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By: Carrie Hutnick (Lindy Center for Civic Engagement)

This summer, in partnership with the Office of Global Engagement, a group of staff, faculty, students, alumni, and affiliates from The Lindy Center for Civic Engagement facilitated synchronous sessions and asynchronous modules for the 2021 Mandela Washington Fellowship related to community-based learning, engagement and reflection. While constructing discussion sessions and the content for modules, facilitators utilized the Lindy Center’s frameworks for civic and community engagement that seek to create spaces for shared experience and knowledge production where participants co-develop the conditions and tools necessary for authentic relationship-building, critical analysis, and reflection.

Synchronous sessions were led by Cara Scharf, Assistant Director in Community-Based Learning (CBL) at the Lindy Center, and Tais Idi-Infante, a recent graduate from Drexel University and former teaching assistant in Community-Based Learning through the Lindy Center. Cara and Tais focused the two workshop-style meetings with Mandela Washington Fellows to introduce the Lindy Center’s framework for civic and community engagement: “learn, engage, and reflect.” They then led a discussion using that approach to examine gentrification and inequitable access to resources in West Philadelphia as well as local efforts to reclaim land and food sovereignty by residents. The group reflected on connections between conditions in West Philadelphia and the places they live, while considering the potential use of learning, engaging and reflecting as a way to deepen their work on issues they care about. After the session, facilitators reflected on the power of connecting issues happening in places around the world and the ways communities respond. While the particular term “gentrification” was unfamiliar to many Fellows, its meaning and its impact on neighborhoods were familiar to them and what they saw happening in many of their communities.

Asynchronous modules for a Community of Practice (COP) focused on Advocacy were also led by Tais, along with Tiffany Ellis, a co-op for the Lindy Center, Steve Dolph, a Lindy Center Faculty Fellow, and Carrie Hutnick, Associate Director of CBL at the Lindy Center. Also contributing were community partners including John Pace from the Youth Sentencing and Re-entry Project, Leah Reisman from Puentes de Salud, and Naina Ramrakhani from Plenitud, a permaculture farm in Puerto Rico and CBL partner. Participants viewed content introducing CBL as a tool for furthering our understanding of conditions along with their causes and consequences, and provide opportunities for building relationships that can better care for one another and collectively work for change. They were introduced to the format of a reading circle, a tool used by the Lindy Center bringing stakeholders together to read, reflect, and discuss a resource related to community work. Fellows were asked to read a piece by Audre Lorde related to the role of “difference” in advocacy and change. They then viewed three reading circles: the first between Lindy Center facilitators; the second between Tais, Tiffany, and community partners; and the third between Lindy Center facilitators to reflect on the experience and outcomes.

Carrie Hutnick and Adam Zahn led two synchronous discussions for the participants of the COP in Advocacy, where Fellows discussed the reading, the role of difference in their work and the issues they address, and how they might construct a reading circle to enhance their learning, practice and collaboration with others in their field or across issues in their communities. They also reflected on the ways in which difference can both enhance their understanding of experiences and perspectives different than their own, while also creating challenges to challenging views to which one might hold onto firmly.

The process of creating these sessions and modules provided an important space for facilitators to reflect on why and how we use particular frameworks in our approach, and to engage with Fellows working in communities that are both very different from our own while at the same time experiencing similar issues and conditions that shape access to resources, recognition, representation, and safety. Facilitators and Fellows found connection in their experiences, challenges, and motivations for heeding calls for local and social change. They explored together some of the knowledge and skills required of them to effectively contribute to change.  They identified the need for and benefits to spaces for shared reflection and were given a small opportunity to create some of those spaces collaboratively with one another.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a program of the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX.  Drexel University is a sub-grantee of IREX and implemented a Leadership Institute as a part of the 2021 Fellowship.  For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, please visit the Fellowship’s website at