Listening and Learning

Listening leads to learning, and learning leads to understanding. Without listening, the negative social determinants that afflict communities of color will go unaddressed; and the educational systems that disenfranchise these communities will go unreformed.

From its creation, CCE has been committed to listening. We seek to elevate those voices too often silenced by racist systems and centralized structures. At the same time, we know that deep listening is not an overnight occurrence—it is an intensive process that requires sustained effort over time. This blog sets forth some of the practices for listening and learning that CCE has developed and deployed during decades of working for community empowerment.

In many ways, the deep listening we describe represents not a radical departure, but instead a return to traditional principles. It respects the storytelling that has bound communities together for centuries. And one of the most important aspects of this listening is that it is responsive rather than presumptive. Rather than telling communities what they lack, deep listening allows communities to detail what they need.

Such deep listening requires trust between CCE and the communities it serves. Trust does not just spring up, it must show up; in visit after visit and meeting after meeting, in both surveys answered and stories told, until the plant of partnership grows. And while CCE seeks to provide research to support community objectives, we know that questions must always precede answers, and our duty is to deliver data in response to community needs, not in advance of them. This is the path through which listening becomes learning and eventually understanding.

One excellent historical example comes from the partnership between CC9 (Community Collaborative to Improve District 9 Schools), a coalition of Bronx community groups, and the New York City Teachers union in 2002. District 9 was chronically underperforming, leading to parent frustration, poor student outcomes, and high teacher turnover. But rather than maintain an adversarial relationship, “mutual blame shifted to mutual support” as CC9 members met with teachers repeatedly, both around the table and in neighborhood tours, and engaged in reciprocal, data-based dialogue that culminated in CC9 participating directly in negotiations between the union and the NYC Department of Education. The lead teacher program, which paired experienced teachers with newer professionals, emerged from those negotiations.

Currently CCE deploys similar deep listening strategies in the Harbor Point community. We hold extensive meetings with community leaders, use surveys and focus groups to learn community needs, and have helped establish a Lifelong Learning Center that might just as easily be called a Lifelong Listening Center, since it provides a forum for community voices and responsive listening every day. With a focus on elevating rather than excluding the community from discussions of its needs, CCE believes that its data-driven dialogue and deep responsive listening provides the best hope for reducing negative social determinants at Harbor Point and building an empowered future for everyone who lives there.