Community Advocacy: From Knowledge to Action

Kymberly Byrd
By Kymberly Byrd

“[My] spirit, body, and mind have been enlightened.” This quote captures the essence of Community Advocacy: From Knowledge to Action, a course that Vital Village Network piloted at Urban College of Boston in fall 2016. Over two years ago, the network began reflecting on a widespread inequity that exists in our community: community residents devoting hours of their free time to community transformation efforts but receiving no tangible benefits. Though service is an enriching experience, we wanted to identify more meaningful ways to contribute to their long-term personal and professional development. 

We began to explore the feasibility of a credit-for-service model, which offers residents college credit for their community service efforts.  After recognizing the popularity of service learning, we wondered if this approach could be applied in our context. We surveyed 175 individuals and the majority expressed interest in receiving credit for service. We also began to have conversations with institutions that offer Prior Learning Assessment credit in which a student prepares a portfolio highlighting past community service experiences and can receive up to 45 credits. However, this program is limited in scope and credits are not always transferable.

In spring 2016, we had the opportunity to connect with the administration at Urban College of Boston (UCB). UCB is a two-year college established to provide the opportunity for post-secondary education and professional advancement to those in the urban community traditionally underserved by higher education. They support students as they overcome economic, social, and language barriers to achieve academic, personal or professional aspirations. UCB has several existing community partnerships and were hoping to expand their course offerings related to health and wellbeing. Recognizing the mutual need and interest, we piloted a practice-based community advocacy course at the college. 

The foundation of the 15-week course was GRASP, a tool developed by the Medical Legal Partnership Boston that serves as a blueprint for advocacy. The 12 students in the course used this tool to structure their advocacy efforts around homelessness among elders, children with special needs, mental health, and immigration. The course also featured presentations on identity, restorative justice, material hardships, health and wellbeing, and a range of other topics. Conversations on self-care, self-awareness, and self-efficacy were integrated into several sessions. Social change efforts begin to feel overwhelming when individuals are not grounded in who they are and what they’re capable of achieving. The students became profoundly aware of the power of their stories, their voices, and the value of their individual and collective experiences.

We are offering the course again this spring and 12 students are currently partnering with three community-based organizations to support their advocacy efforts in juvenile justice, educational equity, and welfare reform. Next fall, we plan to launch a 2-semester community advocacy certificate program in which students would complete internships to further apply their skills. The course has been a wonderful opportunity to meaningfully engage community residents. We recognize that advocacy is a skill that many community residents already possess and this course provides a framework to enhance those skills and expand their advocacy efforts. We are excited to see our partnership with UCB continue to flourish!


Posted In: Peer to Peer Advocacy