There are many strategies hackathon event organizers use to make these contest more inclusive, equitable, and aligned with social justice. One practiced way to do this is by aligning the task and theme of the event to problems which are faced by the very groups which are minorities in common hackathons. This previous weekend, MIT hosted the event Hacking Discrimination which is a hackathon intended to provide a mechanism for meaningful dialog, learning, networking and solution development. Students were challenged to develop technical solutions to complex problems relating to bias, discrimination, and racism. The idea stemmed from Black MIT alumni in Washington, DC whom were frustrated by violence in the news, and the continued social and economic roadblocks hindering progress for minorities in their communities. This led to the creation of a Hacking Discrimination Fund, set up at MIT to further annual brainstorming for ideas which will change the narrative seen in the news. This is a step forward in creating hackathons which will lead to social change where it matters most.
Just a week ago, I was able to visit the site of City Life/Vida Urbana in Jamaica Plain. City Life is a grassroots community organization created to fight for gender equality and racial, social, and economic justice by building up the working class’ power. The group has many goals, but the most universal aspiration was guaranteeing that each person has the right to food, housing, health care, education, meaningful employment, and most importantly, the right to exist in freedom without fear of displacement or deportation. After briefly exploring the welcoming space of the organization, I got to sit down with Alex Ponte-Capellan, a community organizer for City Life.
We were able to a lot about the work he does at City Life. As a community organizer, Alex follows cases that arise in the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury area. Alex’s work is centered around helping tenants with whatever they need while negotiating with their landlords, joining tenant associations, and getting in touch with lawyers. Of this work, he finds that the biggest challenge is getting people to get involved. Often all the tenants in a building get a notice to quit accompanied with a lease revealing a higher rent. Under these circumstances, a few tenants get very interested in City Life’s help, but many others will be very uninterested. This may be because these tenants do not feel directly threatened by these actions, and they are waiting for that moment of urgency before they take action. To get around this, Alex said he generally remains persistent, sending emails and calling each of the tenants, trying to give each person their best chance at maintaining their current lives.
Some triumphs City Life has made in their cause include a march which was held last week on Saturday. The tenants in the 26 School Street Tenant Association, have been facing really high rent increases, so in order to instigate landlord negotiations, City Life held a rally down Washington Street and amounted quite a bit of communal support and media coverage. Alex is currently hoping these effort result in a settlement, which seems promising from the event’s popularity. Another success occurred when Alex first joined City Life. An investor was attempting to buy out a property from a landlord with more financial power than City Life could establish and provide. However, City Life’s legal team collected the tenants’ claims against the previous landlord, which totaled in millions of dollars in payments. City Life’s deal would be to buy out the property with their initial price offered and drop all of the claims on the landlord, which was a monetarily better settlement than what had been offered by the investor.
We also got to talk more about how Alex got involved with City Life. A large deal of influence came from his experiences with the Prison-Industrial Complex. His desire to create change lead to a grassroots youth activist group called Young Abolitionists. This lead him to explore gentrification, eventually hearing of City Life and joining the group. Nevertheless, some of the most life-changing events in Alex’s life were the moments just after his cousin passed away. This very emotional moment touches him to this day, still guiding some of his life decisions. To provide the help Alex wasn’t able to provide his cousin before his untimely death, he channels his effort into his work at City Life — he tries to give others their best lives since his cousin was robbed of his.
Alex has many idea in order to progress City Life’s cause, but he also has advice for the community and how we all can be involved in the problem of gentrification and displacement. Alex suggested that people can get in contact with local officials, and join in rallies/marches for social change in their area. Above all, it’s important to stay informed of the issues around us and be active members of our community.
Featured Audio: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2NhJ7UxMYutWlJwODk1Wl9aNU0
Peas in a Podcast: Ingrid Henderson, Kobbie Ofori-Atta, and Tabia Smith
A few weeks ago, our peers (ourselves included) interviewed a diverse array of youth activists. Hearing each of these stories, we wanted to create a way in which the words of all these activists could be presented to the community. We brainstormed means in which we could create a product that would be accessible to the whole public, present the stories of the activists clearly as they intended, and easily sharable to friends and family. Our final idea was our podcast, Community Comments.
In order to create the prototype for our podcast, we first needed to listen and analyze already established podcasts. For example, we listened to This American Life, Radiolab, and TED Radio Hour to understand the concept of narrative journalism — this is the style in which we were conducting our podcast. After gleaning a sense of the formula and flow of how our podcast should sound, we started our construction process.
To do this, we first listened to a few of our classmates’ interview, taking key and interesting sections of each clip. Based on these snippets and some background information of the each activist being interviewed, we conducted research to present statistical facts and other relevant figures which the interviewee wasn’t able to state. We later wrote a simple outline structure detailing what we were going to talk about in each segment of our podcast, and when were to play a section of audio for context. Finally, we recorded our whole podcast, editing in the original audio of the interview where it applied — we used GarageBand to help with the overall sound quality, and the audio effects added to the opening of the podcast. We uploaded our final podcast prototype to SoundCloud where we will have a Peas in a Podcast account for all of our podcasts to be listened to and/or downloaded.
We came across a few challenges as we starting putting things together. For instance, throughout the script-making process, we found it difficult to find strong connections between audio segments to seamlessly connect them with our comments and banter. Likewise, it was also difficult to find and edit down the valuable parts of each interview to best capture the interviewee’s aspirations, because we want to make sure their message is clear and their beliefs are portrayed like they intended.
After our class presentation, we got some much needed feedback to improve our production process. We really liked the idea of making our podcast more of a participatory process. We would do this by asking our interviewees which sections of the interviews they felt were most important. Depending on their response, we would take this into account when structuring our podcasts. The process could become even more participatory if we collaborated with our interviewees during the actual editing process, by teaching interviewees how to use video and sound editing software, and giving sample podcast introductory scripts for users submitting stories. This would give each topic more style from sound effects to structure. We also would add text submissions as an option to make our podcast even more accessible. These submissions would be read by one of us when recording a podcast.
We also like the idea to make our podcast more public. We could both gain viewers and raise awareness on our interview topics if we held live interviews for our podcast. Collaborating with a group like Zumix, or even a campus radio show (like Wellesley’s WZLY), would create a more public platform. The interviews would become even more public if we held live shows in public spaces — possibly allowing us to attract a more diverse demographic (perhaps older people, those not usually involved in activism).
I was fortunate enough to sit down and have an interview with Gabby Ballard earlier this month. Gabby Ballard is currently an undergraduate at MIT, class of 2019. She is the co-chair of the Black Women’s Alliance (BWA), who is working to provide a forum to address the needs and concerns of Black women undergraduate students at MIT.
During our interview, we were able to talk about Gabby’s activist work. Her desire is to create an inclusive environment for black women on MIT campus. This includes social programs, events/parties, and partnering with other student organizations on campus who share similar goals. She’s found that her main struggle right now is trying to include other groups of people in the movement to support her cause. For instance, BWA was initially supposed to include black men to further promote the importance of black women’s rights, but advertising the association to that demographic would take away from the work it could designate toward supporting black women.
We were also able to talk more about what inspired Gabby to start her activism work. Gabby grew up in an area where there wasn’t too much diversity in her community, so her parents imbued in her the idea that other people will grow up having different perspectives from her — yet she should respect them all the same. She brought this viewpoint with her to MIT, but she found that not all people were being respected there, and in many other places around the US. She wanted to make a change in the MIT community starting with the demographic she most identifies with. For example, from her experience doing debate in high school, she was always told to try and break down the systematic barriers which prevented others from participating in debate styles. She took this perspective and applied it throughout her life, and especially to the BWA organization once she became co-chair. She also has plans to apply for executive positions in MIT’s Black Student Union (BSU).
Lastly, we talk about Gabby’s visions of the future once her activism work is successful. She stated that her goal will most likely be accomplished through education. Gabby said that with more diversity in the teaching staff of school and university, children will grow up understanding the different perspectives of society and be more accepting and understanding of others subconsciously. Her headline for the victory would be the following: Super Schools: America’s Education System on the Rise
Featured Audio: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2NhJ7UxMYutaWw5SWtXaWwyLWc
Hi, I’m Kobbie (Cubby) Ofori-Atta. I’m a Ghanaian-American sophomore at MIT, and I’m majoring in Computer Science and Molecular Biology. I hope to use this class to discover ways to instigate social change in order to improve the world around me, addressing my duty as a global citizen.
When I was in high school, I heard about this cool program called Codi’s Hats. I found out that the program was actually a non-profit organization centered around creating specialized hats for children undergoing cancer treatment. It was inspiring to see my peers show care for people they had never met before. The link to my school’s division of Codi’s Hats is below: