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Reflections on our Anti-Racist Community of Practice (CoP)

James Baldwin once stated, “The paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. ”

The civil uprisings of 2020 ignited the consciousness of many. Last spring, Urban Initiatives and CLX launched an Anti-Oppression Community of Practice (CoP). This CoP offered space, time, and tools to reflect on personal and organizational anti-racist and anti-oppression journeys for Chicago’s youth development community.

There were six sessions within the CoP; of which, three were facilitated by Dr. Bianca Baldridge, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In the first facilitated session, Dr. Baldridge provided a grounding in Anti-racism and Anti-Oppressive youth work. She defined and provided examples of what it means to be anti-racist and anti-oppressive. During the practice session, participants led the conversation based on the resources provided by Dr. Baldridge.

From this session's feedback survey a participant stated they learned, “to examine more closely why I am doing this work, why me? I do not come from a disadvantaged background, but I see that the playing field is not level, not fair, and I am very troubled by it. I think [out- of- school time] would benefit from having more diverse voices…”.

After gaining an understanding of the core principles of anti-racist and anti-oppressive work participants were intrigued about how it would work in a nonprofit structure that adheres to funders.

“There is a great deal of alignment around the challenges organizations face when it comes to "managing up" with funders and leadership, fighting against deficit-mindsets and holding the integrity of the work so as not to "chase" grants and shift outcomes based on grant requirements. What does it look like for the mission to be funded rather than shifting the mission to get the funding?” a participant questioned.

This transitioned the cohort to the second facilitated session which focused on engaging youth in conversations about anti-racism and anti-oppression. Dr. Baldridge discussed the age in which children begin noticing race and social class; as well as the importance of critical consciousness and pedagogy in youth development. From this one participant stated, “ we are working in systems of contradictions”; and another mentioned, “ Learning about other people's work was interesting and informative. People in my group worked at a foundation, and in direct service with youth. It was great to hear their perspectives.”

In the final session, Dr. Baldridge focused on creating program environments that affirm youth identity. After providing a deep dive into social identity the group broke out to discuss current and future practices. The session was closed with a sociopolitical context of community-based youth work that highlights the paradox between conscious and obscure current context of the systems of oppression.

Our goal was to assist in the thought process of how anti-racist practices can be implemented into participants' individual journeys and organizational program goals. In CLX fashion, we didn’t claim to be the experts in the room, but the connectors that bring together the brilliance amongst our members.

Of the forty-six organizations that participated listed here, a majority agreed or strongly agreed that their knowledge of key concepts in anti-racist and anti-oppressive youth work improved as a result of these sessions.

Although our last session of this iteration of the CoP was June 4th, CLX and UI are exploring avenues to continue this work. If you were a participant please be on the lookout for the final survey to help aid in our efforts. A full list of curated resources can be found here.

Huge shout out to Healing Illinois and The Chicago Community Trust for supporting this work; as well as, our design team, which consisted of Thrive Chicago, 826CHI, Marwen and Laureus Sport for Good, who helped facilitate and construct practice sessions.