UMass CESL promotes learning for life-long, engaged citizenship, partnering with communities on and off campus to work collectively for a more just society.

Aaron Buford

Aaron Buford joined the Community for Social Progress in his sophomore year (2007) and graduated from UMass Amherst in spring 2009 with a bachelor’s degree with individual concentration in youth leadership and urban development and a minor in African American studies. Today, he teaches psychology and U.S. history at Springfield Central High School in Massachusetts. Aaron aspires to pursue a doctorate in psychology and to work as a therapist focusing on issues related to masculinity and youth violence.

From his sophomore year until graduation, Aaron did community service at the Men’s Resource Center of Amherst, Massachusetts (http://www.mrcforchange.org/), where, along with fellow Community for Social Progress member Malcolm Chu (who later became president of the UMass Amherst Student government body and currently works as a community organizer in Springfield, Massachusetts), he developed the Young Men of Color Leadership Group, a mentoring program designed to empower young men of color to be positive forces in their community and to address negative perceptions of young men of color that were present in the Amherst community at the time. Their program focused on how relationships and issues of masculinity “play out” for men of color, and emphasized violence prevention, healthy relationships, personal growth, and leadership development. In 2007, Aaron was elected president of the UMass Student Government Association and was the chief student negotiator during the 2007 student general strike. He was active in the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM; see http://phenomonline.org/), a Massachusetts higher education network that promotes access to higher education. He was also a mentor and consultant to A Better Chance (http://www.amherstabetterchance.org/), a program of which he himself is an alumnus. Aaron sees work as a teacher as building on the work he began as a student. He says:

 

Back then I was just trying to get young men and my peers to think critically about the world and the issues that were affecting them. And that’s what I’m doing now in my classroom. I’m teaching civics and about different social movements and trying to get young people to think critically about the world and how to change it. It was during my time in the CSP [Community for Social Progress] that I first began to think seriously about civic responsibilities. . . .

 

I keep coming back to the same themes in all of the work that I am doing both in my public and private life. For example, the positive masculinity work that I did then has really led me to think about my own work as a teacher, as a parent and as a husband. It’s really kept me grounded and thinking about the importance of building relationships.

I can think of lots of applications from CSP [Community for Social Progress] that I draw on all of the time. Making the commitment to work that’s meaningful—not charity but work that has a lasting impact. I have really been helped by being able to imagine what a good society looks like and this gives me some direction. I talk to my students not just about the way the world is but what is possible and help them get past the “yes, buts.” . . . And organizing has been a huge skill that I have taken away from the program and from my practical experience within the SGA [Student Government Association]. I have applied it to everything in my personal life. I see teaching as a kind of organizing and it helps me see where the opportunities are to leverage power from where I currently stand and to address things that need to change.

 

 Finally—I am definitely in it for the long haul—so I look to what I can do right now but I also see myself as building on all of the elements of organizing so that I can address the root causes of the social problems that I confront daily. (A. Buford, personal communication, October 2011)