Upon entering this class, I thought all organizations were the same– a leader with a group of followers. Through months of readings and insightful discussions, I learned that this was not the case. First off, much of the time, there is no actual leader, in order to be effective there must instead be an organizer. These two differ in that an organizer does exactly what the name implies, organizes and facilitates a group’s collective interests whereas a leader uses a group to carry out their own agendas. In learning about the differences, I explored how to become an effective organizer. In my own life, I have been given many different opportunities where I was deemed a ‘leader’ however, I realized that I was not actually leading but instead attempting to organize. Now, enter this project. I thought I had the whole leader organizer thing figured out, but no. Now we were talking about grassroots organization. I had thought I knew what grassroots meant, but, once again I was wrong. I had deemed many of my own foundations as “grassroots” . I had started them by myself and using extremely limited resources, had grown them effectively. I learned that grassroots did not mean starting from nothing and growing an organization. It was not about the resources or who was starting the group, it was about the community that was initiating the movement. To me, grassroots organizing stems directly from the leader/organizer differentiation. Similar to how a leader is more of a director, a non-grassroots organization involves people carrying out a mission dictated by someone in power whereas a grassroots organization works with the community to make change in that community. The power of a grassroots movement does not just stop at the local level, much of the time, although it is initiated in a community, these movements/organizations build momentum that end up creating change at a national level.
From this project specifically, I learned that effective change does not require the stereotypically aspects of strong leadership. Although ambition and a strong voice are useful, grassroots movements occur because someone wanted to change something in their community.
Furthermore, I had little to no knowledge about the urban education system in America. I knew some things about the negative impacts of test standardization and common core learning but that was about the extent of it. It was always preached to me certain cities just produced students of a different caliber and that was the way it was always going to be. I had also thought that money was the number one thing that was holding these students back. I had thought that if schools could get increased funding, their students would perform better and have better futures. In beginning research for this project, I looked up a whole bunch of problems plaguing the current urban education system. Turns out it was not just money that was holding these students from their potential, it was familial obligations, lack of extracurricular activities and my own topic of interest, language barriers. I had decided to focus on language barrier because it encompassed a problem bigger than I had initially realized. Not being able to do homework with a parent was the least of concerns for many of these students. Being that many of them are immigrants, they had DACA status and jobs to worry about. These students did not have the same cultural knowledge that we just assume comes naturally. This is where I focused on my project, the implications of parental engagement in the urban school system for immigrant students.
All in all, I think that I’ve left this project with a bit of an overwhelmed feeling. In studying a specific issue, I have realized all of the specific issues that are prohibiting students in urban school districts from reaching their full success and this is overwhelming. How can we target so many inequalities? But, amidst this overwhelming feeling, I have also realized that there are so many grassroots organizations, such as the six I found targeting my problem, that are fully dedicated to helping students and this has brought me extreme hope. Starting off, I wanted to just help “urban schools” in general, help them get more money to be more successful, but I am now realizing that that is not an effective approach, we need to involve the community in what they care about if we ever want to make a change and that is what grassroots organizing is all about.