This year has played out differently than how many of us envisioned it would. As the 63rd class of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, we face a distinctive contemporary challenge that no class before us has had to face. Setting a precedent for what could be the new normal for the foreseeable future, we are the first Coro class to participate in a fully virtual program. The group is characterized by a diverse, multifaceted series of worldviews and a passion for impact; Dylan Gray is informed by his childhood and education in Inglewood, CA; Victor Pacheco, by his career thus far in grassroots organizing; Aditi Shenoy brings her dedication to addressing inequity; Angel Lira comes equipped with his experience from interning at the Internet Education Foundation; and Jenna Karic has on-the-ground experience with the Los Angeles City Council.
Our group is brought together by our common interest in positive social change, but our differences are also apparent from the rooms and zip codes from which we log onto Zoom. While it was initially daunting to make connections within a virtual space, after only a few hours, we began forming a community. We are replacing in-person interaction with daily Zoom meetings and discussions on our Slack message board. Instead of collaborating in a conference room over parchment paper, we turned to Mural boards. We embarked on our first project, a detailed, cross-sectoral study of a city within Los Angeles County. Using our differing experiences to our advantage, we began to implement the Coro approach and tools to gain an understanding of Inglewood, the City of Champions.
It seemed natural to separate tasks and focus areas around our placement themes, as well as personal interests. Dylan Gray, Philine Qian, and Marissa Mota began exploring the education sector, both from the public school and non-profit sectors. Concurrently, James Crisafulli collected information from a variety of stake-holding nonprofits. Alden Lundy and Victor Pacheco used personal connections with small business owners, as well as larger corporate partners, to start setting up interviews. Jamie Lam researched Inglewood’s Planning department and their corresponding documents, from projects’ environmental impact reviews to transit-oriented development overlays. From the many inputs we received, we came across an overarching theme, again and again: in Inglewood, there is a disconnect between how different stakeholders envision the ideal future of the city, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, Inglewood’s challenges recalled many of the crises various American cities face today: rising inequality, gentrification, housing costs, lack of access to fresh produce, and an undercurrent of fading cultural heritage.
Other takeaways were informed by our personal expertise and interests. Marissa Mota, who has worked in early childhood education, had an inclination that education and childcare often take a backseat when addressing public services. Marissa saw this oversight from the group as an opportunity to share how much intersectionality happens within education and early child care. On the other end, some of the fellows began to experience “aha moments” as their initial perceptions changed. Angel’s original focus was on labor unions associated with the development projects; however, after reading Professor Mike Sonksen’s work on gentrification and its history in South Central, he pivoted his focus to tenant unions. Philine Qian similarly learned about how tax dollars affect public schools, and this encouraged her to look out for cross-sectoral trends that impact one another directly and indirectly.
Beyond Inglewood, we began learning about leadership– from navigating vastly different personalities for a big group project, to not drawing conclusions before actively listening, we started to think about the process, beyond the outcome. We were all impressed by the content we gleaned from interviews, but more importantly, we began learning how to appropriately and effectively conduct interviews and assess information gathered from a variety of primary and secondary sources. As we reflected on our project timeline, we faced tough discussions surrounding privilege, objectivity, and group dynamics.
With the General Election already underway, in unprecedented conditions, our cohort has internalized the ways in which our current democratic systems both fail and yet sustain our communities. Matthew Rafeedie noted how important local elections are to the Inglewood community, and how those results could affect residents’ day-to-day lives. Our insights on city government in Inglewood, coupled by the problem solving happening on the ground from non-profits and labor unions, provides a framework for us to enter our electoral politics placements.