Lindy Center for Civic Engagement Funding Second Cohort of Anti-Racism Projects

Since the 2021–22 school year, the Lindy Center has offered Anti-Racism Mini Grants to students working in areas focused on dialogue, education, arts and culture, economic mobility and global perspectives.
Four people stand in front of a quilt created by people who participated in the first Courageous Conversation
Participants from the original Courageous Conversation partook in a creative project after the event to help them process and bond with community members. Photo courtesy of Cianni Williams. 

At Drexel University’s Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, one of the ways they define what they do is as “collective problem solving,” Cara Scharf, associate director for civic learning, said.

It’s about working with the people who see problems in a community and have insight on how to come to an inclusive solution. It’s never one person or one group deciding how to solve problems — it’s a collective process, and it has many iterations at the Lindy Center.

Since the 2021–22 school year, one iteration has been the Center’s Anti-Racism Mini Grants, a handful of grants that offer up to $1,000 to students who are doing anti-racism work in areas focused on dialogue, education, arts and culture, economic mobility and global perspectives.

“We ended up with some really wonderful projects that we were funding and this year, we’re just continuing to refine the process and ask ourselves questions,” Scharf said. “Is this accomplishing what we wanted to accomplish in terms of being able to support students who have a vision for projects that use antiracism as a lens and address structural racism? We’re excited about the way it’s played out.”

With $1,000 as the maximum amount of funding a grantee can receive from the Lindy Center for this, Scharf said it’s a good opportunity for someone who has a project that’s already happening rather than someone who is just getting their project started. The mini grant can fund a piece of the pie, like a dinner, focus group or materials.

“We know a lot of grant processes are complicated and then they might just give you money and you don’t develop a relationship, but we didn’t necessarily want to have that kind of transactional interaction with the grantees,” Scharf said. “As the Lindy Center, we have resources that can help enhance projects and help connect grantees with partners that might help push their project forward. We wanted to be available if they needed us.”

The initial funding came from Drexel’s 24 Hours of Impact, and Scharf said Lindy Center staff had conversations about how to connect the money with anti-racism work. The idea for the mini grants came during the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd. It was orchestrated by the Lindy Center’s AmeriCorps Vista volunteer Ariel Bailey, who figured out what the grant would look like, what kind of projects it would fund, how people would apply for it and the other work that comes with crafting a grant program. Since then, the Center has been utilizing AmeriCorps VISTAs through the Partners for Campus Community Engagement organization to help run the grant, collect feedback and prepare it for the next year.

“As a civic engagement office, we realized that statements are not enough, and we wanted to put some money where our mouth was and support people who are doing the work to dismantle racist systems in society,” Scharf said. “That can play out very hyper locally in Philadelphia and the neighborhoods where Drexel’s University City Campus is.”

The Lindy Center, and other entities in the office of University and Community Partnerships, support several education programs in the University City community, along with arts and culture and job training programs, and the grantees’ projects align within those themes. For example, Chelsea Martin, global studies ’24, a grantee in the first cycle, hosted a writing exchange between West Philadelphia community members, Drexel students and incarcerated people to forge communal bonds.

Dialogue and global perspectives are also important to the civic engagement mission of the Lindy Center, and the theme of dialogue is where one grant project this year found its niche.

Text on creative project reading Woven Stories, Courageous Conversations Equity Fellowship
Photo courtesy of Cianni Williams.

It's a program within the Courageous Conversation Global Foundation, which enlists college fellows to train and carry out productive conversations based in race with a mixed audience, Cianni Williams, teacher education ’24, said. Last year, Williams and her grant partner Erin Bailey, elementary education ’25, went through training and hosted a Courageous Conversation event within Drexel, but with their Lindy Center grant, they plan to take it out into the community. They’re in the process of planning a Courageous Conversation to take place with the Drexel and West Philly communities in 2024.

“For a lot of people, this was their first time actually having a productive conversation based on religion, race and culture,” Williams said. “It was fun seeing people that I may have seen in classes or even professors who have taught me have these meaningful conversations. There was no attacking, and everyone was able to speak from their own perspective and be able to have a good night overall and I think that's the reason why I wanted to come back this year and further the message.”

Last year, they worked with the Critical Conversation in Urban Education series within the School of Education. With the funding they’ll receive from the Lindy Center, Williams and Bailey will be able to provide food for attendees, find a space that will hold more people, try hiring a photographer for the event, fund a creative project for attendees and use media assets for the event.

Their goal is to include anyone — regardless of background — inside and outside the Drexel community who is willing to talk. The point is to bring about interracial healing, Williams said, because race impacts everyone.

“It’s important, especially as we educate the next generation to make sure that the present and past generations who work with them are able to cope with and help with their needs,” Williams said. “I’m from Philly, and I want to be an educator in Philly, so I want to make sure the students who may or may not look like me know their stories and voices are heard and appreciated.”

Rebecca Epting, EdD, educational leadership ’23, used her mini grant to add to a program that has already been happening in the Philadelphia area. She brought her dissertation topic — how teachers learn racial literacy — together with the Kindergarten Bridge project, which uses Drexel and Temple University undergraduate education students to prepare rising kindergarteners for school at the Powel School.

The grant funded a lunch and two books for Kindergarten Bridge teachers: “Culturally Responsive Teaching In-Person and Online: An Action Planner for Dynamic Equitable Learning Environments,” which walks teachers through learning anti-racist ideas and how to be a culturally responsive educator, and “Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom” by Matthew Kay, a teacher at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy.

“Racial literacy is something you work on throughout your education career,” Epting said. “These books offer lots of opportunities for reflection and walk you through implicit bias and how to connect with students and families in the classroom. It’s important to understand where students come from and how to use their backgrounds as assets in the classroom.”

Epting hadn’t applied for a grant before this one and was thankful that the Lindy Center made the process beginner friendly. She submitted an outline of the project and discussed what she wanted to get out of it with Scharf and had an easy time requesting the materials she needed throughout the grant.

“Being able to bring those resources to the K-Bridge program without them spending the money on it themselves saves them money they can use for other things in the program, so I think the opportunity was really perfect,” Epting said.

Epting is glad that these new-to-education teachers will now be able to take the books and resources from her training with them throughout their careers. It’s important to get teachers, the majority of whom are white (especially in Philadelphia, where 70 percent of teachers are white while only 14 percent of students are white) started on a journey of learning about racial literacy to support students in classrooms that are increasing in diversity. The demographic disparity is why it's so important to talk about diversity and equity in teaching, Epting said.

“One thing I’ve noticed in the literature is there’s a lot of talking about why it’s important to talk about race, but the steps to implementing it in the classroom aren’t always clear,” Epting said. “It was really helpful to use the resources that the grant funded because teachers were able to implement and reflect on each thing we were talking about. At the end of the program, teachers picked three things they want to implement in their classrooms during the K-Bridge program.”

There are tweaks happening in the mini grant program as it keeps rolling, Scharf said. They’re trying to determine what grantees need by having initial meetings with each person to see what Lindy Center resources they can connect a project with and to see what kind of relationship could be developed with the grantee.

“With some grantees, we’ve had a closer relationship where we’re helping them think through how they want to plan an event or connecting them with different partners,” Scharf said. “For others, they have a very strong sense of the project, or they already have mentorship or support from other offices, so for them, it’s more about making sure they get the funding they need and that they’re able to push their projects forward.”

There are other, more logistical changes being made, like timing and more refined parameters for grantees and projects, but the biggest question is how to make it even more collaborative, Scharf said.

“We don’t want this to just live within the Lindy Center, but involve other offices and stakeholders, because there are many other offices around campus that do anti-racism work,” Scharf said.