Roberto German 00:00
Welcome to Our Classroom. In this space, we talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto German. And Our Classroom is officially in session. In this episode of Our Classroom, Kassie Infante and Dr. Marianela Rivera of the HomePlace Collective join me to discuss raising activists. We'll touch upon democratic citizens in the 21st century USA, how to support positive youth development in their quest for social change in three action steps to drive social change. Dr. Marianela Rivera and Kassie Infante are co-founders of the HomePlace Collective. They are Lawrence, Massachusetts-based scholar-activists, community organizers, and former elected school committee members. They both believe in the power of activism as a tool for social change and the mindset for developing hope. Welcome back to Our Classroom. Hey folks, if you don't know I have the Home Collective with me, you better get with it. These individuals are doing great work in the community of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and beyond. Kassie Infante and Marianela. That's right people. Get with the program, you about to get schooled on civics and support and young folks, and being community activists. We gonna squeeze it in here. All right. We gonna squeeze it in. But you can't get everything in this short episode of Our Classroom, so you're gonna have to follow up with them. I'm telling you now, and I'm telling you early. Follow Home Collective at HPL_Collective. I'll remind y'all again on the back end of things, but you'll find 'em on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Welcome, Kassie and Marianela, Gracias.
Kassie Infante 02:08
Thank you so much for having us here. We're so excited, especially to be with our Lawrence family, being community. We're really happy and we're just so excited.
Marianela Rivera 02:19
Yeah, same. Thank you so much.
Roberto German 02:21
It's our pleasure. It's our pleasure. Well, we're not gonna waste time. Let's get right into it. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the Home Collective? I know, but some of my listeners don't know and they need to learn about the wonderful work that you're doing.
Kassie Infante 02:34
Absolutely. So Marianela and I are scholar-activists, community organizers, community-based educators. We've also worked within classrooms and schools and, you know, we founded HomePlace Collective because we really wanted to further our equity and justice work and education through the lens of civics. And so what we do is we work with schools, nonprofits, any institution that serves young people, and we really help them develop what we call transformational civic skills. And so we're talking about how do we help our young people build the world that we wanna see? How do we get them involved in civics within their own communities? How do we build youth power? Well, that really starts with supporting the adults that, that support young people. And so that's the work that we do. We really build adult capacity to work with young people. And it's all about, you know, raising the next generation of democratic citizens and activists and doing that responsibly in an equitable way. Would you add anything, Marianela?
Marianela Rivera 03:40
No, I think, you know, really it's based of-- it's-- our HomePlace Collective is based off of our lived experiences being school committee members in Lawrence, Massachusetts in a district that's been under state takeover for over a decade now. And so seeing how disenfranchised our community has become as a result of it is really showing the need to really build up the next generation of youth activists.
Roberto German 04:10
Well, let's stay in that place because through your work with HPC focusing on raising the next generation of democratic citizens, what does that mean exactly? Can you define what it means to be a democratic citizen in the 21st century in the United States?
Kassie Infante 04:30
Absolutely. And I think Marianela, bringing our story into it is a perfect segue. You know, we felt in our lived experience that democracy was not playing out in our own community, or at least there was this system that was facilitating undemocratic outcomes. Right? So people in our hometown of Lawrence were not able to vote for school committee members that represented and led their schools. And so that example taught us, you know, the United States in general, even in our own community, we are so far from the ideal democracy that we want to see. And so for us, you know, a democratic citizen is someone who knows and understands their political power and is enthusiastically engaged in political processes. And that can be in and outside of electoral politics and in or outside of government. And there are so many levels and layers to government, right? So for us, our entry point was local politics and government and that was truly transformative. But for us, you know, a democratic citizen is a change-maker. They're a critical thinker. And then activist, ultimately. An activist uses their voice as a tool for social change. And I think the point here around protecting democracy is really understanding that, you know, the political and economic systems around us have historically excluded so many of us, particularly if you're black, indigenous people of color, it really has excluded us. It continues to exclude us. And we can see that in, you know, voter suppression, institutions like receivership, right? Where like, our vote is not actually doing anything to affect the representation of our schools and so much more. What would you add, Marianela?
Marianela Rivera 06:29
Well, what I would add to that is, like, nowadays given education reform efforts, you know, the teaching to the test, I think now more than ever, it's critical to really build up democratic citizens so that we saved this experiment called democracy, right? Like when public education was first advocated for in this country, it was to really create an educated populace. And right now with the battle, right? Against like critical race theory and you know, not knowing facts from fiction, like how do you decide for a reliable source, it's really critical for our youth to be educated in such a way that they are critical thinkers and that they're able to engage in this democracy so that we continue to protect our democratic rights and our freedoms, right? Because we're at a point where we're seeing our democracy erode and it's happening at the school committee level. So it's really important to engage our students in this political discourse and to get them engaged as they're transitioning, you know, from high school to adulthood, and they're registering to vote that they're really being engaged in an authentic way.
Roberto German 07:43
Yeah, I love that. The notion of zeroing in on supporting their development of critical thinking skills. Definitely essential. And also helping them understand how they can make a greater impact for social change. And so how can we as adults support positive youth development in their quest for social change? What does this look like in school setting, community, home? Because I think all those areas, there are responsibilities in which we as adults need to show up and help guide our young people.
Kassie Infante 08:16
Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, I think for us, there's two main points. The first is we need to prioritize civics education. Right now, a big part of why we started HomePlace Collective is because, you know, Marianela mentioned the push around testing. So often in particular, our educators are not being sort of trained and educated around issues of civics because there's so much emphasis from a professional development perspective on English and mathematics, which of course is really important. But that often means that civics and humanities educators or social studies teachers don't necessarily get the support they need. And so for us, we really need to prioritize civics. And that means, you know, within schools, we need to first of all teach accurate and culturally relevant history. Because when marginalized students know about their history and they know about the stories of resistance, for example, they are moved and inspired to action. They understand that there is unfinished work. And I think, you know, specific examples of that include social movements and activism history that have really shaped who we are today and that continue to shape that. I think about in Lawrence, for example, there's some great-- there's some amazing educators who bring in conversations about labor rights and they bring in the Bread and Roses strike that happened in Lawrence. I'm thinking about, you know, conversations about the movement for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter, and discussions in context with the civil rights movement and how that journey has continued. I think that's really important.
And then not just within history and humanities, any educator or anyone that works with youth in schools can really encourage inquiry-based learning and conversations. Having equitable sociopolitical discourse is so important. So choosing not to shy away from those conversations and really seeing and understanding that almost everything is inherently political, right? Education, education, how, where, and why students learn. Those are all political decisions, and that can be a little bit intimidating. But having-- choosing to have discourse over debate, we were really big on that. Discourse over debate on any topic is really important. And then the last thing I would say is, you know, providing place-based learning opportunities within communities. We do a lot of work around critical participatory action research, which is basically a way for marginalized people, in particular young people to lead inquiry and research within their own community on an issue that's directly affecting them. And so this really pivots what we think of research as, which is like outside sort of experts coming in and researching said subjects. This is really about letting youth take the lead. And then I'll let Marianela talk about-- what about like, in our community we do.
Marianela Rivera 11:36
Well, in our communities, specifically our nonprofits many youth are put in positions where they're feeling tokenized and used as decorations. So it's really important that we confront the adultism that happens. 'Cause the youth are the most disenfranchised. They don't have a say or a vote in terms of what happens to their education and thereby what affects them in terms of their future and success. And so it's really important that we confront Adultism that happens in those settings. And then in addition to that, I mean, we really need to talk about-- 'cause it's a village, right? And so we need to talk about what happens in the home. And oftentimes, you know, there's this, like, we don't talk about politics at the dinner table for fear of getting into these arguments. And so, you know, creating an environment in a setting within the home that is a safe space where we can talk about our different viewpoints and our different lived experiences and talk about, you know, the issues-- the societal issues that are affecting us and what are ways we can engage, you know, within our communities to help, you know, really, you know, resolve those issues. So I think those, you know, those are ways in which, you know, we can address that.
Roberto German 12:52
Yeah. Go ahead. No, I was gonna say, I'm curious to know if y'all do trainings or offer opportunities to help folks understand how to develop those type of rhythms within their households, right? Because of what you said. Because of the fact that sometimes there's this whole, you know, we're not gonna talk about politics or maybe there's just one person talking. You know, but how do we normalize the conversation around what's happening on the political front and not just on the national level, right? Let's also talk about what's happening locally and often locally is where we gotta have more of this discourse. So I'm curious to know if you offer trainings or there are guides to support families in actually developing this kind of rhythm set in this type of environment in their household, in which it is a norm for us to engage in these political conversations and to think about how we strategically approach issues that impact all of us.
Kassie Infante 13:53
Absolutely. We do offer trainings and I would say, you know, those trainings are really informed by our community and family engagement work that we've done through our school committee role as well as in our local community organizing efforts. I think we also, you know, we also work with a number of nonprofits who are struggling in terms of their parent engagement for example. And so they're thinking about how do we get parents engaged in this specific social issue that we're looking to fix within the community. I know Lawrence, for example, is a community that has a lot of nonprofits doing good work in the areas of community and social change. And so it's really about finding those pathways for involvement that makes sense. Because I think, you know, we talk about like modeling participation for the young people in our lives at any level that's feasible, right? And so it could be as simple as speaking up, calling folks into conversations when you see instances of bias or racism at the Thanksgiving dinner table, for example. And even talking about what is Thanksgiving? Why are we here? And talking about like the historical analysis behind that. And so we really encourage parents to see that as a form of activism as well, that it doesn't always have to be sort of the external-- [overlapping] Yeah. Like, I think when we talk about activism, we have to deconstruct that term as well. Because for so many, they think of protest, they think of direct action, which is absolutely an important part of activism and has shaped us historically. But for us also, activism is too, doing the inner work, right? Becoming a little bit more critically conscious, having more root cause analysis, either in the classroom or at home.
One of the best ways to do this that we've seen at home in particular, 'cause you asked about parents, is using literature and diverse media sources to have conversations. You don't have to be a subject matter expert, it's just as simple as asking your young person, what do you think about this? What do you notice? What feels, you know, relevant to our hometown? And then, you know, gradually working your way to conversations about power. I think that for us has been-- that seems to really be a catalyst for young people, is talking about who do you notice, you know, has power? What is the power structure in this movie and how does that influence the way they move in the world and what's happening? And so using books, you know, Netflix show whatever you're watching, like, there's always a conversation to be had and, you know, you don't have to be an expert or know everything to have it.
Roberto German 16:42
Yeah. You know, it makes me-- there's a couple things that y'all said that's really resonating with me. The one was earlier, the term was used discourse over debate. And I talk about this a lot with different guests. The fact that there's so much tension in our country. There's so much divide and there's a lot of folks who are yelling or talking and not listening, right? We should be able to come to the table, even if we're in disagreement, we should at least be able to engage in a discourse, right? So I love that framing of discourse over debate. And if you don't create a t-shirt out of it, I will.
Kassie Infante 17:28
On it. On it.
Roberto German 17:30
Okay. Okay. I'll pump the breaks. But yeah, there's a lot of RR and not enough LPR. And LPR is listen, process, respond. Listen, process, respond. I just came up with that, by the way.
Kassie Infante 17:50
Okay. You put it on a T-shirt.
Marianela Rivera 17:53
That was a framework. I thought that was a framework.
Roberto German 17:55
I already started. I already started in my notes. But seriously, you know, folks, we have to do better in terms of engaging as active listeners and not being so quick to do what people do on social media, which is like, yo, I'm gonna be a keyboard warrior. You know, I'm shooting them up with my comments. You know, just listen. It's okay. Like, somebody has a different perspective and maybe it's even something that's way off. But listen, right? Listen first, and then let's try to understand. Like, all right, what's really being said here? Where's it coming from? And then, yeah. Then you might wanna respond. And I say might because I don't think we gotta respond to everything. I think we've developed a habit in our country where people feel the need to have a comeback for everything. Oh, I gotta clap back and I gotta clap now. And whoever claps the loudest also gets the most attention, right? Whether we're talking about a tweet that somebody puts out or something, an IG, or whatever the case may be. And so, I love this notion of discourse over debate. So thank you for naming that. So the HomePlace Collective helps educational institutions, community spaces, and nonprofits, drive social change by, as you said, building transformational civic skills and critical sociopolitical literacy. What are three action steps in this area that we could all implement to drive social change and ultimately build transformational civic skills and critical sociopolitical literacy?
Kassie Infante 19:50
Absolutely. And I know those are big terms, so I feel like I should--
Marianela Rivera 19:54
We gotta break them down a little bit.
Kassie Infante 19:55
I know. We gotta define them a little bit 'cause I don't know that I did that yet. But, you know, for us transformational skills means that we know how to change the systems around us to deliver more equitable outcomes and to have a world of justice that we want. Navigational versus navigational is really just, you know, teaching our young people how to navigate the world the way it is. You know, even though we know it's unjust, right? And so for us, a part of what motivates us is knowing there's so many amazing services, for example, and nonprofits doing work around college readiness, job readiness. Those things are really important. And they are insufficient in the sense that they're not necessarily teaching young people how to be change-makers, right? How to be that democratic citizen.
And so for us, we really feel about, you know, instilling transformational skills and those are all of the topics that we've talked about so far in a sense. But I think when we think about, like, the three things, Marianela and I were talking about it, like, for us it has to start with self. Because transforming yourself and really thinking deeply of removing sort of these systems of oppression that have become so normalized. That's internal work. You have to be able to see the systems before you can change them and take action. So the first one I'll talk about is develop your inner activist. Like, that's the number one step. What fires you up? What is the issue that you want to work on? And it could be very simply, you know, learning more and understanding about it. There's this great activity called mapping your role in social change that's a resource for everyone that they can find on the internet. And that talks about how you can be the fire, you can be the person at the protest, but you can also be the light. You know, you can be the person who is calling folks in your family and having more critical discussions. So, you know, becoming a little bit more critically conscious around issues of injustice, finding the root cause, finding the system. Another great resource, This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up and Do The Work by Tiffany Jewell. I wanna shout out Tiffany Jewell. That book is amazing. And so I think doing the self-work is one step.
Marianela Rivera 22:30
It's 'The step.' It's the first step. And I wanna say why, because it goes back to that quote like, 'If you wanna change the world, you have to first start by changing yourself,' right? And so everybody has implicit biases, everybody has them. So you really have to check them and do that internal work and be able to, you know, help facilitate the development of your own critical thinking skills. 'Cause, you know, for us, it didn't develop until we went to graduate school. Like I really was just completely like, you know, smoke and mirrors. Like I was living in a world where I didn't think that racism existed. Like, 'cause I thought-- 'cause that's the way they teach us in school, right? Like, after the civil rights movement and, you know, like everything was good after that, right? But then when I became awakened then I really understood what was happening in the world and I started critically thinking around the social injustices that were happening around me. That's when I started to develop those skills. That's when I ran for office and started engaging in social justice movement. So that's like 'The step.' It's like number one to do the self-work. The next step I would say is within your community is building relationships with your elected officials at all levels.
You know, oftentimes, you know, the only time we engage in civics and like, I'm just gonna keep it real, is like we vote for the president every four years. Like, most people, just like, that's the time when they engage in governance, right? But in reality, you should be developing relationships, especially if you have kids in school. You should have relationships with your school committee members and understand, you know, budget season and, you know, how to advocate for school policies to better support, you know, the success of your child, you know, with their education. You know, your city council members, you know. And not even just to reach out to them when there's a pothole in the city, you know what I'm saying? But like, when something's affecting your neighbor, it might not necessarily affect you directly, but if it affects your neighbor, you should feel like it's something that affects yourself because it's affecting the neighborhood and the energy and the space around you. So I think it's really, really critical to develop those relationships with your elected officials so that you can help to advocate for the change that's needed locally and at a statewide level as well.
Kassie Infante 24:43
And I would just add to that if you are so inclined I think for folks that feel space-- that feel safe, excuse me, and have the capacity, you know, there's so much work that, we mentioned this earlier, there's so much that happens outside of government and that's at the community organizing level. And I think especially in recent years, there's more conversation and public dialogue about transformative justice, right? And these transformative skills that we're talking about. What we're talking-- there's a lot of work happening around community-based solutions. Mutual aid networks is a great example of that. And so there are really sort of non-traditional ways to be involved civically that really speak to building off of the assets that are in communities that are really rooted in relationships and relationship building and really moving towards, you know, equity, justice and liberation. And so there is something for everyone. And more than anything, we just wanna encourage some type of participation. I think Marianela brings up a good point about the voting. Like it's so much more than voting.
Marianela Rivera 25:51
It's real. Like, we gotta talk about that. Like, it's more than just voting every four years for the president
Roberto German 25:57
No, no, absolutely. That's good stuff right there. And, you know, I think that it's important to ask this type of question 'cause I want people to be able to take tangible action steps and implement them right away. And so definitely, definitely important for us to be self-aware, develop relationships with local government officials, and also move towards action that's centered on justice. So I want you to-- well, let's pivot a little bit. I wanna think about people that you respect, and if you had the opportunity to have lunch with any scholar, activist, or community organizer, who would it be and why?
Kassie Infante 26:50
Yes. And so I chose someone who is no longer with us. I hope that's okay.
Marianela Rivera 26:57
No. We were wondering if this question was like dead or alive.
Roberto German 27:01
Yes. Yes. It's always dead or alive.
Marianela Rivera 27:07
Kassie Infante 27:10
I knew it. I knew it.
Roberto German 27:11
I didn't write it down this time for whatever reason, I just missed it, but yes, it should--
Kassie Infante 27:16
Oh, that's okay. I love it. I know we pay homage to our ancestors in this work, right? I think activism is so deeply rooted in our ancestral resilience as people of color. And I think that's beautiful. I think for me, I'm gonna go with bell hooks, may her soul rest in peace. She passed away recently. We are actually named after her. So HomePlace Collective comes from an essay that bell hooks wrote called Home Place, A Site of Critical Resistance. And in it, she talks about how enslaved people built their own home places as places where they could, you know, where they could self-determinate and where they could matter and love in ways that the outside world denied them. And that really felt instrumental in us as a place that we really wanna build these types of sites of resistance everywhere, whether it's in ourselves, in our schools, in our homes. And I think just broadly speaking, you know, bell hooks really talks about love as an ethic in her activism. And she did a lot of work disrupting higher education around her black queer feminism work. And that feels really salient. She did things like disrupt graduation speeches that she was invited to. She would use those opportunities to, you know, shed light on injustice. And I think that's really neat to sort of forge your own spaces of activism even in a thing like a commencement speech. So that's who I would pick.
Marianela Rivera 29:01
And I would pick Dr. Angela Davis. And the reason is because while I was a school committee member I was labeled as radical and I was politically ostracized for advocating for return of local control of our schools. Because as a school committee member, I was doing the research, I was advocating for evidence-based policy. I was uplifting the voices of my constituents, and I was constantly hitting walls. And so I was very frustrated in that regard. And so I was constantly seeking inspiration. And I came across Dr. Angela Davis's quote you know, 'Radical simply means grasping at the root.' And so when I was labeled radical, I took that as an honor after reading that quote, because I knew I was trying to grasp at the root of things, and I was trying to be the school committee member that my constituents elected me to be. And I really leaned on her and everything that she's done for support in my activism work. I mean, the fact that she was on the FBI's Most Wanted List, and then she defended herself in court. I mean, like, I could go on and on about her. But like, she's definitely a big source of inspiration for me and someone I would, you know, love the opportunity to have lunch with.
Roberto German 30:27
Yeah, absolutely incredible. I mean, the fact that Angela Davis is still alive, how about that?
Kassie Infante 30:32
Yes! Yes! Absolutely.
Roberto German 30:35
We know that some of these agencies have knocked off some of our most powerful leaders. So the fact that she's still alive is a testament to her resilience.
Marianela Rivera 30:50
Roberto German 30:51
So for those that are listening, what is a message of encouragement you want to offer them?
Kassie Infante 30:59
Ooh, I would say change is possible. Another world is possible. And that is not my quote, I just wanna say that. I think it was someone named Arundhati who said that. But your voice is your power. Use it in any way that makes sense for you, in any way that you feel safe. But just know that challenging the status quo is the right thing to do for justice and equity. And change is possible. Those are my words.
Marianela Rivera 31:30
Those are super inspiring words, Kassie.
Kassie Infante 31:32
I hope so.
Marianela Rivera 31:33
I love it. I think my encouragement, you know, especially for those seeking to start activism work, and they might be in a space where like no one's speaking up and they feel compelled to speak up but there's that like inherent fear that what if they speak up, they might be retaliated against. I know that fear because I experienced it. And so what I would say to that is, you know, don't be afraid to speak up and live your truth, right? And share your lived experiences. Because what I've experienced from pushing past that fear is meeting some amazing people and being able to create community and organize for education justice. Because, you know, I wasn't afraid to speak my truth. I met my best friend Kassie because I was, you know, walking in my truth and really fighting for education justice and Lawrence. So, you know, for those of you out there who are witnessing injustices, but are afraid to speak up, let me tell you, there's beauty behind pushing past that fear. You will be able to organize a group behind you because they'll see you speaking up and they'll be inspired by the work that you do, and they'll wanna join you in your efforts. So that's what I would say.
Kassie Infante 32:58
I'm about to cry. Like happy tears.
Roberto German 33:01
Yes. Yes. There's space for all of that. Thank you for sharing that. Respect the work that y'all been doing and for serving as role models for the community and beyond in terms of the need for us to be present on school committee boards and whatnot. Like, that's something that we gotta continue to talk about, think about, and really encourage others to do the same. So we'll circle back to how we started. Folks, you can follow the HomePlace Collective on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook at HPL_Collective. HPL_Collective. Do so today. Help amplify the work that they're doing and extract knowledge from what they are offering. Y'all be blessed. Thank you very much.
Marianela Rivera 33:58
Roberto German 34:00
As always, your engagement in Our Classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show, and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto German.