Dominique Lopez-Piper Research Paper #2: Building Brains for Community Gains

Dominique Lopez-Piper

Dr. Martin

Building Brains for Community Gains

When you think about who holds power in society, you probably do not envision sweet little hyper kids from low-income families, but rather CEOS at huge corporations and popular political figures. That said, through my community engagement project, I worked with Brain Builders—a subdivision of Stafford Junction—in an effort to change these perceptions and redistribute power and resources to low-income kids by providing reading time, homework help, and a patient helping set of hands and ears. Stafford Junction is a faith-based non-profit organization that was formed in response to an assessment completed by the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department in a high-crime neighborhood in Stafford County. The report included several challenges such as poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, unsupervised children—which is especially relevant to Brain Builders—and high rates of non-English speaking Hispanic and refugee families. As a result, Stafford Junction was formed to improve the lives of low-income youth and families through programs like Brain Builders that were focused on education, nutrition, and healthy living.

To start off, Brain Builders is a school-year long program that seeks to foster intellectual achievement and help kids develop tools for success in their educational careers and lives. The program reaches 6 schools in the area, from kindergarten to 12th grade; it just recently expanded to include Old Forge High School. There are currently about 115 volunteers of all ages, but there is a great need for even more help. It is my hope that after reading this paper and listening to my presentation, several of my peers will be compelled to volunteer their time to helping this immensely worthy cause.

As far as the community I targeted, worked with 20 kindergarteners and first graders at Falmouth Elementary School, which is about a 12-minute drive from our campus. A typical day began with the volunteers arriving about 10 minutes before schedule to set up snacks and look through books to find some at the appropriate reading level for our kids. Then, the students arrived at 4 p.m. and we got them signed in and distributed snacks. After about 10 minutes, they would clean up and we would transition into homework and reading time; for kids who wanted alternative things to do, we had math and crossword puzzle worksheets. Depending on the day, the weather, and the general behavior of the group, they often got some time to go outside for a little while as well. Lastly, a few minutes before 5 p.m., we would get them lined up and ready to be picked up or walked over to the bus.

Now that I have given you an idea of this community and the program I worked with, I will address the power structure and flow of people and organizations within it that allow it to operate smoothly. At the top, with the most power, is Carrie Evans, the Stafford Junction Executive Director; she runs all of Stafford Junctions’ programs and makes sure each of the respective leaders within them are on task and making the right kinds of progress. Next, Brain Builders Program Manager Tegan Aguiñaga—who was especially kind and flexible in getting me started volunteering—falls right below her, with the authority to direct Brain Builders, check in on a regular basis, and manage the day leaders, who are next on the list. Michelle Vasquez and Lester Gabriel were the day leaders for Tuesdays and Thursdays, respectively. They gave the volunteers instructions each day and made sure we were spending time with the kids effectively. Since a consistent meal was a key factor in keeping the kids interested in the program, the local charities and churches that donated that food also wielded significant power. Finally, the volunteers are right above the students, as we worked together to develop critical thinking and reading skills to help them succeed, and they determined how the day turned out with their levels of attention and focus.

Since I have just described the dynamics of the power scheme, I will now explain some of the key issues of power within the greater community that create the need for this program. The kids we worked with lack certain resources that allow their more affluent peers to thrive, such as having the luxury of a stay-at-home parent to teach them to read and spend time developing their homework skills; kids on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum tend to spend much more time alone, as their parents often work long hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet.  As a result, their peers who come from more wealthy families end up with an unfair advantage for success in grade school, but also in the future when applying to college and for jobs. On top of that, upon realizing that their classmates understand things more quickly or do better on tests and assignments, their sense of self-worth and self-confidence diminishes, which was unfortunately very evident in the group I worked with; several students were embarrassed to admit that they “could not read” or felt that they were “stupid.” While this language gave me a heavy heart, I was grateful to be there to discourage these thoughts and reassure them that they were all intelligent and all capable of doing anything they worked to accomplish.

After realizing the need for drastic, meaningful change, the goal of my project was to enhance their reading and homework skills and help improve their sense of self in order to redistribute power in the long term. First and foremost, I went into each session with my mom’s philosophy about how to help kids prosper and grow: always treat them as equals, so that they feel the respect and ability to rise to the challenge and achieve more than they ever would have imagined otherwise. I also shared my knowledge base of hints and tips for pronouncing words and using context clues while reading and helpful tricks for doing math problems and other activities. In that way, I was able to give back from my position of resources in the academic world and transfer that power to these kids. Additionally, presenting and writing about this project and sharing it with our class will hopefully compel more students to work with Brain Builders to help meet their need and reach even more young people.

As far as the role of Brain Builders in affecting our broader community, it works to resolve inequality on a small-scale, but one that impacts future generations worldwide: the children that we are helping to develop these skill sets will be the future major power-holders of our society. Furthermore, this program bridges the gap between the generations in that several older people volunteer their time after retirement and are able to reach out to the younger populations. Both generations end up impacting each other in ways they may never have expected. All in all, the most meaningful takeaway for me with Brain Builders and Stafford Junction was their mission to “connect lives, build relationships, and foster understanding across socio-economic lines.” I sincerely hope I was able to contribute to this profound goal by helping the children realize just how important and capable of success each one of them is through the development of their critical thinking, reading, and deductive skills. Potential power lies in all corners of the world, we just have to seek out ways to distribute it evenly and make sure it ends up in the hands of people with the greater good in mind.

Documentaries about Cities/Power

Hey guys, I found this list of great documentaries on cities.  Several of them are based on the cities and topics we have discussed in class; two are about post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and several about fair housing and homelessness.  I checked through the list and found that all of the documentaries are available on youtube for free except for four (“The Garden,” “Trouble the Water,” “My Winnipeg,” and “Radiant City”), but “Trouble the Water” is offered for free on  I hope you guys find these interesting and maybe even find some to be useful for your final research projects or watch them after finals to reflect on our class.  🙂  The link is above!


Dominique Lopez-Piper Reaction #3–Breakthroughs on the Breakdown in Chicago

Dominique Lopez-Piper

Dr. Martin

Critical Synthesis: Breakthroughs on the Breakdown in Chicago

If you don’t have the resources to mobilize, something is bound to break down. That said, when responding to an upsetting event or ongoing societal issue, those who have the means to organize can often do so in a peaceful, structured manner; nevertheless, those with a lack of resources and power are forced to respond to injustice and oppression in a less coordinated, more chaotic way that often involves the destruction of their own neighborhoods and all the segregation and inequality that they represent. In this reaction paper, I will explain both ends of the spectrum through Bert Useem’s presentation of theories on this matter, while highlighting the difficulty of fighting the power with limited means, especially in terms of the race riots of Chicago in 1919 that are described in Abu Lughod’s second chapter of “Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.” I will begin by presenting the major ideas of each text and then drawing connections between them.

Firstly, Useem’s article “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action” outlines two different theories on the distinctions between riots and protests: breakdown theory and resource mobilization theory. The former is characterized by people resisting social structures and becoming more powerful than the sense of social order or control in place. Therefore, they disrupt everyday life and defy the authorities and laws that seem to represent their oppression. The latter is depicted by organizing through solidarity and collective action to gain an advantage of some sort or to put up a peaceful fight for a significant cause.

To summarize the next source, chapter two of Abu-Lughod’s book “Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles” outlines a sequence of events that led to the riots of 1919 and made them especially severe. It also discusses the characteristics of Chicago that made it especially prone to the race riots that unfolded, such as the fight over space and segregated housing and several other ongoing racial tensions that sprouted from Illinois’ origins as a southern state with strict miscegenation and voting laws, segregated schools, and “black laws” that required blacks to prove their freedom (Abu Lughod, pg 47). Some of the most relevant factors that worsened the harshness of the grievances in Chicago and thus worsened the impact of the riots themselves were the labor shortage that increased competition in the workforce, overcrowding and housing issues, and especially the unjust murder of Eugene Williams.

The two pieces work in concert with each other, particularly because one of the theories that Useem identifies clearly fits with the riots of 1919: breakdown theory. Abu Lughod shows breakdown theory in this chapter with their responses to the culmination of events leading up to the riots, particularly the death of innocent teen Eugene Williams. He was a victim of racial violence during a day at a segregated beach; when the boundaries were seemingly blurred between the white and black beaches, outrage ensued and Eugene Williams was caught in the middle, struck by a white man’s rock and propelled off his raft, disorienting him so much that he drowned before anyone could save him. On top of this deeply unfortunate event being a result of racial tension, a black man was wrongfully arrested instead of the actual white perpetrator, because the police would not allow anyone to arrest a white man. From that point forward, everything broke down and a full-on racial war ensued. People swarmed to the beach with rage, and even more blacks were harmed, with seven getting stabbed as well as four wounded by gunfire (Abu Lughod, pg 61). Breakdown theory was taking hold of society as they knew it, and the only way they knew of to build themselves back up was to first become a part of the total breakdown to rock bottom in order to make their voices heard.

Useem’s  article also identifies the important difference between routine and non-routine collective action. To begin, routine collective action is a product of solidarity and more privileged position in society to be able to organize in a cohesive manner that falls in line with resource mobilization theory, such as in electoral rallies and peaceful protests. Conversely, non-routine collective action is accordance with breakdown theory and includes people freeing themselves from society’s restraints on them and responding to oppression using anything they can get their hands on. Rebellion, collective violence, and rioting are solid examples of this type of collective action. The two pieces once again converge on this subject as the second chapter of Abu Lughod clearly exhibits non-routine collective action in Chicago’s riots of the time. For one, the violence that black workers faced from Irish gangs when going through the stockyards in the days following the riots was a clear indicator of non-routine collective action (pg 58). Another characteristic that makes the action able to be defined as non-routine was the violence that blacks were facing on public transportation as well as the molestation on their way to and from work.

In conclusion, these two pieces worked hand-in-hand to outline the theories and forms of collective action that surround rioting and protesting. Useem’s article presented us with the definitions of resource mobilization theory as well as breakdown theory, the second of which was extremely evident in Abu Lughod’s second chapter on the race riots of 1919 in Chicago. Additionally, we were able to apply not only breakdown theory, but also the concept of non-routine action to the riots of Chicago as well, which helped us link both theories to their respective forms of collective action. All in all, it was not exciting to discover the hardships of those rioting and experiencing oppression, but it was stimulating to get to read about the riots in Chicago and connect breakdown theory and non-routine collective action to those very events that were unfolding, seeing those intriguing concepts operating in real-life situations.
Works Cited

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. “The Bloody Riot of 1919 and Its Consequences.” Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 43-78. Print.

Useem, Bert. “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action.” Annual Review of Sociology 24.1 (1998): 215-38. Web.

Section 1–Update for Class on Wednesday 11/4

Hi everyone in Section 1!

In class tomorrow, we will be focusing on Chapter 2 of Abu-Lughod’s Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.

Here are some of the main questions I would like you to please focus on for tomorrow:

  1. What are some of the characteristics that make Chicago different and especially prone to the race riots that unfolded?  You can draw connections from Ferman’s book to this question as well.
  2. What were some of the factors that contributed to the fight over space in Chicago?
  3. What were some of the underlying causes of the Riot of 1919 and what were conditions in Chicago like surrounding the time right before and during its occurrence?

Also, please read the very short article from the link below and think about how both the chapter (specifically the portion about the tragic passing of Eugene Williams) and this article can be connected to the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and to the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole.

I hope you have found/find the chapter and article to be interesting and I look forward to hearing the thoughtful observations you have made in class tomorrow!  Thanks guys! 🙂

Solidarity and Recognition Yield Community Power–Dominique Lopez-Piper

Solidarity and Recognition Yield Community Power


This cultural content essay focuses on several sources that relate to the hardships faced by undocumented workers and students–DREAMers, specifically, who were brought to the country at a young age–and their families.  It uses documentaries, video clips, and music videos to convey the idea that the elite majority constantly oppresses the group of undocumented minorities and misuses their power to exert force and dominance over them.  These people face several common themes within that greater concept, several of which relate to worker’s rights, rights to education, and more than anything, basic human rights.  The main ideas of the paper revolve around how community organizing and bonding together with the solidarity of fellow group members and also outside allies can cause even the most oppressed groups–like undocumented people, in this case–to prosper and gain power for their own communities, even in the face of harsh oppression from elite leaders and groups.

Dominique Lopez-Piper

Dr. Martin

Case Study: Sports-Centered Urban Development 

The majority of neighborhood development initiatives we have focused on in class present their plans as being entirely based on satisfying the people within those communities. However, our discussions have made it quite clear that very few of those efforts are true to the motives they establish outwardly regarding helping great numbers of people struggling in the lower classes; instead, there is usually a money-making venture involved that works in favor of the already wealthy, elite few. In class, we spoke of this phenomenon occurring specifically in relation to sports-centered urban redevelopment under Bruce Ratner’s direction in Brooklyn, but the feigned charity doesn’t stop there. Timothy Chapin explains a similar reality of sports facilities aiming to yield economic recovery that takes place in Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Cleveland’s Gateway, but he focuses more on the impacts of these projects on their respective cities.

In Brooklyn Matters, Bruce Ratner—a real estate developer with the backing of the Empire State Development Corporation—plans to build a New York Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn to benefit his own interests and to make himself money; however, he presents the plan as one geared towards urban redevelopment that would help create jobs and excitement for the residents of that area. It all started when flyers were spread amongst low income residents with the grand promise of “Jobs, Housing, and Hoops” plastered all over them, along with a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). The CBA implied that the community’s input was being considered as valuable and that they were endorsing the project. While it may have sounded nice at first, below the surface were so many fabrications and inconsistencies that made it clear that Ratner had no idea what the people truly wanted and needed and was not going to take the time to find out.

Ratner’s next step was to buy out hundreds of local residents and tear down the perfectly decent buildings he had vacated that used to be their homes, to make space for what he deemed more important. Not only did Ratner disguise his selfish intentions entirely and mask them with charitable, hopeful words for the people, he also tried to tell them what they should want. Newsflash, Ratner: not every low-income African-American person wants a basketball stadium that they cannot even afford to watch a game in, because your project is actually making it harder for them to get reliable jobs and more expensive for them to continue living in their hometown. This situation is a clear example of sports-centered redevelopment that is supposedly centered around altruistically helping the local residents, when the only ones that really win out are the greedy manipulators at the top of the wealth and power food chain.

Similarly, Timothy Chapin explains that sports facilities as urban redevelopment tend to be poor investments, but he zeroes in on the direct impact they have on Baltimore and Cleveland more than anything. The article he wrote highlights the opportunities that come with the creation of sports stadiums, such as developing underused buildings, establishing new images for the areas in question, and catalyzing the redevelopment process created by the sports stadiums; however, these are not promised consequences, but rather increased chances for their potential fruition. These plans list their intentions as including the creation of better-paying jobs, economic growth at the metropolitan level, and the advancement of neighborhoods as a hole.

Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Cleveland all resemble each other in several ways when it comes to the social issues and phenomena that result from the creation of sports facilities. For example, while these projects supposedly create better jobs, each of the situations were actually found to yield low-paying service sector jobs and perhaps even have a negative impact on real income per capita. Additionally, Cleveland’s Gateway Project was listed as one that set out to energize the city, kind of like the creation of the indoor lounge space at the stadium in Brooklyn. Even the language used is very similar, especially with the use of the word “blighted.” While Brooklyn was said to look blighted after Ratner forced residents out of their homes and left the buildings abandoned, Cleveland was described this was due to the demolishing of several buildings and an overall poor image that put forth a bad first impression to both residents and visitors.

In conclusion, while all three areas all had very different attributes, it was interesting to learn just how much overlap there was when it came to attempted redevelopment through the creation of sports facilities. Brooklyn Matters highlighted the corruption and selfishness behind these projects that was masked as a neighborhood improvement effort, while Chapin’s article focused more on the direct outcomes linked to these sports-centered initiatives. All in all, while some of these projects may have seemed more beneficial to community members than others, the biggest takeaway I had was that the intentions behind them never truly seemed to be altruistic or for the well-being of communities, but rather representing an ulterior motive to make money for those who are already wealthy.


Works Cited

Chapin, Timothy S. “Sports Facilities as Urban Redevelopment Catalysts: Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Cleveland’s Gateway.” Journal of the American Planning Association 70.2 (2004): 193-209. Web.