me how they could get involved with changemaking at USD and their desire to meet with the Changemaker Student Committee and share ideas.  It was an inspiring meeting and drove home thinking how fortunate USD is to be in such a vibrant and engaged community.

For me, what is special about this group of students is that they have dedicated their lives to the practice of changemaking.  Whereas there are many students, faculty, and staff that either aspire to make a positive difference in the world, or who are beginning their journeys along this path, these Leaders in Action are in the midst of seeking to improve education, healthcare, and civic engagement in Linda Vista.   While six of these Leaders in Action are taking classes at USD this semester, there is much that the USD community can learn from them as we seek to make promote positive social change on campus and beyond.  The Leaders in Action are not only role models of active, responsible citizens but they possess wisdom and knowledge that can benefit all of us.  It is indeed an honor that they are with us and I can only hope that they acquire as much knowledge in their classes and they will no doubt share with the USD community.

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