Reclaiming Community
Race and the Uncertain Future of Youth Work
Bianca J. Baldridge



THIS BOOK WAS A LABOR OF LOVE for many years and would not have been possible without the dedicated community-based leaders, youth workers, and staff at Educational Excellence. Thank you for your labor and unconditional support of the many young people you served at Educational Excellence. You all were always willing to participate in interviews, open to my observations, and open to providing any kind of support I needed to complete the research for this book. Thank you for your candor and belief in the power of our youth. To the young people of Educational Excellence, you taught me much more than I could ever teach you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives.

I offer sincere gratitude to the staff at Stanford University Press. I am grateful for the editorial guidance from Marcela Maxfield, Olivia Bartz, and the entire SUP team. Marcela, thank you for believing in my work. I am grateful for your patience and tending to all of my questions and worries about the publishing process. I have deep appreciation to the anonymous reviewers that provided important feedback.

Throughout my adolescence I had many experiences that revealed the power of learning outside of school. Educators in my life like Ellen Petruzzi and June Thompson nurtured my passion for teaching and learning while showing me that school could also be stifling to education and learning. These women nurtured my early desire to teach and showed me that young people had the capacity to change the world if adults got out of their way. Through my early experiences in community-based youth programs, I developed strong skill sets that I carry with me today as an educator. At the same time, many of these experiences were scarring and harmful as a young Black girl. I knew in college and then in graduate school that I wanted to study community spaces that engaged young people like me. However, I knew these spaces could not be studied without deeply exploring their sociopolitical contexts and how the dynamics of race, class, gender, and power functioned within them. I’d like to thank early mentors in my career, Robert L. Allen and Velma LaPoint, whose wisdom, advice, and mentorship helped me think about these issues and led me to pursue graduate work.

Those early experiences negotiating race, power, and class within community organizations as a participant and educator led me to graduate school, where early ideas for this work were nurtured by the guidance of Amy Stuart Wells and a community of cheerleaders—James Alford, Ramatu Bangura, Tara Conley, Darnel Degand, Jacquelyn Duran, Jeffrey Henig, David Johns, Omari Keeles, Shamus Khan, Richard Lofton, Jamila Lyiscott, Michelle Knight-Manuel, Isabel Martinez, Ernest Morrell, Aaron Pallas, Allison Rhoda, Cati de los Rios, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Karin Van Orman, and Miya Warner. My colleagues at the University of Wisconsin—Madison have been supportive advocates of my work, and for that I am grateful. To my colleagues in Educational Policy Studies—Mike Apple, Lesley Bartlett, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Jordan Conwell, Michael Fultz, Mary Jo “M. J.” Gessler, Diana Hess, Nancy Kendall, Jacob Leonard, Adam Nelson, Bill Reese, Linn Posey-Maddox, and Walter Stern—thank you for every note, e-mail, and pep talk in the hallway. To Erica O. Turner and Kathryn Moeller: I can’t thank you enough for helping me stay grounded throughout this process and for your feedback on portions of the manuscript. I’d like to especially thank Stacey Lee. Stacey, thank you for carefully reading the manuscript from beginning to end and for your constant support and belief in my work. To Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, who read this book in its early stages, I am deeply grateful for your early encouragement. John Diamond, thank you for the countless hours, days, and weeks you spent reviewing this book.

Thank you to the UW students I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from. You all have been encouraging and supportive throughout this journey. You all remind me of what’s important. I’d especially like to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of Marlo Reeves and Ashley Smith, who helped assist me with last-minute tasks before publication. Thank you for putting up with all of my requests. I am also grateful for the generous support of the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship program for allowing me time and mentorship to move this book forward.

I am surrounded by amazing friends and colleagues around the country who have provided insight and critical feedback on my work. Those people are Derrick Brooms, Marc Lamont Hill, and R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy. To my colleagues, Jarvis Givens, Carl Grant, Saida Grundy, Amanda Lewis, Erica Meiners, Dave Stovall, Elizabeth Todd-Breland, and Mark Warren—conversations about the publishing process and writing helped me approach this book in new ways throughout the writing process. Our interactions had more impact than you know. I’d also like to thank Chris Lura for his feedback on multiple drafts of this book; I’m so thankful for your critical eye and validation. To Maisha T. Winn, Monica White, and Ron C. Williams II: your friendship sustained me throughout this process. You all knew exactly what I was going through as you were completing important books of your own. I’d also like to thank a group of friends whose encouragement, support, daily or weekly check-ins, and/or pleas for me to take care of myself while completing this book were helpful during very challenging personal times. These people are Fenaba Addo, Kendra Alexander, Brandelyn Anderson, Jamal Anderson, Angela Rose Black, Kshinte Braithwaite, Erika Bullock, Alyson Edwards, Sakeena Everett, Taucia Gonzales, Annalee Good, Keisha Green, Erica Hewitt, Amari Johnson, Tiffani Johnson, Ruth Latham, Justin Martin, Maxine McKinney de-Royston, Afia Dawn Opantiri, Shameka Powell, Shanta Robinson, Constance Samuels, Katy Swalwell, Shannell Thomas, Chizoba Udeorji, Cidna Valentin, Melissa Valle, Shirin Vossoughi, and Torry Winn. I’d also like to thank my late comrade Antonio Nieves Martinez. He was a true advocate for young people and freedom fighter. I’m grateful for his belief in my work from the moment we first met and during great moments of doubt early in my career. To the Diamond-Berry, Mullen, Udeorji, and Winn families: thank you for your encouragement and support along the way. To my sister-scholars—Keisha McIntosh Allen, Sosanya Jones, Terrenda White, and Blanca Vega—thank you for your encouragement, laughter, moments of levity, and reminders about the importance of joy. I know there are many others who have been supportive of this book and throughout my career that I might have unintentionally forgotten to name. Please blame my head and not my heart.

To my partner, John, thank you for showing me patient and gentle love. Your support and unconditional love have meant the world to me. Thank you for loving me through all my panics related to this book. To my big and loving family, thank you for your support and being the first ones to “see” me. I love you all and I’m still waiting on visits to the Midwest. My brother, Brandon Muhammad, your strength and courage inspire me. To my loving parents: Debra Myles-Baldridge and Mac Baldridge Jr., thank you for always believing in me. Your sacrifices have made it possible for me to do the work that I do.

Last, thank you to the millions of youth workers who sacrifice so much to guide and learn from young people. Your work is not invisible; it is critical and necessary.