Nearly forty Transform Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA members, Mid-Atlantic Civic Fellows, and other students and community members throughout the Mid-Atlantic region recently participated in a three-part Leadership and Community Engagement Training series facilitated by Urban Rural Action in partnership with Transform Mid-Atlantic. The series was made possible through a grant received by UR Action from the Heterodox Academy to support the organization’s ongoing Mid-Atlantic Dialogue Workshops, Skill-Building, and Campus Expression trainings, which have occurred on campuses and in communities throughout the region in both in-person and online formats.
Urban Rural Action, an independent non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization, was founded in 2018 by Executive Director Joe Bubman and a team of individuals dedicated to creating more opportunities for communities to bridge differences on important issues through meaningful dialogue and collaboration. According to UR Action’s website, “All UR Action programs bring together Americans across divides to: 1) engage in constructive dialogue, 2) deepen understanding of societal challenges, and 3) take action to address those challenges.”
TMA Executive Director Madeline Yates and Associate Director Anthony Wagner met Bubman at a meeting of the Maryland Civic Education Coalition, after which they met to brainstorm future partnership opportunities. Wagner credits one of TMA’s inaugural Mid-Atlantic Civic Fellows, Aubrey Moorman of Gallaudet University, as the inspiration for partnering with UR Action to offer the training series. “At our first fellowship meeting, Aubrey shared that one challenge he has faced as a student leader at Gallaudet is effectively uniting and leading diverse groups of people who may not always agree on important issues and solutions,” said Wagner. UR Action’s training series equips young people and community leaders with tools to create dialogue, analyze complex problems, and create sustainable solutions. The series was composed of three two-hour long sessions facilitated by trained UR Action moderators from May 31 to June 3. Participants engaged in experiential activities and modules focused on the ABCs for Constructive Dialogue, Problem Tree Analysis, and Stakeholder and Influence Mapping.
The ABCs for Constructive Dialogue session empowered participants to analyze best practices for engaging in dialogue with people who hold different views on important challenges and issues – from climate change to food insecurity. During the session focused on Problem Tree Analysis, participants co-learned how to embrace and map out the complexity of important challenges by identifying their causes and effects and, ultimately, developing a theory of change to overcome the challenge. The final session, focused on Stakeholder and Influence Mapping, provided participants with tools and practices to leverage the engagement of community stakeholders and reflect on their individual agency as catalysts for positive social change on their campuses and in their communities. “The future change-makers who participated in the Leadership and Community Engagement training greatly inspired us facilitators,” said Bubman.
“We can’t wait to see how they will apply the collaboration skills they learned to reduce gun violence, promote inclusion, address mental health challenges, and more.”
Zujeidy Aparicio, a TMA AmeriCorps VISTA member at Prince George’s Community College working to create an online resource center for families in the community to make well-informed socio-economic decisions, participated in the series. “I think [these trainings were] great at expanding our way of thinking as we listen to other people’s perspectives [by helping] us learn to communicate better by teaching us to analyze our thoughts and check for understanding,” says Aparicio.
Similarly, 2022-2023 TMA Mid-Atlantic Civic Fellow Aubrey Moorman from Gallaudet University, whose comments inspired the partnership between TMA and UR Action, believes that his participation in the series has provided new tools with which to create meaningful dialogue and empathy as a student leader on campus: “I learned that when it comes to navigating a difficult conversation [on topics] such as race, intersectionality, or even the state of our democracy, it is imperative that you understand the other person’s point-of-view. The process of checking your understanding is as simple as ABC.”
Sulakshmi Vaid, TMA AmeriCorps VISTA member and Mid-Atlantic Civic Fellow at Goldey-Beacom College in Delaware, reflected that the series demonstrated that “transformative work isn’t easy, and having hard conversations is key.” Vaid, whose work at Goldey-Beacom has forged volunteer-based opportunities for college students to partner with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, believes that dialogue not only creates empathy, but encourages us to refine our own convictions and understandings: “We always need to challenge our own beliefs to grow and be able to hear all perspectives, whether we agree or not, so, collectively, we can try to find a place to move forward. It was very encouraging to have that kind of place to learn ways to have those conversations.”
The UR Action training series aligns with TMA’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative, which seeks to advance equity both within the organization and throughout the culture of TMA’s membership in the Maryland, DC, and Delaware region. TMA JEDI and Special Projects AmeriCorps VISTA Leader Zandra Cuff, who participated in the series, believes that opportunities for people to engage in dialogue and co-create innovative solutions to the region’s most challenging problems is part and parcel of the initiative’s short- and long-term goals. “The UR Action training was very beneficial for me, both professionally and personally,” says Cuff. “I learned that listening is key to successfully engaging in dialogue with others, and that the problems we face as a society are very complex – but that also provides us with the opportunity to be creative about solutions.
To learn more about Urban Rural Action, please visit: https://www.uraction.org/.