Respecting Our Environment and Each Other

In this week’s blog, Community Empowerment Activist, Aisha Williamson-Raun, reflects on her experience as a CEA in a virtual setting. For the CEA class final project, students were asked to think of ways to “Reimagine a Just World”. Read on to learn how Aisha used both experiences in her life and internship experience as a CEA to respond to the prompt. 

Over the year of 2020 during a time in the world where everything felt like it was at rock bottom, I was compelled to use this time in a way that could uplift others and create positive change. Online I found a variety of programs and opportunities in Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good that aligned perfectly. Community Empowerment Activists (CEA) was the program that pulled me in and has changed my perspective on the people and community around me ever since. 

The description online describes CEA as a program that develops students through internship placement with grassroots, advocacy, and base-building organizations and biweekly class meetings but it has been so much more than that. It was truly Community Empowerment. The program allowed us students to actually listen, connect, and grow with others while doing work for the community. It was an experience that brought us in unity to hear from the actual voices of individuals working endlessly in uplifting the community, dismantling systems of oppression, and working towards liberation. As someone coming from a place that almost never shed any light on social issues around us, this was shocking. It was refreshing to know that there are people around us that want to make the world a better place for everyone. Even more, it was inspiring to know that there are people that care about other people, regardless of the struggles each of us already face. I realized this just made people stronger together, as a community. 

At the end of the semester we were encouraged to reflect on our own personal pathway, a social issue that speaks to our heart, and think of ways to “Reimagine a Just World” in a final project. At this point I had been working as an intern with the South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) in uplifting the people in SOMA to hear their experiences regarding their health and gentrification. Before CEA, I had no idea what gentrification was, nor why it was important to anyone before I was placed with this organization. I mainly worked with two wonderful women at first, Alyssa Daulat and Ruby Turalba, who allowed me to learn so much about the impacts of eviction and gentrification on people within SoMa. It was saddening to hear about some of the experiences that people had to go through, all because they needed housing but were being forced out. In some ways, it made me feel like the land was being disrespected too. It reminded me of the native people before us that initially inhabited the land. It made me think “Who does this land really belong to?” 

Eventually I even realized my own part in gentrification. Coming from Los Angeles to USF, I acknowledge that I am a person that has come to inhabit the land of San Francisco just as other gentrifiers. I have seen many unhoused people in both of these heavily populated cities. I have never needed to worry about such hardships in my own life and realized I have so much to offer with my own abilities.

The final project gave me the opportunity to create a website shedding light on the impacts of gentrification and call to action. There are already so many organizations that are resisting gentrification and providing resources for displacement such as SOMCAN, Defend Boyle Heights, Moms 4 Housing, Urban Displacement Project, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Housing Rights Committee of SF, and Right to the City, plus many more. I have no choice but to do my best to commit to uplifting the voices that need to be heard and resist further actions of gentrification that arise. I have no choice but to support groups and coalitions that are making change through resistance, community building, and awareness. I have no choice but to be open minded in creating ways to benefit the community that do not involve oppression and displacement. 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Earth and environment around us. I have a strong love for the sun, the land we stand on, and the water flowing beside us. There is a big connection we have to make between the beautiful Earth beneath us and how we respect it. With encouragement from my inspiring mentor and course instructor, Jackie Ramos,  I uploaded photos that I have taken of nature as an honor to the Earth to my website alongside the information about gentrification. As a community, it is important to respect one another, as well as our environment. 

“The Revolution is Love.” 

Learn more about our Community Empowerment Activists here.

and Right to the CityAnti-Eviction Mapping ProjectDefend Boyle HeightsHousing Rights Committee of SFMoms 4 HousingUrban Displacement Project

Leo T. McCarthy Center • July 1, 2021

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