Transforming Communities Makes Learning about Racial Justice Accessible to All

by | Oct 30, 2023 | Community Engagement, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Featured

Taller Bombalele at the November 2021 Transforming Communities event. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

How do we make learning about racial equity and racial justice accessible to everybody?

Back in 2020, this was a question Jahmal Williams was intent on answering. 

He had just come into his new position as SJSU’s director of advocacy for racial justice, and one of his priorities was to create a signature program — something that would be long-lasting and allow the community access to spaces where they could share and learn from one another. 

That was when the idea for Transforming Communities was born.

“Think of it like a conference. But instead of it being a few days, it’s two weeks. And instead of one space, it’s happening all throughout the community, with locations on and off campus,” said Williams. 

Each year, Transforming Communities is held in November, the same month as Native American Heritage Month. “By having it during Native American Heritage Month, we are intentionally highlighting that month and that community to show that we’re invested in racial justice for all,” said Williams. 

This year’s Transforming Communities event, with the theme “Reclaiming Narratives, Building Community, and Achieving Justice,” is happening from November 1–15. 

Building Energy and Community  

In 2021, the first Transforming Communities event consisted of 26 different programs spread across two weeks. Since it was still early in the pandemic, the event was mostly virtual, with only two events happening in person. 

In 2022, for the second Transforming Communities event, the number of programs increased to 38. This time, half were in person, and the other half were virtual. 

The unique thing about Transforming Communities is that programs aren’t only hosted by people from within the San José State community. Individuals, nonprofit organizations and entities throughout the community are also invited to participate. 

“With Transforming Communities, SJSU is bringing together everyone in the county to tell their stories, to highlight struggles and share successes of different communities,” shared Williams. “The programming comes from the community and campus, and we make it all open and available to everybody, so we’re creating this energy around racial equity and justice throughout the community.”

Jahmal Williams, SJSU’s director of advocacy for racial justice, speaking at the 2021 Transforming Communities event. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

One of this year’s signature programs will be happening this year is a three-hour workshop entitled Disability, Race and Equity: Exploring Intersectionality. This workshop is being led by the organization Parents Helping Parents, which was founded by SJSU alum Florene Poyadue, ’75 Education.  

A committee of 14 people help to plan and organize the event each year. The committee is made up of San José State staff, students, faculty and three individuals from the community. 

For the first two years, Transforming Communities was funded by the university, but this year, they received a $10,000 grant from Adobe as part of the company’s continued investment in SJSU as a Hispanic-Serving and Minority-Serving institution. The funding goes specifically toward programming, like paying a keynote speaker, purchasing materials or renting a space.  

SJSU’s Pivotal Role 

Michael Dao, assistant professor and associate chair of the department of kinesiology at SJSU, has been a part of the Transforming Communities planning committee since year one. As the College of Health and Human Sciences is committed to engaging in DEI work, Dao’s focus is on bringing the college in to participate around the topic of equitable healthcare.   

“Seeing the growth and development of an SJSU initiative that purposefully engages communities and organizations in San José has been great,” said Dao. “Transforming Communities has really allowed us and the whole university to create stronger relationships with community members and community-based organizations in San José.” 

SJSU has evolved in the DEI space over the years. Nearly a decade ago, when Williams first started working at SJSU as an early alert coordinator with Peer Connections, there were no ethnicity-specific student centers; and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion didn’t exist. So although the university still has additional strides to make, WIlliams feels that San José State is moving in the right direction.  

“I feel strongly that SJSU can and should play a pivotal role in addressing issues of inequity and racial justice throughout the city and county. We can’t solve these problems individually. We have to work together,” said Williams. “And I think it’s important to be reminded of that every year.” 

Go here to access the Transforming Communities schedule.