David Holler

The McCarthy Center as a Beacon of Hope

In the complex landscape of today’s world, maintaining hope can be a profound challenge. David M. Holler, the Director of the Martín–Baró Scholars Program, a McCarthy  Faculty Scholar for the 2021-2025 school year, and a devoted member of the University of San Francisco (USF) community, recently reflected on what gives hope. For David, the answer lies within USF itself—the passionate colleagues, the inspiring students of the Martín-Baró Scholars Program, and the exceptional team at the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good (LTMC). As LTMC prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Engage San Francisco program, David highlights the program’s impactful work in The Fillmore/Western Addition neighborhood and extends heartfelt appreciation to the dedicated individuals who have made a difference. 

Like you perhaps, I have been struggling with the difficult dialectics of hope and its opposition.  No one, I think, is immune to the stresses of fending off the ambient toxicity, obloquy, calumny, and difficulty of our times. One could easily invoke Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will” as a touchstone for our times, too. However, as I have been seriously thinking about hope (thanks in great part to a query from Karin Cotterman who, at a recent meeting of the University Council on Community Engagement, asked us all as an icebreaker what gives us hope), I realize that what offers me the most hope is right here at USF—my committed and passionate colleagues, my students in the Martín-Baró Scholars Program (who are, if I’m lucky, my legacy), and also my amazing colleagues at the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good (LTMC). 

As LTMC prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Engage San Francisco program on April 19th, it seems a great time to reflect on the amazing work they have all done. Engage SF, which for a decade has now guided “university students, faculty, and collaborators in achieving community-identified outcomes through collective partnerships and programming that support children, youth, and families in The Fillmore/Western Addition neighborhood.“ Karin Cotterman has been a pillar of support for Engage SF, always willing to do whatever it takes to make sure everyone is heard and that community needs come first. 

Consider, too, the immense efforts and joys involved in Engage SF reaching over four hundred K-5 students in the Western Addition, and think of the unknowable positive impact of more than 350 hours of tutoring that happens every week, which is the work of more than 60 committed literacy tutors. This is such important work and a true indicator of how serious USF is in committing to our Western Addition community.

May I say that I am so pleased to see young students (middle schoolers and high schoolers from the Western Addition) here on our campus participating in various events created by our amazing McCarthy Center Director Derick Brown. Derick is truly a force for good—a paragon of optimism and positive energy at a time when we all sorely need it. 

And I have so much praise for the team at LTMC, most of whom I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from over my 12 years of leading the Martin-Baro Scholars Program. I know well that our program could not be what it is without the support of so many people at the McCarthy Center. Our work with the Faithful Fools (resulting in a book and a short film) could never have happened without their support. Likewise, our hand in working on the Changemakers project, a 200-page book of biographies of African American leaders, could never have happened without their support. That project was the most beautiful and fulfilling work of my life, and it continues to this day.

There are so many people who I think of as my academic family in the McCarthy Center. 

It has been my pleasure to work with Star Plaxton-Moore now for more than a decade. She is an invaluable ally to all community engagement projects across USF. She offers a seminar to both community-engaged learning faculty and community partners and invites us in the warmest way possible to co-create meaningful experiences for our students while also foregrounding community-identified needs. I have learned so much from Star’s scholarship — so many ideas from her seminar come directly into our classroom every day. Her intellectual work informs my work immensely, and I am grateful, and indeed hopeful when I see how she perseveres in doing such important work during these difficult times. 

And I want to send my warmest appreciation to Angie Vuong, director of USF Votes and  Community Engagement and Public Service Programs, who has become an invaluable ally in our class in numerous ways. In the pandemic-thwarted year of 2020, Angie led USF Votes, and indeed all my students, into helping to register so many people to vote. There’s no way to disaggregate our program’s numbers of adding registered voters from our overall numbers, but let’s just say it was a lot. Moreover, Angie is a respected role model for my students: professional and civically minded in a way that they want to emulate and learn from. Angie coordinates the USF in DC Program, the McCarthy Fellows in San Francisco, and our summer internships in Sacramento. Many of my students have had the opportunity to do this work under Angie’s support, and they rave about the experience. Indeed, many have gone on to jobs that help them fulfill the vision and mission of the McCarthy Center and USF.   

I also want to sincerely thank Leslie Lombre for years of support in coordinating so many community-engaged learning efforts over so many years, particularly the Changemakers project. I saw what an incredible ally Leslie is for so many San Franciscans during our work together from 2016-2019. Her work every day helps bridge campus and community and we could never have achieved the well-deserved positive publicity we have received without her.    

And I truly want to thank Jacqueline Ramos who leads the Community-Empowered Activists program, which so many of my students have joined over the years. I think of the Martín-Baró Scholars Program as a launching pad into positive civic engagement, and I think of the CEA program as an invaluable next step as these committed students get to work more deeply in the community over an entire academic year. Jackie’s warmth, positivity, and community commitment are indeed a beacon of hope for our students. 

To a great degree, I owe my professional happiness to working alongside these wonderful people of the McCarthy Center, so this is my sincere note of appreciation and gratitude. Perhaps, as we all decide whether hope can win, we can take a moment and appreciate what we have right here. I often think of these lines from Manilo Argueta, a Salvadoran novelist: “Hope also nourishes us. Not the hope of fools. The other kind. Hope when everything is clear. Awareness.” 

To attend Engage San Francisco’s 10 year anniversary, RSVP here.

Sarina Barot-Martinez • March 26, 2024

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