Social Change Takes Center Stage at 2020 Summer of HOPE

Participants in the weeklong Summer of HOPE workshop shared a "check-out" word at the end of each session.Participants in the weeklong Summer of HOPE workshop shared a "check-out" word at the end of each session.
September 3, 2020
By Abbie Cohen

The meaning of justice has been at the center of the national conversation the past several months: justice in health care as a result of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting communities of color; environmental justice as fires engulf areas of California; and racial justice in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd. These issues informed and animated the Summer of HOPE program at the Radcliffe Institute in August.

Summer of HOPE (the acronym stands for high expectations, opportunities, pathways to success, and encouragement) is a partnership led by the Boston mayor’s office in collaboration with the Juvenile Alternative Resolution Program of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Department of Youth Services, and community partners including the Black Ministerial Alliance and Mass Housing. In support of the initiative, six local universities host weeklong workshops for Boston youth. This summer was Radcliffe’s second year as a host. Workshops were held online.

As part of the law, education, and justice focus area of Radcliffe Engaged, the Institute’s program asked 16 students and six co-facilitators to explore how justice and social change intersect with their own lives. The workshop connected personal stories to broader themes of justice and injustice in society, while simultaneously introducing key ethnographic skills such as identifying research questions and exploring approaches to qualitative interviewing.

The teaching team included the Harvard undergraduates Amechi Egbunike ’22 and Grey Johnson ’22, the graduate students Eboni Nash MTS ’21 and Kayla J. Smith MDiv ’21, and the Radcliffe staff member Kaia Stern.

On the first day of the workshop, students brainstormed definitions for justice and injustice. Justice was linked to the words “fair, balance, harmony, healing, sighs of relief, and victory,” and injustice with “recidivism, underestimation, imbalance, violence, and inequality.” Over the rest of the week, the group expanded on these definitions by weaving concepts of justice and injustice through a variety of activities. The teaching team used music videos to illuminate how artists grapple with these ideas through imagery and lyrics, and offered students an opportunity to share music and videos they thought connected to the same themes. The students also created and shared life maps and dream maps to explore how their own experiences connected to the broader world.

As one student shared in her reflection, “Each and every discussion made me question my own ideas, and being challenged always forced me to think.”

The most notable part of the program was the unexpected conclusion. In the last conversation, as the group once again asked, “What is justice and injustice?” the students raised a more important question: “How can we get to these ideas of justice?” Their answers should make all of us pause and think, especially during a time of tension and challenge:

●      Hearing others out

●      Humility

●      Self-education

●      Reading, particularly in community (e.g., book clubs)

●      Holding ourselves and others accountable

●      Respect

●      Bringing our full selves to all places

●      Honesty

●      Willingness to grow and change

●      Forgiveness

●      Healing

●      Identifying and breaking cycles of generational curses and trauma


Radcliffe staff member Abbie Cohen was part of the Summer of HOPE teaching team.

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