How one event changed my definition of Community

Gabriela Rivera
Photo of Resolve Philly staff members at The Monkey & The Elephant Sound OFF event in July 2021. Photo by Derrick Cain.

There are solutions to be found in community dialogue.

The longer I work at Resolve Philly, the more my definition of “community” evolves. In July, our team hosted our first in-person community event, or Sound OFF, since the pandemic began. Sound OFFs are conversational sessions in which members of a community participate in dialogue about a range of topics and together, brainstorm solutions. During this session, we met with the staff of The Monkey & The Elephant (M&E), a local coffee shop in the Brewerytown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

As a non-profit helping young adults with histories in the foster care system, M&E is unlike any other cafe in the city. They also provide personal and professional development for their employees who have been a part of the foster care system at some point. Each member of M&E shared their experience growing up in foster care or kinship care, what brought them to where they find themselves now, and where they see themselves in the future. Each member of the Resolve team also shared their stories and what brought them to Resolve.

Building relationships through Sound OFFs is a best practice at Resolve but should be a best practice in the broader world of journalism. These gatherings give people the opportunity to open up, not just to journalists, but also to each other. By building connections around common experiences, Sound OFFs help bring information needs to the surface.

Many of the experiences that participants shared were rooted in trauma. A few of the participants mentioned entering foster care when they lost a parent to incarceration or substance abuse. For some, the trauma did not end there, as they experienced homelessness and food insecurity. They sought support from one another and remained resilient. Now they make sure to remain active in the system to support others who may be living similar experiences.

That’s what community means. Communities are intersectional. They share similar problems even across very different lived experiences. Journalists must understand that it takes conversations like these to recognize problems and bring solutions to light.

A lack of support when it came to accessing resources that could set participants up for successful adult life was a common theme among many of our conversations. This resonated with me because I also felt unprepared for the real world when the time came. Learning how to open a bank account, pay rent and utilities and do my taxes was not something that was taught to me by my parents or in school. My parents are immigrants who have a difficult time navigating the world around them with their minimal English speaking skills. Instead of learning financial literacy in school, we learn and memorize the Pythagorean Theorem. But a2 + b2 = c2 rarely applies to our everyday lives, unless we come across a right triangle.

These problems are not necessarily unique to the foster care community and are felt differently between groups affected by them. Working as an editorial associate at Resolve Philly allows me to draw from different experiences and identify a range of information needs that Philadelphians from all walks of life have. My colleague, Lily Medosch, and I then look for actionable information for these communities such as financial and computer literacy programs and tenant rights workshops. We share this information on our free text line. Part of our goal is to make this information as visible as possible, especially for Philadelphians experiencing the digital divide.

The storytelling process often reveals solutions. When building relationships with communities, journalists should not only report on the issues that these communities face but also act as a connector to important information that will help empower and sustain them. With Equally Informed Philly, I am that connector. Other journalists can — and should — do the same.