This effort, launched as part of a state blueprint that the National Forum helped to write, provided for tax incentives for local communities, and generated a new program known as the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN). MCAN is intended to help the state increase the number of students entering and graduating from college by mobilizing partnerships at the neighborhood and community level. Through sharing of information, scholarship support, community leadership, and inter-sectional collaboration, the program targets those students who may not believe college is accessible to them. Local communities throughout Michigan are eligible for support through MCAN to develop Local College Access Networks (LCANs).
Within a short time of the program’s development, the original “passive incentives” of tax abatement for communities were replaced by direct grants, funded by the Kresge Foundation. There are now over 25 LCANs active in the state.
After helping to start a local college access network in Jackson County, we took up (in 2008) an active role in fostering a community coalition in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Northwest Detroit. Our work in community engagement over the last decade has led us to develop several key questions that continue to guide our work in this area:
1. How do diverse organizational partners, operating within one defined community, holding differently and similarly espoused goals, understand and value democratic participation in community change?
2. What is the vision of community change or improvement that is held by various community representatives and how do they see this vision aided by democratic engagement?
a. What definitions of community exist across different stakeholder groups?
b. How do differing definitions of community change relate to differences in institutional histories, foundational beliefs, theories, methods and forms of practice?
3. Does an explicit concept of democratic participation underlie the partnership process?
a. What are the differences and similarities in enacted approaches to democracy through the partnership?
Currently, we have ongoing alliances with two areas in Detroit, Michigan. One is the community immediately around the well-known organization Focus: HOPE, otherwise known as Hope Village. We identified, trained, and hired community members to work with our university research team and engaged in a form of participatory action research to lead local dialogues that examined attitudes held about barriers and assets related to educational achievement in the community. While this is an ongoing effort, it is clear that community members feel severely disconnected from schools, universities, and educational organizations, and do not feel they possess agency in naming their own problems and finding solutions. Our other Detroit focus, in the Brightmoor community, has resulted in the formation of an LCAN.
We are also working with the Kettering Foundation, serving as a Center for Public Life, to organize, then analyze, democratic deliberations intended to provide insight into how the Hope Village community might shape and strengthen educational values of access and opportunity. This work is taking place in a community that is in the process of trying to redefine itself and which has identified specific outcomes it wishes to accomplish consistent with a new future identity. While the expressed vision adopted by the residents of this area is comprehensive of many different aspects of community well-being, the specific work we have been asked to do involves assisting the community as it makes strategic choices regarding how it might act to strengthen its “culture of educational achievement.” This is a major goal to be realized as part of an overall community vision.
In our work with the Hope Village community of Detroit, we have outlined the following key objectives to guide our partnership with the community:
In 2011, we published a report with the Kettering Foundation that captures the lessons we have learned through our community engagement work over a ten year period.
Specifically, the report outlines the knowledge gained inworking in Brightmoor and other Michigan communities and also describes the evolution of the work in the Brightmoor community over the course of five years. It also presents ongoing questions that have arisen out of neighborhood partnerships and the reasons they could be important beyond the immediate context and perhaps useful to others that share a similar faith in the democratic processes that take place in community settings.
For more information on other past publications, please see our Forum Publications page.
Past research from many of our projects can be found in the Past Projects page.