A Washtenaw County symposium aims to forge stronger connections between local communities and public service providers this week.
Known as the One Love Symposium, the three-day event is geared to educate local residents and public service providers who make high-impact decisions for the community, including doctors, teachers and police officers.
Taking place Thursday through Saturday, it includes a series of public conversations, music events and expert panels dedicated to developing solutions for eliminating discriminatory behavior and racial inequities in the community.
Events will occur online and in-person in Ypsilanti and Detroit. They feature police administrators, public school officials, jazz musicians, local business owners, public policy experts and other participants.
Eastern Michigan University researcher Anna Gersh launched a survey and symposium in response to increasing racial, social and political tensions between public service providers and the public after George Floyd’s death in May 2020. She’s enlisted a team of youth data collectors and critical adult thought partners to assist with the survey and symposium.
The symposium also focuses on developing anti-bias training and creating a work certificate for public service providers, or “Human Services Professionals.” The ultimate goal is to create a “Human Services Professional Conference” for “the development of a common scholarship toward improved practices.”
The Stratton Setlist recently chatted with Gersh about the symposium, the work that’s been accomplished, this week’s events and what’s up next.
Starting the Symposium
TSS: What prompted you to start the One Love Symposium? How has your professional experience as an educator and member of Ann Arbor’s task force to create a Police Oversight Commission as well as Washtenaw County’s Policing Compliance Commission helped lay the groundwork for the symposium?
AG: I’d been thinking about the basic ideas that drive the symposium since my work on the task force. As an educator, I was confused how people thought it was possible to make meaningful changes in the ways the police did things without engaging them at a deeper level. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
During that experience and after, I wrote a training framework to support existing police training with a series of reflective features and regular communications with supervisory staff called Critical Conversations. I haven’t been able to get anyone to implement it, but I have shared it with administrations at Washtenaw County, the Ann Arbor Police Department and the Chelsea Police Department. Hopefully, it’s out there and doing something useful.
The symposium really began after the death of George Floyd. We were a year into lockdown, and I’d been watching in horror as our democracy was getting chipped away. I was home with my 15-year-old son, and I just had to do something.
Since the task force, I’d been thinking about the intersection of all public service work. There is a lot of relevant scholarship that applies to certain public service work in terms of the point of service, or the moment when a public service worker first comes into contact with someone they are serving.
Our brains make a whole range of micro decisions about need, deservedness, capacity, etc. – that is the piece I’m interested in – the point-of-service moment.
The symposium is all about developing new cross-sector scholarship about that moment of first contact, and its structure is intended to make it a community engaged scholarship project. This topic – the point- of-service moment – is actually an excellent candidate for the community-engaged scholarship model because everyone capable of articulating their experience can be reasonably considered an expert.
The goal is to develop this scholarship with the help of the community … this is where this scholarship gains legitimacy. If you have a problem with the way police or teachers act, come to the One Love Symposium and help us figure out a better way.
TSS: How does the name “One Love” best represent the symposium’s overall vision? How does the symposium help fulfill your vision of creating a coalition of community members who identify and develop solutions for eliminating inequity in our communities?
AG: One Love is about unity and working together toward a common goal. Gathering folks around things they enjoy … music, youth performances, compelling community members … toward the consideration of prescient social problems in an environment that is intended to support patient, thoughtful consideration – a moment that is not reactive to a crisis – is what we have created.
It’s already provided opportunities for thoughtful, non-reactive consideration of the central questions … all of our youth data collector meetings and conversations with community members who have agreed to get involved.
It’s already successful, and we will patiently move it forward and keep it going until we achieve the ultimate goal: a distillation of all the gathered information and community contributions into an accessible, community-sourced professional learning tool about the point-of-service moment.
Creating the Survey
TSS: In 2020, you and diverse group of young people co-created a survey instrument. What is that actual survey instrument? What types of questions were used in the survey? How has it been used to collect data?
AG: Here is the survey. Please take it and contribute to our data collection. And please pass it on.
This is our third administration of the instrument. At first, we (the kids and I) just asked people directly to take the survey. Then, I was interviewed by MLive, and they published the survey, but we still only had about 89 responses.
Then, we were allowed to collect data at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. The principal, Tracey Lowder, is very supportive of this work and will be a panel discussant at the Ypsilanti District Library event this coming Thursday. But even without that administration, we were only able to grow our response rate by about 30 percent.
Recently, we started working with Yalcin Yanikoglu, who is a computer scientist on the Michigan Redistricting Mapping Project. He’s helped us by setting up our survey to be implemented at scale, so we are excited about the potential of being able to collect more responses during the symposium events.
TSS: What type of high-level data did you glean from the survey? How has that data revealed the need for a community-sourced professional learning curriculum and the Human Services Professional Certification Program?
AG: We will be discussing the preliminary findings at the Ypsilanti District Library this Thursday. Please come and check it out. One interesting finding has to do with curiosity … we’re looking forward to discussing that with our panel of experts.
Developing the Human Services Professional Certification Program
TSS: How will the Human Services Professional Certification Program equip doctors, police, teachers and other public service providers with updated knowledge and skills to navigate the current environment? What work still needs to be completed to launch and offer the certification program in Washtenaw County?
AG: This work takes time. We have created the survey first … a co-created survey with a diverse group of area youth. We are presenting the preliminary findings to a panel of experts who will give us more to think about.
Our immediate goal is to provide a reason to keep getting people involved in the process of developing these ideas. Next year, we hope to get a university or other state agency interested in hosting a conference for continued development. Nothing capable of addressing a problem this big can be done quickly.
TSS: What valuable skills and insights do the youth data collectors and critical adult thought partners help bring to the symposium and its goals? How will they continue to be part of the symposium?
AG: Young people bring current awareness and arguably the biggest stake in what happens in the future. The critical adult thought partners bring experience and professional expertise in both data collection and applied content. (Most are public service workers.)
As long as we are building this community-sourced body of information, they will be valuable partners, and if they lose interest, we’ll find others. As I mentioned, this work will take time.
Hosting This Week’s Symposium Events
TSS: This week’s panel discussions will include local prominent community leaders, educators, healthcare workers, business owners, musicians and other participants. How will those representatives help drive important conversations to improve community service providers’ professional skills at the point-of-service moment? How will they engage the community in a process to build that knowledge together?
AG: There will be four different panels, and we’re talking about three big ideas. Thursday’s panel will consist of public service workers. We will be talking about survey findings and looking for clarity around those findings in conversation with practitioners.
On Friday, we’ll have two separate panels, but both will be about the incorporation of art to support political action. The first will be hosted by the Detroit Jazz Festival on Jazz Chat LIVE with Chris Collins. They got interested because I had so many musicians involved. Not for any specific reason, those just happen to be the artists that I know. That panel will be online.
Later that evening, we will also have a live performance and a continuation of that conversation … how art can help people become interested in social movements.
Finally, on Saturday, we will host our last panel about Alternative Methods of Assessing Public Opinion with a collection of researchers. This project is an example of a research approach that is gaining importance. It’s called public scholarship or community-engaged research. It’s also been called action research. The names change, but the idea is the same … getting the public involved in evaluating itself and making thoughtful and informed improvements for itself.
All panels and performances will be livestreamed. We hope people will come and sign on and get involved in the conversations either in-person or by using the chat if online. The structure is all directed at getting people involved.
TSS: This week’s events also will feature several musical performances with local artists and musicians. How will those performances serve as a crucial part of the symposium’s overall goals and commitment?
AG: The performances engage people. Art moves people to action, and art speaks across boundaries. This project is all about cross-sector collaboration. Art speaks the language of universals. Nothing does cross-sector communication better than art. We may not all interpret things the same way, but art has the power to reach across boundaries in a way that other things or ideas don’t.
TSS: What key learnings do you hope panelists, public service providers and other participants will take away from the different discussions and events? How will these discussions help drive new ideas and solutions for eliminating inequity in our communities?
AG: First of all, gathering people in a common space to discuss a topic of universal concern is already an important experience. If that’s all that happens, it’s worth it. In terms of key learnings, I’d say beginning these conversations, bringing attention to our goals, getting people to support continued discussion … this is part of the first collection of steps.
A concrete key learning … that there is more to understand about the point-of-service moment and that many areas of public service have begun this work. But that there is an opportunity to “de-silo” this information and create something that incorporates what we already know and apply it across a wide range of public sector jobs.
This information, how we treat people, how we look at difference, how we teach people to consider difference … there is something here to be developed, and this project wants to support that.
Identifying the Symposium’s Next Steps
TSS: What plans for the symposium after this week’s events? How can people continue to become involved? How do you see the symposium evolving into 2023?
AG: We’re still collecting submissions for our One Love Anthology. I’m in conversation with several school administrators about developing that project. We’ll also be summarizing what we’ve learned over these past two years that we’ve been developing this project and submitting that report to organizations that might help us continue to develop this work.
The goal is to gather more information, and once we have enough, (we will) begin to distill what we’ve learned into a tool that can be useful to a range of public service professions. A 30-hour certification for the Human Services Professional, but that will take some time for sure.
Participating in the Symposium
When: Thursday, Feb. 17 to Saturday, Feb. 19
Where: Online, Ypsilanti and Detroit
For More Info: Visit the One Love Symposium’s schedule of events