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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

As I reflect on my time here at Milano, there are a few things that I think about. One is that I’m going to miss many of the people here after we go our different ways. I’ve met some brilliant, kind, passionate people here. Another thing is that the policy analysis framework is something that I anticipate will be useful far down the road.

But there’s another thought that I have, a thought that I didn’t expect to have when I came into the program. Certain policy issues and neighborhoods tend to be invisible at Milano. In other words, we just don’t see them.

I came to Milano because I have a burning desire to serve my community of Harlem in particular and urban black neighborhoods in general. I thought that at Milano, I would find a community of aspiring policy makers and scholars actively engaged in urban policy matters that directly impact urban communities of color. Sadly, this is not the case. This is not to say that Milano is completely devoid of any discussion of urban communities of color, but there is not the level of emphasis I would like to see in a program that is supposed to offer an alternative to Columbia’s SIPA and NYU’s Wagner. We only have a couple of courses that directly address issues of race, and both of them, to my knowledge, are taught by one professor – Darrick Hamilton. I think Leigh Graham’s classes may also address issues of race, but her Economic Development course wasn’t offered this semester and she’s off to another university next fall. Karen Merson has led the Making a Difference course, but my understanding is that the course is more of a general question-your-assumptions survey of oppression.

I think an urban policy program rooted in social justice should have greater emphasis on the plight and assets of urban communities of color and the potential policy options to improve the lives of people living in these communities.

Now, I should note that the Laboratory in Issue Analysis and Community Development Finance Lab has featured neighborhoods of color including Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brownsville. Political Economy of City definitely includes discussions of race and class but its only a piece. The course helps students understand how ghettoes came to be but doesn’t take the next step in examining possible policy solutions.

I think that a large reason why urban policy impacting communities of color is noticeably absent at Milano is because urban policy aimed at the improvement of communities of color is noticeably absent from government at all levels (notwithstanding Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative). Ironically, we learn about neoliberalism and the devolution of government over the past 30 – 40 years, but we do not examine potential policy alternatives to compensate. Just because the Federal Government isn’t funding community action programs and community development corporations like it was in the 1960’s doesn’t mean that problems that gave rise to such programs have been solved. It seems that once the Empowerment Zones money ran out, once Boyz N the Hood became cliché, and once hip-hop became the best-selling music genre, the problems facing urban communities of color weren’t “sexy” policy issues anymore. At best, we look at pieces – urban education (charter schools vs. district schools), affordable housing, and food deserts. But what about the whole picture?

How can we send policy makers out into the world without ensuring that they have a full understanding of how urban policy has impacted urban communities of color? How can we do this and claim to be a social justice institution?  The Obama Administration was supposed to shine a new light on urban policy in America, but the President’s urban policy efforts seem to be going nowhere fast. As a heterodox and social justice-oriented institution and program, we should not be constrained by what’s hot right now. Of course there is the reality of offering programs and courses based on demand. I’m not challenging that, but what I am saying is that Milano should not just be driven by consumer demand, it should encourage students to engage issues that are overlooked in the popular policy discourse. Milano needs to have a greater emphasis on race, class, and what’s going on in communities of color across the city.

EDITED TO ADD: I also have to give a shout out to Robert Zdenek’s Community Development course. Unfortunately it’s not being offered next year. Supply and demand.

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It’s been three weeks since classes started, but it feels closer to three months. The hardest thing so far has been finding a schedule that works for both the personal and the school stuff as well as realizing many of the great talks on campus happen while I’m in class during the evenings. As a Year One my schedule consists of schoolwide and program core courses and so far it’s been a mixed blessing. The biggest benefit has been the heavy concentration of other Year Ones in the classes, this has served to take off some of the hesitation about being vocal during class for fear of sounding  ‘stupid’.  On the other hand having core courses have given me mixed feelings about the collection of courses I am taking this semester. By far the most difficult course for me this semester is my economics class. Initially I was considering taking Quantitative Methods, but after the student panel during orientation I decided to go with the economics core course – Economics for Management and Public Policy.  Part of the difficulty lies in having the dominant part of my grade determined by the midterm and the final (80 percent), with homework and classroom participation making up the remainder of the grade. Essentially, it’s a microeconomics course and while supply and demand may work for widgets and widget consultancies, it is hard to map that on to the nonprofit sector which is essentially answering the need for services that the for profit sector was unable to find a profit driven response too….

By far my favorite course has been Making a Difference: Global, Organizational and Individual Perspectives of Social Change.  This class demands my engagement and then once engaged it smacks me around a bit … just to send me out into the school week a little pissed (which is a good thing). The readings test my base knowledge and understanding of critical thought while giving me enough gristle to wrestle with the stuff I don’t know yet. This is one of the rare classes over my college career (both undergrad and grad) that I’ve found myself looking for other readings to supplement the assignments for the week because I want to be better prepared for the class.

As it stands my Theory and Practice of NonProfit Management class is my least favorite course this semester. Essentially, it’s a survey course and I believe for me after 5 solid years of nonprofit experience I was looking for more ‘theory’ and less ‘practice’. We read …. we talk…[we are] getting bored and it’s only week four. Hopefully, the professor will recognize the lack of participation as a cry for help and will shift to meet our needs.

The tally thus far for reading (in pages): 114 (week 1), 201 (week 2), and 234 (week 3)….

Eulalia

PS  – I’ve added a couple of pics from this week’s ‘snow day’….school was canceled which was good for me (as my new notebook was delivered) but was a dud for the snow enthusiasts. NYC only received 8-9 inches while my hometown of Philly (a 2-hour drive away) is sitting in 88 inches worth of snow (over the course of back to back weekend snow sessions).

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At the end of August (2008) I was gearing up for our EOY (end of year) individual appeal, and had drafted a letter which referenced the recession. Our ED who received his letters in economics, and according to him was the youngest tenured professor at Wharton at one point, summarily told me there wasn’t a recession. While technically Bernake/Paulson/ or whomever had not declared a recession I decided it was a point worth arguing. My ED argued that there are certain parameters that must be in place for a recession to be called and mentioning the ‘R’ word was tantamount to screaming the ‘sky is falling’, and I argued that while I didn’t possess a PhD I knew enough about economics and more importantly understood hood economics to warrant using the “R” word. I explained to him the hood tenet of black folks as the first to suffer from a recession and the last to recover from one, and coupled this with the anecdotal information coming from our own nonprofit. Typically summer was a slow time of the year for us, but we had seen a steady stream of people looking for work and more importantly folks with jobs coming in looking for a better (or second) job. Also, many participants noted that it was difficult to purchase the basic necessities … particularly staples such as milk, paper goods, and meat. During lunchtime it was not odd to hear participants speaking about running up larger tabs at the local bodega (where many poor New Yorkers do a hefty portion of their food shopping) and ‘cutting back’. For the hood, cutting back takes the form of buying a gallon of milk one quart at a time (eventhough this results in a higher gallon cost for families)….or by replacing the staple of chicken with the less expensive substitutes of ox tails and pork parts.

Despite everything I knew I couldn’t convince my ED we were in the right to use the ‘R’ word and that our funders would appreciate the forethought by us of calling a ‘duck’ – a duck. While I am a big proponent of finding professional mentors who you can count on for learning the concrete tasks of your profession I found myself just lacking the background knowledge to articulate my insights, and for me this was the beginning of the realization it was time to go back to school. By the time the holidays rolled around I used vacation time to visit Columbia and NYU to look at program options and to get a sense of the application process. Through acquaintances I had secured inauguration tickets for me and my mom, and while the cold weather kept my mom from heading to DC with me, I decided to do a post-inauguration brunch in Philly with her. By this time there was no doubt we were in a recession and at brunch I decided to share with my mom my desire to go back to school. After almost ten years of giving my mom reasons for not going to grad school, I found myself articulating why this was the time to go. My mom’s main concern was the cost prohibitive factor of returning to school. My youngest sister is still trying to get her undergrad degree and my mom was clear that she wouldn’t be able to help me financially as she was still committed to helping my sister. She also felt that I should be happy that I still had a job and that if I was serious about school I should wait until the recession ‘blew’ over before returning. I had hoped to leave the brunch bolstered by my mom ready to commit to applying to school, but instead I left riddled with anxiety at the thought this perhaps wasn’t the smartest choice to make.

While reticent about the country’s future, my future and more importantly about returning to school I moved forward with applying to school. I prepped for the GRE/GMAT, and took the GRE, visited classes, read blogs by current students and alumni, talked with friends who did various programs, collected immunization/transcripts/recommendation records …. basically I started the process that would dominate 2009 for me. As I visited the various admissions offices I learned that many other folks were applying to school (thanks in part to the recession) but many schools would not be increasing the number of accepts – thus making it ‘harder’ to get into school. I initially had hoped for a fall admit, but ended up waitlisted at one institution and denied by my fail safe. I was ready to chalk it up as maybe my mom was right (it isn’t the right time to consider returning to school), but instead I decided to double up. I increased the number of institutions I applied to and decided to push for a January admit. The strategy paid off …. and I found myself with a few choices for January. I think I have made the best choice in Milano and only time will tell. Overall I am looking forward to being challenged by my classmates and reading material. I am looking forward to challenging myself to embrace the new and lastly to be a bit more proactive than I was as an undergrad. With classes starting tomorrow I am still unsure what to expect (other than more complex math and reading things I don’t like) and I find myself as equally ambivalent as I was starting out the process….on some level I believe this ambivalence will be the only certainty about the next two years.

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I grew up in Philadelphia, 92 miles away from New York City, but in the long (very long) shadow of the city. While many of my peers spoke ‘early and often’ about moving to New York, I always assumed I would move to the nation’s capital – DC. After majoring in political science during my undergrad years I had my DC opportunity. I found myself working as a researcher for the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential cycle and the subsequent recount, and had some surreal moments during my tenure at the DNC such as White House dinners, debate prep, and the constant fear that today would be the day I would go to work and find out I was going to Florida – like right now – due to the recount. After the 2000 election and recount, I along with many of my fellow DNC researchers decided to move forth in the world. A few went on to do research for cable news networks (a burgeoning FoxNews and a transitioning CNN), others went off to law school, and I decided to join the campaign trail again. After turning down an opportunity to work on the 2001 Israeli snap election, due to what I thought would be a ‘crazy’ environment, I ended up working on the ‘crazy’ 2001 mayoral election in New York City.  September 11th was New York’s primary day, and like many in the city and the country by the end of the day the things I thought I knew I no longer felt certain about them.

For me politics was a way to bring about systemic change. I believed by working to elect individuals who could introduce legislation and use the bully pulpit of the office to effect policy shifts, would ensure the things I cared about (such as social security, Medicare, funding for higher education, et al.) would survive and thrive. But after September 11th I realized there were many nonprofit organizations that were carrying out and building the systems for those policies to be effective that were losing funding due to the priority shift towards national security. I began working as a fundraiser and saw how ineffectual leadership within an organization drove away programmatic talent and was unable to draw new talent. With the 2008 financial crisis I realized it was time to step up to the plate and so I applied to Milano for nonprofit management.

Growing up in a city of 1.5M and living in a city of 8.2M, I often find myself defining (and re-defining) what I mean by community and how I valuate the community I’ve defined. Politics taught me the art of crossing community boundaries. The nonprofit world taught me to give edges to the boundaries crossed as well as to see the spaces created by crossing those boundaries. It is the community of Milano that ultimately drove me to accept admission to the program.

— Eulalia

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