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EMU Educator Creates 'One Love Symposium' As A Vehicle For Social Transformation

One Love Symposium

What does a doctor, a teacher, and a police officer need to know to be good at their jobs? That's the focus of a community symposium taking place next February in Ann Arbor.

WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with the founder of the event, Dr. Anna Gersh, about her idea.


Lisa Barry: Making a difference in the lives of others and then your community is important to a lot of people. This is Lisa Barry, and there is an Eastern Michigan University educator, researcher, and project administrator who is putting together a special event being called the One Love Symposium. And here to tell us about that is Dr. Anna Gersh. Thanks for talking to us.

Anna Gersh
Credit Eastern Michigan University / emich.edu
Dr. Anna Gersh

Dr. Anna Gersh: Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.

Lisa Barry: If it has love in the name, I'm in. So why don't you begin by telling us what this is all about?

Dr. Anna Gersh: Sure. The One Love Symposium came to me sort of really at the beginning of lockdown. I had been, like a lot of people, pretty disturbed by the previous administration. A lot of the actions. And then, when the George Floyd murder happened, I found myself in front of the TV crying about the news, like kind of on a regular basis. And I realized that I was home with my 15 year old son and modeling fear. And, I mean, that's it. You know, I just--that's what it was. I had to do something real. I just couldn't be another white lady crying about how the world isn't perfect. So, I started formulating some thoughts about what we might be able to do. And it occurred to me, after 17 years as a classroom educator and then the last four plus years, I've been working on efforts to improve police training, including being a member of the Ann Arbor mayor's task force to create a police oversight commission back in training in 2017. And then, now I'm a member of the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office 21st Century Police and Compliance Commission. I've been thinking a lot about the nature of human services, and that there is research to be done at the point of service moment. So, the big goal of the One Love Symposium is to develop a certification process that improves for a whole variety of human services professions, including doctors, teachers, and law enforcement officers, that point of service moment. And the way we want to do it, the way, you know, I think is a really good way to get people involved, is to engage in an effort of public scholarship. So, that means, you know, getting stakeholders, people who use public services, which is all of us, at every level to contribute to creating this body of information that will help these workers get better at their job.

Lisa Barry: So, who do you expect to be all involved in this? Are you bringing people from all different walks of life or professions?

Dr. Anna Gersh: Yeah, right now, we're starting that it's sort of a three phase process. It is a three phase process. I've got about 10 youth data collectors. I spent the last several months going to different school time programs--virtually and in person--and talking to young people about contributing to this effort. So, the idea is that we're going to actually we're meeting next week. We've got two meetings next week, 10 to 12. It's hard to say exactly who's going to show up because they are young people, and they have lots of commitments and interests. But I think I got a pretty good crew, and then we're going to meet, and I'm going to train them on the research protocol associated with the city, which is the institutional review boards, you know, making sure you protect people that you engage in research with. And they are going to--they and I--will create a survey instrument that they will take to their communities of choice. Go and get this information, bring it back. We'll collate it into a report. That report will be used to extract some discussion questions. And we're going to use that to feed into a conversation taking place at Ann Arbor District Library on September 28, which will be a preview event. And there are training professionals from including Dr. Wendy Burke, who is the department head of teacher education here at Eastern, Rebecca Guzman, who is a founding member of MICHWA, the Michigan Community Health Workers Alliance. And I'm crossing my fingers for Brandon Locke at Washtenaw Community College Police Academy. I'm meeting with him next week, but he seems very interested in. That conversation will be moderated by Dr. Michael Johnson, who's the department head at UMass Boston and Public Policy and Public Affairs. He's going to facilitate a values-focused decision making conversation, which is basically a fancy way of saying a good facilitator who is able to extract important points from interested parties to help build this body of information. So it's really it's tapping people at every level--youth, community members, academics, professionals--to bring together a community sourced, ultimately certification process and hoping it'll be like a little 30-hour thing that is possible for everybody to participate in. So, people like, you know, preschool teachers and brain surgeons, potentially have something to gain from this certification process.

Lisa Barry: So, I hear you using words like data and research and training. Yet this is called the One Love Symposium. Where does the love come into all that?

Dr. Anna Gersh: Well, you know, I guess it sounds...I don't know. I don't know what it sounds like. I mean, it's from a Bob Marley song. And, you know, it's One Love, One Heart. You know, the idea that the human services professional deals with the whole of humanity is a unity concept. And, you know, I think all of the problems that happen at that point of service moment where the human services professional--the doctor, the teacher, the police officer--is making an evaluation about what you need or should you be ignored or forgiven or punished. It is a moment that should be informed by the universal human values that we all share. And so, that just seemed like a good name for it.

Lisa Barry: So, step one is coming up in September. And then what's after that leading up to the big event in February? Is that how it's working?

Dr. Anna Gersh: Yup. Mm hmm. So youth data collection over the summer. September is the sort of academic professional event. And then, all of that information is going to be fed into the one love symposium, which will be taking place, in part, at the Blue LLama Jazz Club in February 2022. The specific date, we start to work that out. But we do have some, I'm starting to collect. That's going to be a more sort of celebratory opportunity. There will be panel discussions, but, you know, so there will be an academic aspect, but they'll also be an integrated arts aspect. Marcus Elliot will be performing as part of that event and the great saxophone...young, brilliant saxophone player Marcus Elliott and hoping to get some other folks in there, too. But we're in a process.

Lisa Barry: Speaking of that process, are you still looking for participants, or is this open to everyone in the community to join in at some point?

Dr. Anna Gersh: Yeah, the September event will be both in person and live streamed. And there is a teen writing contest, which is open to all young people in any district in Michigan because it's an online submission. But you do have to submit to a registered teacher, so you can check that out on a teen writing contest feature. Cash prizes and all submissions will be included in an anthology, which will be available for presale to fund the compensation features of this symposium. So kids can win cash prizes, participating teachers who will act as vetting level for the kid essays or...it doesn't have to be an essay. It actually can be anything. But, those teachers will also...there is a compensation formula to work out for those teachers as well, and that's available on the site.

Lisa Barry: And what is the site? Where can people get more information?

Dr. Anna Gersh: One Love Symposium dot com.

Lisa Barry: And we'll put that with a link to this interview on our web site, WEMU dot org. Dr. Anna Gersh. Hopefully, you'll let us check in with you and follow the process of the upcoming One Love Symposium taking place right here in Washtenaw County. And we'll touch base again and keep getting updated on what's all going into this.

Dr. Anna Gersh: I look forward to it. Thank you.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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