Leadership Institute Blog / “Gaps in the Ecosystem in Lawrence and a Pedagogy of Hope” by Marilyn R. Glazer-Weisner


“Gaps in the Ecosystem in Lawrence and a Pedagogy of Hope” by Marilyn R. Glazer-Weisner

On Wednesday, September 19th at 11 a.m. our Lawrence Scavenger Hunt team set out to search for and find evidence of how the ecosystem of Lawrence was supported by interacting networks and patterns of people, organizations, energy, and resources. We were on the hunt for strengths and weaknesses in the community ecosystem and the opportunities for strengthening the ecosystem with innovations that we can create or strengthen. I want to share our discoveries and an innovative way I want to contribute to strengthening the ecosystem of Lawrence.

I am fortunate to be part of the five-member scavenger hunt team because five pairs of eyes and ears collectively gather evidence on a much deeper level than just one pair of eyes and ears. George Moriarity, Saody Ouch, Ana Javier, Spencer Buchholtz and I set off on foot and walked around the communities of Lawrence for about two hours following our hearts and checking in with our heads. The following narrative chronicles the discoveries.

Site 1: Merrimack Valley Regional Center of Cambridge College and the Ladder to Language Program—a place that is filling in some gaps in the ecosystem of Lawrence by giving adult students who balance family, work, and study with the education and English language communication skills they need to change their jobs and careers and move toward economic self-sufficiency. This site represents the pedagogy of hope in the community because we all know without English language communication skills and higher education the cycle of inter-generational poverty will continue to spin like the machinery used to spin in the mills of the Merrimack Valley.


Site 2: Groundwork Lawrence—a place that is filling in another gap in the ecosystem of Lawrence by bringing green parks to the City, cleaning the waterways and restoring physical health to the residents by promoting healthy eating with the Farmer’s Market—another example of the pedagogy of hope.



Site 3: Essex Art Center—a place that is filling in gaps in the cultural world of the City of Lawrence by exposing youth to the arts and providing them with hands-on experiences and experiments with their own expressions of art—another example of the pedagogy of hope.

Site 4: Former Southwick Mill building at the intersection of Island and Union Streets. Spencer’s workplace, Lawrence Community Works, focuses on filling more gaps that address breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty in Lawrence. This organization provides education that focus on teaching individuals how to become financially literate. They also developed an innovative community of affordable housing in the former Southwick Mill building. They renovated and mange 60 affordable apartments, an indoor gym, and an indoor playground for the families. However, we discovered a gap in the ecosystem. The first floor of this building sits vacant. The space on the first floor is designed for use by commercial entities. The prospective businesses are reluctant to come to Lawrence as a result of Lawrence’s reputation outside of the City. The approach to strengthen this weakness or fill in this gap is again tapping into the pedagogy of hope. The image of Lawrence needs to change by our building friendships with the media. Now for the next site—where building friendships with the media is happening!

Site 5: New Balance Shoe Factory—we did not get to visit with any of the administrative staff of New Balance for our site visit, but I was able to provide my group with some background information. Recently I have been building a relationship with the human resources department at both the S. Union St. building and the distribution center on Independence Way on the other side of the City. I spent time at both sites with a colleague presenting information about the Ladder to Language program and Cambridge College to the employees with one of my colleagues. So far two of the employees have chosen to enroll as students in the Ladder to Language program this fall. The seeds of the pedagogy of hope have been planted at New Balance. I got permission to visit the two locations because the CEO, Robert Di Martini and his wife, Nancy, lived in my neighborhood on the other side of Essex County and they were my students in Spanish 1 and 2 for professionals at North Shore Community College. This Tuesday evening, September 25th a photographer from the Boston Globe is coming to the Ladder to Language program to photograph the two students who work at New Balance. New Balance is proud they are learning English communication skills to improve their job performance and advance their careers. This is just one small example, but it demonstrates that by becoming friends with everyone we can in the community and the media we can begin to change the image of the City of Lawrence inside and outside of the City.

Sites 6 through 10: We conducted a walking tour of the downtown area of Lawrence intentionally interviewing residents and business owners to get their sense of why and how they are successful in conducting business. From the responses we heard and the people we met we learned that despite the gap of solid leadership at the governmental level, the citizens who choose to be business owners are leaders in their community. The present wave of immigrants who are in the majority of the community ecosystem come from the Dominican Republic. They have lived in Lawrence long enough that they have established themselves as a key component of the ecosystem. This is different from previous generations of waves of immigrants who stayed in Lawrence while planning how to move up and out of the City.

I have a recommendation for how all of us can choose to contribute to strengthening the ecosystems that are impacted by inter-generational poverty throughout the Merrimack Valley region. By recognizing the gaps or weaknesses in the ecosystems, we can choose to demonstrate the pedagogy of hope with action—not just words. The one gap I can identify that I can impact thanks to my work as the coordinator of the Ladder to Language Program is a gap that is called folk theory.

I know about folk theory first hand because I grew up in poverty in the neighborhoods of Dorchester and Mattapan. In our community the folk theory was that we had to do well in school, learn English, go to college, and get a career that allowed us to make a living. There was a lot of pressure for my classmates to go into a profession; medicine, law, or accounting. The folk theory I have been seeing in Lawrence while I interview prospective students for the English language program is based on they way they have been treated as a minority group in society at large and at school as well as their own perceptions of themselves and their responses to the way they have been treated.

We have to understand why minority groups differ among themselves educationally and professionally in the U.S. and in the Merrimack Valley. In order to understand why, we need to know their own responses to their history of incorporation into U.S. society and their subsequent treatment or mistreatment by white Americans. The impact of the white treatment on the minorities is expressed in their collective solutions or their responses to the discrimination. For example, people develop a folk theory of how they can make it in the face of socio-economic discrimination and how they react to the relational discrimination or resort to their collective struggle. As a result they may become mistrustful of white Americans and their institutions. Along with this pattern there is also the development of an oppositional culture and language frame of reference that we can identify as symbolic discrimination.

While we are facing the folk theory of I do not believe I can make it because no one in my minority group has made it so far in this country, we have to continue to provide opportunities to grow the pedagogy of hope. Each one of us has a unique way to develop hope thanks to the different work we do in our professional lives from owning our own businesses, to managing non-profit agencies, and/or educational programs in the Merrimack Valley region. I ask you all to pledge to join me in bringing hope to the ecosystems of our region through our work and by uplifting and changing the negative images of the region by building positive relationships with the media.

I am so grateful that Ana Javier and Spencer Buccholtz could share so much insightful information with me about Lawrence and the history of the City and its ecosystem. I have only been in Lawrence since May 14th and their contributions to our conversation deepened my understanding and I learned a great deal in a short amount of time. At the same time you can only imagine how exciting it is to have an opportunity to make a positive connection with the Boston Globe and New Balance as close to learning the lesson about the image of this ecosystem both inside and outside of the community. I feel empowered in realizing that we can contribute to affecting change and improving people’s lives. I hope you do too.