Training for Change
A young generation of change-makers committed to social justice is getting ready to fight for fairer futures for everybody. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” said Martin Luther King Jr., quoting American 19th century transcendentalist Theodore Parker--and this generation of future planners, activists, and community leaders is undoubtedly going to help bend the arc.
This past weekend, CoLab and the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI) hosted a training in the Bronx for our fantastic group of summer interns. Ten students from different backgrounds, schools, and graduate levels participated in a two-day event, where they got to know each other (along with six staff members from CoLab and BCDI), share with others their internship experiences so far, exchange ideas, and, overall, be part of an enriching and co-generative environment around economic democracy.
Dayna Cunningham and Taina McField, CoLab’s Director and Deputy Director, opened the session on Thursday afternoon. After introducing our vision and values—love and justice, community-defined impact, accountability, and collective creativity—we centered the conversation on Participatory Action Research as an approach to community planning processes, where everybody is considered a co-researcher with valuable and necessary knowledge. Connected to this is reflection work and our deep value of community as experts to our priority around communities exercising agency to advance self-determination. We then delved into the need for cultivating a reflective practice to be aware of the implications and the impact that our own work can have on the communities we work with.
On Saturday morning, we met at the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition for a three-hour session on economic democracy led by BCDI’s director, Evan Caspar-Futterman. We first discussed what we all typically think about when we talk about "economy"—usually, all quantifiable aspects of our interactions as humans that are counted as part of the GDP—before analyzing why so many transactions that take place in the “informal” level are not taken into account and why such understanding of the economy ends up always affecting underrepresented communities.
In the afternoon, CoLab’s Nick Shatan, a Bronxite working with BCDI, guided the crew on a six-hour walk through the Bronx. The extremely hot weather did not prevent us from an exciting tour, where we got to learn about the history of this fascinating borough. From redlining and displacement, to significant social achievements led by grassroots organizations, students were exposed to the multi-layered world of community planning in a highly complex setting like the Bronx. A dinner at La Morada, a family-owned restaurant in South Bronx, was the cherry on the cake after two intense days of collective learning.
There is no laid pathway for system change: if we chose to build social models that constitute an alternative to the hegemonic economic systems in today’s world, we will have to write our own story. But one thing is for certain: with young professionals committed to social change like CoLab’s and BCDI’s summer interns, together we will soon make the arc of justice reach a tipping point from where we will be able to see justice.