For my final project, I chose a mix option between open choice and storytelling. I will discuss the way in which I entered and engaged with a community I am not from, as well as the different levels that I advocated and empowered within my field placement. I will highlight a few of the projects I had the humbled opportunity to lead to shows my efforts to engage with the community and working within social systems.
There are many important steps all social workers must take before working with an individual or community, especially if they do not share the same experiences or identities as you. I have identified a few of the ones I think are most important personally and within the values of CSS. 1) First, you should identify your identities, positionality, power, and privilege. 2)Second, ask yourself what your intentions are for the prospected work and what the community gains from your work. 3) Next, do your best to learn about the community and build relationships. 4) Lastly, identify what you can do to address injustice and community needs, and constantly check in with yourself throughout to find ways to improve your approach.
I have included a link to view what these steps looked like for me before I ended this community. (Must be logged into umich email to view).
After learning more in 697 about ways in which us students enter, engage, and exit communities, I was able to see the faults within the system of field placement or short-term internships. Many students naively enter communities they are not from, learn as much as we can, and then leave. Of course, learning how to effectively work with clients will have it’s impact down the road. But, it seems that more of the benefits are on the student rather than the community benefitted from our service and support, and that is something I kept in mind while beginning to think about where to do my field placement.
When I was seeking a field placement, I had no idea what organization to choose, as I have many interests. One thing I have always wanted to learn more about was my Lebanese/Arab heritage. I only know what I have been told my relatives on my maternal side, as my grandmother who immigrated from Lebanon to the US as a child died before I could meet her. We enjoy cooking Arab food during holidays or random occasions. Other than that, I have a pretty disconnected understanding of this culture and have never taken the time to learn on my free time. I have always identified as white, but being Lebanese is also part of my background. I still struggle with the appropriate way in which to identify myself as so, without coming off as trying to use my heritage to mask my white privileged identity.
Anyway, I decided to go with ACCESS, (the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, widely known as ACCESS), because their mission and values aligned with mine. Although, I primarily wanted to jump out of my comfort zone and fully immerse myself with Arab and Muslim Americans at ACCESS and within a predominately Arab community. I had only visited Dearborn a few times as a child, but remember I was always so amazed at the rich culture that was missing from my home community.
Just to give a little background info, I work in the NNAAC department, which stands for the National Network for Arab American Communities. Our mission is to understand, meet the needs, and represent the concerns of Arab Americans at a local level, while also addressing these issues at a national level. We seek to politically, culturally, socially, and economically empower Arab Americans. We often work alongside other NNAAC members across the nation, and NNAAC is basically the national hub for capacity building with these orgs. We also have a grassroots campaign called TakeOnHate, that focuses on ending discrimination and hate crimes and inspiring a positive perception of Arab and Muslim Americans, and strive to make transformative changes to policy.
Some ways in which NNAAC utilizes community and CSS social change is through grassroots organizing, lobbying, civic engagement, capacity building, volunteerism, and critical consciousness particularly politically and culturally. It has been such an amazing opportunity to have learned so much and have the most welcoming and positive organizational culture and colleagues. I did not know if it was right for me to lobby and organize for issues that impact Muslim and Arab Americans because I still had so much to learn about their culture and traditions. I check into my cultural humility to remind myself that all I can do is build relationships, learn, and share values. I will never know what it is like to be in their shoes as far as experiencing injustice and oppression. I made sure to check back to my entering community steps and insights.
One project I was asked to complete is Student Lobby Day, where undergraduate political science students from various Detroit colleges lobbied on issues they are impacted by and care about. All semester, we were asked to prepare the students for our TakeOnHate priority issues, getting them feeling more comfortable to lobby to officials. When I was asked to do this, it made me feel sort of guilty because I have personally never officially lobbied before, yet I am instructing students on how to do so, and speaking on these issues when many of the students have had experiences with these issues. It made me feel like, why should they listen to me if I am not the expert?
Prior to starting these tasks, the other student and I spoke with the organization about their experiences and what things we should discuss. It was an important step to hear about this from community members.This goes back to my original steps regarding entering a community, the same goes for engaging in new projects where you may not completely identify with the issues you are advocating with. We identified what the main outcomes of the training we would like to see, such as background knowledge and the issues and skills to effectively articulate those in a narrative.
I was also tasked with preparing materials and handouts to give to students, as well as a policy one-pager have students leave it with the official. It made me think back to the different citizen participation in communities where I sort of play a background role. Although I am given the microphone for a bit to facilitate this training before the event, when it came to hearing from the students and allowing them to engage in lobbying, I sat in the back to observe and was there for assistance if needed. I wanted to make sure they were given the platform at their comfortability, while also knowing they had my support.
The event turned out really well. The students and I discussed their experiences after each meeting and we strategized for the next. I had asked if they felt our training helped make them feel more confident this year, as last year the feedback from last years students was that they didn’t feel prepared enough. They had said our support definitely helped prepare them. It made me feel like this way of advocating was definitely a good place to be, especially being new to the community. We also took some time to discuss with the students their career vision and goals, and we were able to share our interests and how social work has many different forms.
Overall, it was an extremely humbling experience working with young people in which they were given the platform to speak on issues that impact their community. I think this is such an important way to advocate and we should always be striving to empower our youth and young people. I did not feel that any of the facilitation and assistance was one-sided, similar to Paulo Fieries model, we both shared experiences, built relationships and trust, and learned a lot from each other. We all talked about how we walked away with so many new insights, such as how important it is to pay attention and communicate with your local government. So, not only was this event impactful for the day, it has also informed myself and the students on these skills and what outcomes and changes can be made if we become more active and critically conscious in our state and local government.
The second ongoing project I had the pleasure of being apart of is collaborating with the League of Woman voters to register youth to vote for this year’s election. We registered over 1,000 students, many of which are still 17. Again, was an amazing experience. We went to schools all over Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, and I had made connections with so many youth different backgrounds. It is important to empower them so they know that their voices matter, and they can be leaders and agents for change. I am so excited to see how the voter turn out ends up this year, the 18-21 age group may be the biggest voting turnout age group this year! It is usually the elder age group that is the biggest.
Upon leaving ACCESS, which I know I will be extremely saddened to do, I will assure that the I leave a least in an assurance that the community benefited from my work, and rather, not solely me benefiting from the opportunity to work with this community. I want to ensure that the work I did is sustainable, and is one way to ensure I attempted to address some needs of the organization and community. I will make sure to document the work I have, leaving my process steps in completing some of these projects. That way, it can be easily completed and improved once I am gone. Secondly, I can continue to support and outreach the concerns and interests of Arab Americans in my daily life.