Before the 2022 school year came to an end, Obed Arango and Holly Link, PhD, lecturers and co-instructors at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) and Founder and Executive Director, and Director of Education and Research, of the Centro de Cultura, Arte, Trabajo y Educación (CCATE), had the opportunity to engage a group of their students with Congresswoman Madeleine Dean. The students enrolled in their Social Policy in the Latinx Community class met virtually with Dean for a scheduled 30-minute discussion. Ultimately, the discussion ran much longer based on the Congresswoman’s interest in the work being done in the Latinx community.

For Arango and Link, the virtual visit allowed students to explore their policy interests and concerns with Dean and further their understanding of policy formation and implementation for the Latinx community at local, state, and federal levels. Moreover, the visit motivated them to consider how to better advocate for the needs of this community in relation to health, education, and immigration policy.

The dialogue gave Dean the opportunity to share her legislative initiatives and positions on immigration, education, and health for the Latinx community, while Arango, Link, and their students shared social policy proposals related to education, international diplomacy at the border, the closing of the detention center at Berks, and the trauma-informed pedagogy specific to unaccompanied minors and the educational system. In response, Dean shared her experiences touring the detention centers in Florida and Berks and made clear the changes that must happen on immigration and the challenges facing the 4th District in Pennsylvania.

CCATE is a nonprofit founded by Arango over ten years ago as a center for social transformation. The center fills a need in the Latinx community that Arango noticed after immigrating to the United States in 2000 from Mexico. Over a decade after founding CCATE in the Norristown area, the success of the nonprofit dedicated to promoting education, art, and culture among the Latinx community is a point of pride for Latinxs far beyond Montgomery County. In addition to his work in the nonprofit sector, Arango has trained as an anthropologist, and has worked as a journalist and a visual artist, but with CCATE he has said his intention is to ensure that Latinx children have access to resources to drive academic success. That means access to arts and culture, and the opportunity to find and raise their voices. Obed emphasizes that what makes CCATE unique is the deep commitment and involvement of Latinx community members, through its shared leadership model, in all aspects of its programming, development, and the maintenance, care, and upkeep of its newly purchased building and green space.

Link, a former bilingual teacher in New York and California, joined CCATE as volunteer in 2014 when she was completing her PhD in Educational Linguistics at Penn GSE, studying language and communication in relation to education policy at an elementary school in Norristown. She came on board as Director of Education Programs and Research in 2016. Since then she has focused on developing a community-based research center in collaboration with adults, young people, and local university students through which they can inform public policy for social transformation. Link points out that in contrast to traditional research models, community-based research involves community members in all aspects of the research process, from design to data collection and analysis, and finally, actions taken based on implications that directly serve the community. So far, this process has resulted in increased communication and collaboration with the Norristown Area School District, and this year, CCATE’s adult research team were hired as consultants to provide training in culturally sensitivity to district staff. They have also joined a community advisory committee – NASD CARES – for the school board. Arango sees these new forms of engagement as critical to the process of deeper engagement and participation of the Latinx community in local schools.

We are proud that Professors Arango and Link bring concepts of community engagement and empowerment to SP2 students through their real-world experiences with the Latinx community at CCATE. By offering our students the opportunity to speak directly to Congresswoman Dean, Arango and Link have extended their impact even further, through action-oriented training of the next generation of social policy and practice leaders.

– Sara S. Bachman
Dean, SP2

For Arango, CCATE is not a typical nonprofit organization where a board of directors sets the agenda, and where participants in its programs are clients. Instead, CCATE has inverted the pyramid. Arango explains, “At CCATE we don’t talk about clients, we talk about community members. The community is organized by circles, workshops, and classes, and each of these groups establishes its own goals and plans. The staff facilitates this process while the board of directors supports programs and plans, and helps locate resources.”

Arango makes sure that everyone who visits CCATE understands their two main philosophies. First, All the knowledge of the world from everyone to everyone. The message here is that everyone has the right to knowledge and should share that knowledge with the community. The second, Viva la comunidad! Long live the community!

CCATE is in the process of envisioning the next 10 years, and three years of collaboration with NPL students in Meredith Myers’ course, Interpersonal Dynamics in Nonprofits That Thrive, have been pivotal in this process of visualization. Areas of focus include CCATE’s participatory, community-based research center oriented towards policy change; the development of a Latin American and Caribbean Plaza, transforming CCATE’s green space to celebrate Latinx cultures and traditions through sustainable, environmental justice-oriented practices; and finally, the development of a new media portal through funding from Independence Public Media Foundation to challenge negative portrayals of the Latinx immigrant community by reclaiming their own stories through writing, filmmaking, art, and media productions. CCATE welcomes any and all interested to visit them in Norristown and to collaborate on these and other projects as they continue to grow.