Toward Making Change: Beyond #BlackLivesMatter (Two: Strategies for Networking & Community Participation)


by Susan Klimczak -

This is the second of a series of posts documenting the progression of a collaborative project at the South End Technology Center @ Tent City supported by the Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean's Equity Project.  The goal is to create a safe and creative space for high school and college youth to explore their identities and the issues that have come up for them with the #BlackLivesMatter movement through activities based on Hip Hop Culture.  Then, using the design engineering process, the youth will imagine a better and more just future, reating a participatory art and technology activity that will engage other youth during the 2015 Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn program.  

Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.  – Martin Luther King

Engaging people from the local community in maker education projects enriches education for our youth and brings fresh vitality into programming.  Visiting educators can serve a role models and expose youth to possible STEM career paths. Many talented people are also are seeking ways to give back to their communities and have creative outlets for their talents beyond work. The question often is, how do educators go about “making” these relationships?

At South End Technology Center @ Tent City’s Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn program, we used a number of practical strategies in developing collaborative partners for “Making #BlackLivesMatter: Using STEAM to provide opportunities for Boston youth to explore and express possibilities for change.”

STRATEGY: Seek role models who look like our youth

As a white education organizer working with 90% youth of color in our Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn Program, I know I bring much love and skill to our youth.  However, I feel it particularly important for our youth to experience role models who not only look like them, but have developed interesting STEM skills and exemplary achievements in higher education. So, I work hard to find those community members who look like our youth and can share their talents and stories through social media and networking.

STRATEGY: Cultivate long-term relationships with local programs and people in higher education institutions

Over the past 12 years, Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn has developed a lively and deep relationship with the MIT Media Lab Lifelong Kindergarten Group (LLK).  Our youth have been among the early testers and adopters of LLK technology education tools such as Scratch, PICO Crickets, and Makey Makeys. 

2014 Youth teachers with LLK Graduate Student Abdulrahman Idbli in Chain Reaction Workshop at MIT Media Lab

So, when LLK researcher Dr. Karen Brennan moved to the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), she reached out to Dr. Amon Millner and I to serve as guest speakers about our work with Learn 2 Teach in her T-550 course called Designing for Learning by Making. 

STRATEGY:  Youth are the the best ambassadors for developing community relationships

Amon and I decided that we could have the most impact on the Designing for Learning by Making graduate students at Harvard by bringing youth teachers as guest speakers and by showcasing some of their projects.  We decided to provide some history and perhaps a few contextual comments here and there, but were convinced that youth teachers should be lifted up as the main speakers.

We recruited 2nd year youth teacher Naeem Wilson and 1st year youth teacher Cynthia Johnson to speak in the class.  I contacted the headmaster and principal at their schools, as well as their parents, to explain how this opportunity could enrich the education of the youth AND the Harvard graduate students.  This allowed us to get written permissions so that Naeem and Cynthia could miss their own high school classes one morning.  We also packed up some of the youth projects to showcase at their Harvard talk.

Naeem and Cynthia were “rock stars” in the class and our guest speaking time was extended well beyond what had been planned to accommodate the many questions from the Harvard graduate students.  It turned out that Cynthia and Naeem were not just the only youth to speak to the class;  they were among the few people of color guest speakers. Their impact was palpable, especially among the graduate students of color.

Dr. Karen Brennan with L2TT2L youth teachers Cynthia Johnson & Naeem Wilson at Harvard Graduate School of Education

STRATEGY:  Mentor local education students and community members

As a result of this Harvard visit, I received many emails from graduate students.  One, Adia Wallace from Mississippi, visited our technology center and began hanging out with our youth in her “spare” time.  Adia even participated in our Digital Embroidery and Sewing Group and helped out with our youth teachers' holiday Pop-Up Store. Her infectious enthusiasm made developing relationships with the youth come quickly and easily.

Adia Wallace with youth teacher Tyla in a playful moment during Eek! Electronics Explorers Klub

I began mentoring Adia, connecting her with a local social justice STEM network and other maker educators of color in the community.  Adia and I began to brainstorm strategies for her to both work with Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn and complete her graduate work through independent study and developing projects for her classes. 

When the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education put out a request for proposals for Equity Fellows to complete projects during the J-Term or January Term, we jumped on the opportunity!  We came up with the idea of engaging the 7 Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn youth in our after school Eek! Electronics Explorers Klub and Fab Lab Steward and some college mentors in a special project that would allow them to create an art and technology activity responding to the #BlackLivesMatter youth movement.  The successful proposal we submitted was called ““Making #BlackLivesMatter: Using STEAM to provide opportunities for Boston youth to explore and express possibilities for change” (proposal: and supporting letter from SETC:

STRATEGY:  Participate in local STEM professional networks

Adia wanted to have local STEAM educators participate in our project.  So, I began to connect her to people in our local Race, Education and Democracy STEM network that seeks to provide meaningful STEM opportunities for educators and youth of color.  This network grew out of the wonderful Simmons College Race, Education and Democracy Lecture and Book series directed by Professor Theresa Perry. 

This past fall, the RED STEM Network held an event that featured a Makerspace Panel for local educators and parents at the South End Technology Center @ Tent City.  One of the most engaging speakers was the new STEAM Lab Director at the Boston Arts Academy (local high school), Dr. Nettrice Gaskins (see FabLearn blogpost: 

Adia, Nettrice and I met together several times for lively conversations, imagining how hip hop culture and AfroFuturism could be incorporated into the project. Nettrice generously offered to participate as a collaborator in  “Making #BlackLivesMatter: Using STEAM to provide opportunities for Boston youth to explore and express possibilities for change.” Her unique approach to maker education is helping both Adia and I to expand our own understanding and practice of culturally responsive making, breathing a new vitality in our work!