Working With You, Not Tryna Fix You: Moving Toward Mutual Accountability

An apprenticeship in a family resource center located in the Bayveiw-Hunters Point as well as organizing with an array of people has shifted the way I look at community organizations, non-profits, and leadership styles indefinitely. As someone dedicated to building mass movements around undocumented/immigrant and/or queer/trans issues, I’ve gained an incredible insight to how pivotal family resource centers are in communities historically navigating drug epidemics, poverty, police terror, and genocide in San Francisco. With my time in Public Allies I found my leadership role to be centered on doing work with community, as opposed to doing work for community or to community. While the latter two forms of engagement set up paternalistic undertones for service, the first requires a leadership unafraid to engage people most affected in sharing the responsibility of empowering themselves and through extension their communities.

However, working with communities as opposed to providing services to a community or for them is a difficult task at hand. Being assigned a team service project experiencing a lack of structural support and guidance prompted a group of very frustrated individuals to make the best of ambiguity.  I saw myself take less of the goal-oriented visionary-type facilitator role beat into me as a community organizer take more of a nurturing approach – validating people’s process and keeping everyone accountable to their personal growth. Although very small, I continuously learned how the nature of my community organizing experience was invested in capitalizing upon responsibility due to difficulties with being unable to connect on a personal level. “Let me handle it,” became synonymous with “I don’t trust you can do the job” during my undergraduate career for reasons best left for another time. But, with Public Allies it became a moment for me to genuinely share in the frustration while being open, honest, and empathetic to group dynamics, collective processes, and most importantly a shared vision when finally given clear directives.  For the sake of collaboration it was important to accept a past where transphobia and xenophobia made it impossible to share my truths in college. I came to be empathetic of people’s needs to grow as leaders, organizers, facilitators, and people navigating their own personal narratives.  To me breaking bread became just as important as completing action items, because it is through genuine connections where community organizing become platforms to keep one another accountable to personal as well as communal transformation(s). Without building trust a space can be a really toxic environment to one’s health, spirit, and desire to sustain the integrity behind direct service.

I learned the paradigm challenging organizations to work with communities as opposed to providing services to or for them from a training highlighting the importance of increasing parent engagement. Unfortunately, I found myself as a development and outreach coordinator for the afterschool program performing in a for and to fashion. “These communities need more access to mental health resources,” so I tried to partner with an organization to educate the Bayview-Hunters Point. “These communities need more access higher education,” so I tried to partner with an organization to give our youth a field trips to local universities. I wasted so much time trying to get outside sources into the community, as opposed of honing in on asset-based community development to provide solutions to organizational service gaps. Building upon Rebeca Munoz’s work as a Public Ally last year in developing sustainable curriculum for the youth, I have been able to focus more on outreach and retention efforts. For example, through family appreciation dinners / fundraisers we not only build better relationships with parents, but are also able to create an emergency relief fund for families struggling to make subsidized payments. In our Black History Month Celebration we were able to pack the center full of parents for the first time in a long time while simultaneously informing them of workforce opportunities and family support services. As coordinators of the after school program our team realized how ill-informed the community was about FACES SF. After learning how involved parents want to be in our organization’s growth and development if given the chance to, it has then become our mission to create a parent advisory board to serve as an internal support system for families as well as a well of accountability for the org’s middle and upper management .

I came to learn how in the shadows of FACES SF’s past there was once a parent advisory board discontinued due to a growing fear of empowering parents to create platforms for institutional change and organizational accountability. This came from a mother who has been with FACES SF for about 12 years and two kids in; single parents being the greatest asset in particular. As I prepare to leave my term of service I see effective leadership to be one who keeps continuous self-growth (learning), integrity, inclusion, and an asset-based community development approach to inform my practice moving forward. I am a firm believer that the best solution to communal problems come from the community affected most and proud of all the growth, challenges, and reflection FACES SF and myself will continue to experience as we mature.

In 2011 the Florence Crittenton Services Center merged with the Whitney Young Child Development Center to create what we now know as FACES San Francisco. This merger represents a shared history of more than 170 years of serving San Francisco’s most vulnerable populations. As someone non-native to San Francisco and critical of urban space, it was vital to my understanding that I become attuned to the political, racial, and economic landscape of families and children I’ve been working for these past couple of months. For this is the context in which the FACES SF family support services, child development, and workforce programs takes place – acknowledged or otherwise. What I came into was an afterschool and summer program that has been abandoned due to institutional neglect, but now leave a team of committed individuals carrying the entire organization forward in quality individualized academic and social services for youth and their families.

Lastly, as I look back at my unconventional childhood and adolescence, I am reminded of the ways in which afterschool programs like that of FACES SF saved my life. It was my high school jazz instructor Mr. Smith who taught me to turn to music when my family was being torn apart by drug use. “You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, but how about you show us when you play,” he’d say. It was Dr. Bobby McDaniels who helped me get the classes I needed in high school through the UpWard Bound Program at Los Angeles Valley College. In a training our director for Public Allies once said, “Whether you know it or not, you came to Public Allies to heal.” I was quick to learn that being an afterschool coordinator was much more than piggy-back rides and always being “it” in a game of tag – had I known we’d be so hands on with youth k-6th I would have ran the other way. But, through them I’ve been able to visit my childhood self and learn to be grateful for everyone who modeled the possibilities for me to be great in a world so quick to mute the self-determination of youth like me.

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