Washtenaw County-based symposium to create certification path for human services professionals

The first point of contact with a human services professional like a teacher, health care worker, or police officer can make or break the interaction. What do those professionals need to know in order to offer the best services they can to those they encounter? 

Those are some of the ideas behind the One Love Symposium, a Washtenaw County-based initiative billed as "a contest, a conference, an integrated arts event, and a vehicle for social transformation." One Love founder Dr. Anna Gersh, who also works as a project administrator for Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Bright Futures program, calls the event "an opportunity to build a body of knowledge around that point-of-service moment."

"Given what we know about our school-to-prison pipeline, police violence, and differential health outcomes based on class and race, we know that the point of service is where mistakes are made," Gersh says. "You're standing in front of a professional who is making a judgment about whether you're to be ignored, forgiven, punished, [or] granted or denied access to resources."

Gersh says she came up with the idea for the event after George Floyd was killed by police and the subsequent protests against police brutality. Having worked as an educator for 17 years, and having spent almost five years studying and doing volunteer work related to police oversight, she found herself watching TV and crying.

"I was trapped in a pandemic with my 15-year-old son and him watching me. As an educator, I know how important modeling is," she says. "Was I going to model for him sitting and feeling crummy because the world is messed up or was I going to do something?"

The symposium won't take place until early 2022, but the process is already in motion. Phase one involved developing a survey with the input of local youth and sending the youth out to bring the survey into their communities. The general focus of the survey is the question, "What does a doctor, teacher, or law enforcement official need to know to be good at their jobs?"

Gersh is hoping for at least 100 survey responses. Those survey results will inform phase two of the project, a preview event at the Ann Arbor District Library from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 28. The meeting will also be broadcast during a fundraising event at the Blue Llama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor. 

The Sept. 28 meeting will feature discussions on values-focused decision making, with guests Michael Johnson, a professor in the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs at McCormack Graduate School in Boston; Wendy Burke, teacher education department head at EMU; Rebecca Guzman, founding member of the Michigan Community Health Workers Alliance (MiCHWA); and a representative from Washtenaw Community College Police Academy. 

The final phase is the One Love Symposium, set for February. Gersh originally envisioned it as a seven-day event but says the exact schedule is yet to be determined. The symposium will include a youth writing contest, performances by local musicians, and panel discussions on the topic of shared human values. 

Gersh hopes the result of the three-phase process will be a course that human services workers can take for a certification and continuing education credits. Gersh says she believes human services professionals can be a force for undermining systemic racism in a variety of ways, and the curriculum will teach them techniques for doing that.

More information about all three phases of the One Love Symposium are available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Anna Gersh.
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