DMV Security Learning Community
Despite its wealth, the Washington DC metro region (DMV) faces a number of chronic and recurring social challenges, including:
- Residential and occupational segregation by race, ethnicity and class that contribute to sharp inequalities in neighborhood resources and life outcomes.
- Higher rates of school disengagement, dropout, crime and violence among youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
- Unemployment and unstable employment, especially among less educated residents.
- Insufficient civic engagement and collaboration across class, race, ethnic and other lines of difference, and corresponding distrust and resentment between differing social groups.
There is no single solution to any of the above challenges, and throwing lots of money at them doesn’t necessarily solve them. Indeed, such sticky problems require sustained, systemic, cross-sector collaboration to mitigate or overcome. However, in metro DC, there is one inexpensive approach that, as far as we observe, has not been tried: building engaging, inclusive learning communities that can help tackle all the above-mentioned issues.
When it comes to learning, there are, of course, many schools and universities, but these are substantially segregated by race, ethnicity and class, thus reinforcing as much if not more than reducing inequalities. There are also all kinds of educational supports provided by nonprofits, businesses and/or governments – mentoring, tutoring, special education, after-school and summer enrichment programs, internships, trainings, etc. – but generally, those who can pay more get better service. There are also professional membership associations of all kinds that provide work-learning and networking opportunities, but entry fees can be prohibitive, and not enough foster inclusive environments that build caring relationships across lines of difference.
About Learning Life and the DMV Democracy Learning Community
Learning Life is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit working to build inclusive learning communities that widen and deepen participation in democracy and diplomacy. Our Democracy Learning Community (DLC) in the Washington DC area is devoted to making democracy more engaging by developing social events, products, services and spaces that entertain as well as nurture learning, networking, collaboration and wider, deeper citizen participation.
In 2019, Learning Life launched the DLC with our Democracy Dinners, which gather DC area activists, scholars, students, professionals, and elected officials who work in varied democracy domains to discuss and build the DLC. The Dinners have allowed Learning Life to build a contact list of 6,000+ metro DC democracy professionals, and we are now engaging that network to take the next steps in the development of the DLC, including a (a) visioning document to help people see what a vibrant regional DLC could look like, (b) a child and family-friendly DC Democracy Festival, with theatrical performances, exhibits, game rooms, dialogues, food and more, and (c) a Security Learning Community (SLC).
Why a Security Learning Community?
The SLC is an example of a democracy learning community, in this case focused on security challenges. Why develop a DLC focused on security? Three reasons. First, security is a fundamental concern to everyone. Second, it is the subject of policy-making in governments at local to global levels. Third, there is a large security industry in the Washington DC area employing everyone from local police, firemen, mental health workers, and home, commercial and industrial security specialists, to international diplomats, peacebuilders, soldiers and arms threat experts.
For reasons one and two, in a healthier and safer democratic society, more citizens are engaged in learning and collaboration on security issues. As any local police professional can attest, police work is easier when the public is informed and engaged on local security issues. Likewise, any diplomat can attest that a domestic public more knowledgeable about and involved in international affairs, including security problems, not only makes it easier to recruit qualified diplomats, but to carry out more thoughtful, proactive rather than reactive security diplomacy.
For the third reason, an SLC can help connect the DC area’s diverse students to the plethora of employment opportunities in the security industry. Connecting youth to employment is often not a simple process, especially for youth from disadvantaged families. Many may not be qualified, so an SLC can help bridge the knowledge, skills and connections gaps by creating engaging learning activities in and out-of-school that bring caring professionals from diverse security fields together with interested youth from diverse neighborhoods.
What Could a Security Learning Community Do?
A SLC should help (a) youth network, learn, and advance their careers, (b) nurture more security-informed, caring and connected citizens, (c) bridge our regions’ sharp socio-economic divides, and (d) encourage community and civic volunteerism through engaging activities for youth and adults. To start, Learning Life proposes three activities:
- A small arms weapons proliferation simulation for 50-60 interested high school students from selected, diverse public, private and charter schools in the DC area. In light of the ongoing gun violence problem in the DC area and beyond, over six sessions (five online, the sixth in-person), the simulation would bring together the students with local to international small arms professionals to give the youth a wider, deeper sense of the gun problem, and practice in team-based, collaborative problem-solving.
- Issue dinners, each focused on a targeted security problem, local to global. The dinners would be held in the DC area at the homes or offices of SLC-sponsoring individuals and/or organizations. Each would start with one or more fun activities, whether games or else, to allow the youth and adults to get to know each other as persons. Participants would then eat as they listen to 1-4 speakers on a given security problem, followed by small and large group discussions that ensure youth participation.
- Opportunity and experience meetings, in-person or online, that gather security professionals and interested high school and/or college youth to learn about (a) industry trainings, competitions, grants, internships, apprenticeships, jobs and more, (b) younger and more senior professionals’ lessons learned from experience over the course of their careers, in security and more generally, of value to youth for making wiser decisions.
Steps Forward and How to Get Involved
The simulation may occur as early as September or October 2024, and culminate in-person at the DC Democracy Festival. The issue dinners, and opportunity and experience meetings would then follow in 2025. Learning Life plans to pilot test each of the three SLC events to assess its viability and popularity, then adjust and test more activities (e.g., mentoring, innovation contests, a newsletter) pending demand and funding.
In preparation, Learning Life staff has since summer 2023 successfully begun recruiting volunteers from the DC area security industry. In the first half of 2024, we will also begin recruiting donors, sponsors and participating high schools, universities and teachers. Sustainable funding for the SLC will likely come from a variety of sources, including government and foundation grants, business sponsorships, individual donations, and SLC membership fees, with scholarships to waive or reduce those fees for eligible youth.
Here are four ways individuals and organizations can help build the SLC:
- Work in the DC area in the security field at local, state, national or international levels? Volunteer as a speaker, advisor and/or evaluator for the planned SLC activities. Schedule a meeting with Learning Life founder Paul Lachelier using his Calendly to learn more.
- Donate to help with recruiting, planning and bringing the first SLC activities into being. Learning Life asks donors to give $100 or more, but you can donate here at whatever level at which you feel comfortable. When you donate, type “SLC donation” in the Note box at the donation page. Donations are fully tax-deductible.
- Sponsor the SLC. Sponsorship starts at $250 for individuals, and $1,000 for organizations. Details here. As noted above, the SLC is part of the DLC, so the sponsor details page is for the DLC. However, SLC sponsors who note “SLC Sponsor” in the Note box at the donation page will be publicly recognized as SLC sponsors.
- Know individuals and/or organizations who would be interested in supporting the SLC with their time, money, space, or other resources? Please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions? Contact us at email@example.com.