The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic benefited some minimal security inmates with underlying health conditions and limited time left on their sentences; they were released from prisons under compassionate release statutes to decrease the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated.
While canvassing vulnerable communities to increase vaccine uptake, university faculty and staff met and developed relationships with three formerly incarcerated individuals who recently launched a non-traditional adult community center to address emerging community needs revealed during the pandemic. Delgago (1999) has long argued that urban communities with reduced traditional social services can best meet their own needs through the development of community-driven interventions.
While empowerment and social determination are central to DelgadoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s assertions, the alleviation of community injustices may benefit from a model that bridges university resources and community-driven interventions, especially when the formally incarcerated often experience discriminatory practices and other consequences long after incarceration (Onwuachi-Willig, A. & Ajunwa, I., 2018). Radical social theory and other relevant theories such as critical theory assert that political action is essential to alleviating the root causes of inequitable practices. Using this perspective allows us to transform both the self and our democratic society (Cooke, 2018).
We launched a university-community partnership to address emergent social and political issues: COVID-19 safety and voter engagement. As social workers, it was essential to use a structural theorist perspective as a guiding foundation for being in community. We used community-based participatory action research methods to identify an agenda that was grounded in community voice. Staying true to CookeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s articulation of self and social transformation, the university-community partnership maintained a non-authoritarian relationship that validated the truth of those often labeled as unmentionable.
We practiced the tenants of a pluralist democracy at the street level to debunk prevailing conceptions of social justice. Once stripped of rights, the formerly incarcerated fought to redefine the true meaning of street justice.
This workshop has the following aims: To characterize how formerly incarcerated community members built a thriving non-traditional adult community center during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; To identify community organizing skills used to build trusting relationships with the formerly incarcerated to engage them in social and political justice; To identify the components of community-based participatory action research that supported community goals; and To identify emerging strategies and tactics (e.g., resource linkage, coaching, and agenda-setting) to build social and political power in a forgotten area of the city.