Bronwyn Fulton, a Tufts University Laidlaw Scholar, on designing and implementing affordable, empowering, enrichment-based summer programming for elementary students
Research title: Literacy and Civic Action: Asset-Based Community Research in Somerville, Massachusetts
In the summer of 2020, I engaged in asset-based community research in the city of Somerville to investigate the need for and efficacy of affordable, empowering, enrichment-based summer programming for elementary students. The goal of my research was to investigate the viability, accessibility, and quality of curricula of existing summer programs. Additionally, I aimed to explore the benefits of implementing a new, empowering program in the future. To pursue this research, I utilized pre-existing community connections, and also built upon past work experience with enrichment-based summer programming. My research from this summer concluded that both a community desire and need for affordable summer programming existed. As such, I spent the next year working in collaboration with community stakeholders to create and implement an affordable, empowering, and enriching summer program in the East Somerville community.
For my Leadership in Action experience in the summer of 2021, I piloted and directed a program called YouthRising. YouthRising is a completely free, four-week summer enrichment program with full-day programming for Black and Brown elementary students who qualify for free or reduced-lunch. The YouthRising model is rooted in an empowering and inclusive pedagogy which empowers students and their learning by engaging youth in critical dialogue about identity, and inspires civic action. This program was founded with the support and expertise of Building Audacity, a nonprofit that works to cultivate empathy, equity, and empowerment in greater Boston.
In the summer of 2021, we provided completely free, empowering, and enriching summer programming to 40 youth in East Somerville! In addition, the YouthRising program employed 8 wonderful staff members, many of whom are residents of East Somerville. Being able to participate in and direct this program was an incredible honor and privilege, and I am so grateful for the support of all of those who helped bring this vision to life!
Where did your passion for this research originate?
My passion for this work is rooted in the joy that I feel in working to authentically see and hear others, and in being witness to collective empowerment. I strongly believe that we rise by lifting others, and that no one can achieve true freedom until all of us are free (Fannie Lou Hamer, 1971). I also hold true that “we who believe in freedom cannot rest” (Ella Baker, 1964) and to achieve this, we must prioritize and center the needs and voices of the most marginalized.
In high school, I participated in an entrepreneurship program for young women called Stiletto Boss University. In this program, I not only learned the basics of entrepreneurship, finance, and networking, but also forged meaningful relationships with my fellow participants and mentor, which helped me to learn about the countless privileges in my life that I was taking for granted.
As I have had the privilege of pursuing higher education, I have learned more and more about the deeply entrenched inequities in our society, and the oppressive systems that reinforce them. I believe that this knowledge, and the privileges that society grants to my identity as an educated white woman come with a responsibility to work to eradicate systems and sources of injustice. This responsibility also entails acknowledging my own places in oppressive systems and how I benefit from them directly, simultaneously while imagining a world where radical liberation is realized. My work with YouthRising is a manifestation of this belief.
What is the most memorable moment from your Laidlaw experience?
The most memorable moments from my Laidlaw experience definitely come from the YouthRising program last summer - more specifically, from the youth who participated in the program. There are so many moments of pure joy from those four weeks that I feel so incredibly honored to have been a part of - from paper airplane flying contests to our field trip to a local zoo, to meal times, field days, and art projects - it makes it so hard to choose just one! Every single day of those four weeks, these youth would do something so amazing, it would just blow me away all over again - in the very best way possible. And perhaps the best of all was seeing the way that these youth - who were going through such a critical time in their lives in the midst of an extremely isolating, painful global pandemic - interacted and cared for each other, empowering and affirming each other even and especially in the midst of hard situations. That is one of the most beautiful things imaginable, and words don’t seem adequate to express how honored I feel to bear witness to the incredible joy, empathy, resilience, and power that these youth embody.
What is the biggest challenge you came across, and what did you learn from it?
Simply existing in the midst of a global pandemic is and has been a huge challenge - one that we have all experienced to varying degrees for more than two years now. Throughout the course of my research, I encountered a variety of challenges, from struggling to source funding for the YouthRising program, to making meaningful connections and partnerships remotely, coordinating the actual logistics of directing a summer program, assessing the applicability of the curriculum in real time, and more.
All of these challenges have given me much to think about and reflect upon as I move forward, and I think the one that sticks out to me the most is the challenge of what to do as we move forward in this continuing pandemic, both as a collective society, and as individuals. These past two years have been a time of incredible pain, suffering, and loss for almost everyone, and especially for our young people, as they have lost critical and formative years of their lives. Moving forward, I hope that we will embrace this challenge and work to center the needs, dreams, voices, and futures of our youth across the board by investing time and resources into programs and organizations that empower youth.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
For me, beyond anything, being a Laidlaw Scholar is such an immense privilege. Without the support and mentorship of the Tufts Laidlaw team, I would not have been able to conduct this research, or provide the level and quality of summer programming that was provided in the 2021 YouthRising program. To have this opportunity is beyond an honor, and I feel so grateful and humbled to be a part of this worldwide community, and to have the privilege of engaging in this type of work.
Which leaders inspire you and why?
One of the most inspiring people that I’ve ever met is the founder and leader of Building Audacity, Nakia Navarro. Since we met, she has been someone who I look up to immensely, as a mentor, a coach, and a cheerleader, and overall, a really awesome human being. Without her support, incredible depth of knowledge, encouragement, and expertise, the YouthRising program would not be what it is today. I am forever indebted to Nakia for all that she has done for me, and I feel so humbled to know her.
Like Nakia, other leaders that particularly inspire me are also Black women. From Michelle Obama to Rihanna, Audre Lorde, Bree Newsome, Ayanna Pressley, Stacey Abrams, Tarana Burke, Ella Baker, Viola Davis, Sha'Carri Richardson, Angela Davis, Marsha P. Johnson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sonya Renee Taylor, Phoebe Robinson, Marian Wright Edelman, Jania Massey, Megan Thee Stallion, Tijua Robinson, Laverne Cox, Amanda Gorman, Eve Abraha, and so, so, so many others. I think that everyone can learn something from each of these incredible human beings, especially myself, as a white person, and as a white woman. It is such a privilege to be able to learn from and be inspired by these truly extraordinary leaders, and moving forward, I want to continue to listen to, believe, and learn from Black women.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
I am striving to create a future in which education is truly a vehicle for liberation, where the voices, experiences, and lives of Black, Indigenous, and other youth of color (BIPOC) are valued equitably. I aim to work for a future where BIPOC youth not only have trauma-free learning environments, but are able to co-create learning and living environments that are empowering to and affirming of their identities. I strive for a world in which whiteness is de-centered, and the needs of the most marginalized - across all intersections - are continually and consistently prioritized.
📺 Currently binging: The new season of Queer Eye!!
📚 My top book recommendation: I just started reading “Unbound”by Tarana Burke and I’m already OBSESSED!
🎧 Podcast obsession: I’m not a huge podcast listener so I’ll opt to share one of my favorite online publications. I am a huge fan of adrienne maree brown and really enjoy reading her blog - it is so beautifully written and always gives me something to reflect on and think deeper about!
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Cooking dinner for my roommates and sharing that meal together!
Bronwyn is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at Tufts University. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.
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