This April, I had the pleasure of joining in conversation with Elizabeth Yeampierre, an internationally acclaimed climate justice activist and organizer and a celebrated Fordham alumna, at the launch of Fordham’s Seven-Year Green Plan. Something she said years ago has always stuck with me: “The truth is that learning happens across the table, and power is built across the table from each other. I think that I am sharper and a better organizer because I work with young people.”
I could not agree more. Every day, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn from a diverse range of individuals, including frontline community leaders like Elizabeth, accomplished faculty experts in their respective fields, and the young individuals who actively participate in our community engaged learning courses. These young people not only collaborate with us on community development projects but also play a crucial role in constructing sustainable education pathways both locally in New York City and on a global scale. It is truly by centering local communities that we all flourish, and the team here in the Center for Community Engaged Learning lives that truth every day.
The challenges that New York faces are not going away. Here in the Bronx, we know that we must address environmental stressors, such as the Cross Bronx Expressway, to promote better public health for our children. We must also promote strong education and workforce training experiences with lower barriers of entry so that New Yorkers of all ages have the opportunities to thrive in this city we call home. We are facing an unprecedented influx of migrants as we struggle to welcome thousands of new Americans who are seeking the same rights, necessities, and opportunities that brought many of Fordham’s first students and their families to the Bronx over 150 years ago. Additionally, we are still reckoning with a years-long pandemic that robbed many of us of our livelihoods, our health, our peace of mind, and our loved ones. I am most confident in our ability to tackle these urgent challenges and establish Fordham as a genuine institution of justice when I am surrounded by dedicated community leaders who are actively engaged in creating solutions and resolving issues, both on a local and global scale. Consider Nos Quedamos, the Bronx-based grassroots organization that marked its 30th anniversary this summer while actively promoting collective self-determination. This organization is working across public health, environmental justice, housing rights, youth development and more in a community-led integrated strategy to support the wellbeing of individuals living in the South Bronx. Think of the Mary Mitchell Center, which partners with CCEL on tutoring, mentorship, innovative learning and, most recently, on our new farmer’s market in the food desert of Highbridge. Think of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, which partners with Fordham faculty and students to improve air quality and access to green spaces and waterways in the Bronx. Every time Surey convenes Fordham in Community, I am newly inspired by the community-led solutions that our co-educators in the Bronx lead. It is our job at Fordham to bring as many students, faculty and staff into this work and to leverage the tremendous resources of the University in service of these powerful initiatives.
I can see the fruits of our labor when I look at our numbers. We had over 3,000 undergraduates in our programs this year, which means that 3,000 undergraduate students at Fordham spent time at a community organization, mentored a local middle school student, or spent a week learning from community partners abroad in our Global Outreach project. In addition, our Back-To-School Festival and backpack giveaway connected over 4,000 community members with much-needed school supplies, as well as entry points to wrap- around community services. We also welcomed hundreds of high school students to campus as part of our Post-Secondary Pathways program; student mentors lead local students in tours of campus and workshops that support them on the pathway to college. Lastly, we dramatically expanded our summer program to offer over 100 Bronx students a five-week Project Based Learning experience on campus or an internship in a campus office. These examples are just a snapshot of the year; in what follows you will see much more.
None of these accomplishments would have been possible without your continued partnership and friendship. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to you for your unwavering support and commitment to our mission and your commitment of your time, resources, and guidance to the work ahead. You are the reason that Fordham is a place not only in New York City but of New York City, and your vision has brought us where we are today. Page back to take a look at our vision for the future - we think that the sky is the limit for community engagement at Fordham. Thank you, thank you - we cannot say it enough.
With profound gratitude,
Julie Gafney, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice President for Strategic Mission Initiatives and Executive Director, The Center for Community Engaged Learning