Lessons Learned

One of the most eye-opening aspects of this project was the process of looking for grassroots organizations to feature on my website. Through this experience, I found that I was putting myself in the shoes of someone who was looking support to address the needs of English Language Learners, such as a parent of an ELL child. What I found, in large part, was that it was easier to find organizations that offered resources and support, rather than organizations that are geared towards involvement in advocacy. The availability of certain kinds of resources likely affects how grassroots organizations end up being able to serve the community; those that are providing a certain kind of service, rather than activist or advocacy groups, seem to be the easiest to engage with and thus probably have a more significant, direct impact on the community. As an individual with a personal investment in this issue, I would have struggled to find organizations that would allow me to focus on engaging in activism, which may or may not have been a problem, depending on my needs.

Additionally, in finding these resources, I spent a good deal of time scouring websites to try and determine if an organization was grassroots. I would try to assess whether each organization I found was developed out of the community that I was imagining myself to belong to. As someone in search of resources, this would matter to me because I would want to know if an organization was started and run by people who understood me and who had my best interests at heart. This made me realize the importance of being able to recognize if an organization is grassroots or not; if I were in a vulnerable position and looking for support, I would want to be sure I wasn’t going to end up in a situation where I could be exploited or manipulated. The integrity of an organization is not exclusively determined by whether or not it is grassroots, but such a distinction can be a useful indicator of how an organization would treat those it seeks to serve.

This project also showed me that no issues of urban education stand on their own. I first began to realize this when I discovered that no one else in the class had chosen ELLs as their topic of research. Some of my classmates, however, were doing similar projects that involved similar organizations, but had taken a focus on immigration rights. Throughout all my research, I rarely found organizations or even articles that solely addressed the needs of ELLs in terms of language alone. Many organizations that I came across that in some way catered to ELLs were aiming to serve the needs of immigrants more broadly, and ELL needs were a part of the work they were doing. This opened my eyes to the realistic nature of grassroots organizing, and the fact that organizations rarely consider issues in isolation. In reality, people suffer from multiple marginalizations, and they may need support in multiple and diverse ways in order to overcome these obstacles. By addressing issues intersectionally, grassroots organizations can more accurately combat the issues that individuals and communities face.

The final lesson I learned by putting myself in the position of someone looking for grassroots organizations is that there is a great breadth and depth of grassroots organizations that are looking to support various communities. Despite challenges in finding them and determining their connectedness to the community, it became very clear from my search that there are organizations available in most areas, and that they are making very real change in the lives of those they serve. I began to realize how different the lives of the people who utilize these services would be if these organizations did not exist. It is apparent that they are filling a real deficit that is not being provided by other non-grassroots institutions, such as governmental organizations. The very clear impact of these organizations helped me to understand that urban education is truly better because of the people who are invested in it. Thanks to parents, families, communities, teachers, and advocates, there are positive changes being made that would not necessarily be done by anyone else. The hard work of organizing pays off in the kinds of changes that are being made by these organizations in communities and in the realm of urban education. In the end, what I learned most about were both the challenges facing marginalized communities and the strength with which members of these communities support themselves and each other.