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August 12, 2021

El Poder de la Comunidad. | Kansas City, KS. | Leslie Ponce-Díaz, BArch/BFA ’23

by Leslie Ponce-Díaz

During my Maharam Fellowship, I had the opportunity to participate in various community events that helped give students in the community academic and health-related resources in preparation for the upcoming school year. Through my community organization, First-Gen Chisme, I participated in three school supply giveaway events with local non-profits/government association: Central Avenue Betterment Association (CABA), El Centro Inc., and the KCK USD 500 School District. First-Gen Chisme successfully gifted over 350+ school supplies including pencils, pens, notebooks, folders with notebook paper, pencil bags, and glue sticks. First-Gen Chisme also gifted stickers and postcards on more information on how First-Gen students in the community can be supported through First-Gen Chisme’s resources.

El Centro is a local non-profit organization located in Kansas City, KS that focuses on “strengthening communities and improving lives of Latinos and others through educational, social, and economic opportunities.” The non-profit organization hosted a vaccine and book bag giveaway to students and families within the Kansas City Metropolitan area. First-Gen Chisme participated by handing out school supplies at their vaccine event. Once students received their vaccine, they were asked to wait 15 minutes and then they received a book bag from El Centro Inc. staff and the First-Gen Chisme school supplies. At the event, we were able to vaccinate 104 individuals from the community. First-Gen Chisme gifted an approximate of 180+ school supplies within the event for K-12 students and their families. There were also opportunities for students to get free hair cuts and food at the back-to-school fair located in Central Middle School in Kansas City, KS.

El Centro Back-to-School Vaccine Event with school supplies giveaway!
I found it amazing to see that the “paletero man (ice-cream man)” played an important role at the event as it caught the attention of many visitors. This has became the branding of First-Gen Chisme as it not only represents my culture but it engages the community through education and design.

Three days after the El Centro’s Vaccine event, the USD 500 KCK Public School District hosted a back-to-school
event with vaccination and free school supply giveaway opportunities. First-Gen Chisme participated by handing out school supplies at their vaccine event. At the event, there were 264 adult and teens that were vaccinated. First-Gen Chisme gifted an approximate of 200+ school supplies within the event for K-12 students and their families. This event was important for Enough is Enough as families got the opportunity to learn more about the initiative as well as get their vaccines and free items to take home. There were a variety of different community organizations that participated to make the event get the attention of the community. The First-Gen Chisme school cart was a great success! It caught the attention of families and they wanted to be a part of getting free school supplies for their families. I was able to hand out all of the supplies I had left from the previous two school supply giveaway events I participated in.

I LOVE this panorama view of the event. It demonstrates how vibrant and successful this event was for the community. It also shows how when people exit the building to the left, they can not help but look at the colorful First-Gen Chisme cart on their way out!

Alongside the public events in collaboration with other organizations and First-Gen Chisme, I initiated various visual arts and community projects to help raise gun violence awareness within my community in Kansas City. I created visual branding and content for Enough is Enough to share on their social media and school wide printed visuals. The visual content provides a youthful invitation to the community to know more of what the initiative is providing for the community. After researching various of gun violence awareness initiatives from #MarchForOurLives and Change The Ref, I realized the importance of creating content that engages in the voices of the youth. At first, I did have difficulty thinking about designing visuals that the school district would like to use within their campaign. Originally I was troubled by the blue ribbon because politically it can symbolize the ‘thin blue line’ visual often seen in relation to police officers. However, I did more research and I realized that the blue ribbon symbol was also a universal image that shows support for child abuse and prevention. I believe that through the inclusion of youth voices and stories, the message will become more clear on what the relations between the blue ribbon and the initiative Enough is Enough. I used already existing visuals of the initiative to create branding that expressed the districts message on gun violence awareness. I realized that the district’s already existing content is: inclusive, representation, bilingual, non-text heavy, and to the point. The district is also known to include blue ribbons around the community on poles and trees that expresses Enough is Enough’s message for gun violence awareness. All of these projects helped me create branding that expressed the work that the initiative is doing for the community.

Every time I go to my nearest library or drive by a school, I always enjoy seeing the blue ribbons tied on trees in the community and I wanted to visualize this through a perspective illustration for the Enough is Enough campaign. The initiative has allowed members from the community to download Enough is Enough Zoom/Laptop backgrounds to show their support towards the initiative in a virtual manner. However, I felt that the backgrounds were missing the community factor that is really needed when raising awareness on violence. I imagined a field of trees with tied abstracted Enough is Enough ribbons on the trunks surrounded by families, youth, and teens having important conversations and sharing a moment of community expressed better what the initiative is doing for the community. All of the graphics I have created include the district’s logo and a QR code that leads individuals to learn more about Enough is Enough.

Downloadable Zoom/Laptop Background created by the district.
Re-imagined Zoom/Laptop Background for Enough is Enough.

I also included this visual on the thank you gifts that I will be gifting to my two supervisors, Sharita and Randy, as a thank you for allowing me to be a part of this great movement within my community. Using my Maharam funding, I purchased a printed tote bag and pencil pouch as well as a small blue bear. This experience has been the most rewarding opportunity in my work as a student architect and community organizer and I am forever grateful for Sharita and Randy’s welcomeness within the initiative.

This internship is stemmed from my passions in helping the upcoming generation of students within my school district. It has been a pleasure not only working on Enough is Enough but also having the opportunity to help through my community organization, First-Gen Chisme. I have been able to brainstorm and re-imagine how First-Gen Chisme can become a physical non-profit space near Central Avenue in Kansas City. How can I continue providing resources for First-Gen students in a sustainable manner within my community? One of my main goals after graduating from RISD is to establish an official non-profit within Kansas City, KS through First-Gen Chisme that supports youth through art, design, advocacy, and education. I believe that the Maharam Fellowship and the B-Lab Venture Program have been great opportunities to engage my community through First-Gen Chisme and the potentials it has in helping the Kansas City, KS community. My involvement within Enough is Enough and First-Gen Chisme has been recognized by The Kansas City Beacon Media through an interview highlighting Enough is Enough and my work within the initiative. The Kansas City Beacon Media isa non-profit online news outlet focused on in-depth journalism in the public interest.

Overall, this summer, I have learned about “El Poder De La Comunidad. — The Power of the Community.” within my Maharam Fellowship as an intern in my past school district, USD 500 KCK, within their initiative Enough is Enough to raise gun violence awareness within the Kansas City, KS community. I have curated a Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet that captures all of the various projects I worked on this summer within my Maharam Fellowship at Rhode Island School of Design and the B-Lab Venture Program at Brown University. The Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet is in both English and Spanish to share with all of my family and friends! The orange cover is in English and the green cover is in Spanish.

English – Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet

Spanish – Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet

Final thanks to all of the RISD Careers Team that helped me out with my application and believed in my vision to help my community! This experience has meant so much to me and I am very thankful for this amazing opportunity. Muchas gracias! Thank you to Enough is Enough, Sharita and Randy, and all of the collaborators located in Kansas City that allowed me to be a part of their amazing community events. I look forward to seeing how my work with First-Gen Chisme can continue to support these great organizations and our Kansas City, KS community.

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