Prioritizing those most harmed by traffic injuries and fatalities, Public Matters University Park Slow Jams (UPSJ) is a creative call to action for safer streets with a messaging campaign. In partnership with Los Angeles Walks, USC Kid Watch, and USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. Public Matters worked with University Park parents, schools, and groups to draw attention to traffic violence and build residents’ capacity to advocate for safer, people-friendly streets. Their messaging campaign engaged parents and children in the production of photo and video content to be shared throughout the school year.
We chatted with Public Matters to learn more about their goals and approach to traffic safety and community engagement. Check out our chat below!
Go Human (GH): Describe how your Go Human Mini-Grant project helped to bring the traffic safety concerns of your community to light.
Public Matters (PM): The first Mini-Grant that University Park Slow Jams (UPSJ) received from Go Human in 2018 enabled us to lay the groundwork for this project through deep internal relationship building with our community partners. Public Matters came together with Los Angeles Walks, USC Kid Watch, and USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, each group bringing their distinct areas of expertise to address shared concerns about traffic dangers. This internal relationship building was cultivated when Safer at Home guidance was in place, with all interactions with community members conducted remotely on Zoom. Having fortified these relationships over the past year, UPSJ participants grew their capacity to facilitate conversations and communicate the importance of safe, people-friendly streets to expanding circles of family, friends, and neighbors.
With this current Community Streets Mini-Grant, we continue to build upon our previous engagement work with community members, centering their lived experiences and cultural fluencies to develop and co-create bilingual English/Spanish messaging that both resonates with their networks and calls out the concerns of traffic dangers. In the process of co-creating these media assets, we have been able to take direct action in-person, and externally project local lived experiences, traffic safety concerns, and what we have learned out to the broader community.
GH: What role did community partnerships play in the success of your Go Human Mini-Grant project?
PM: Community partnerships are central to the success of University Park Slow Jams. UPSJ prioritizes and builds the collective capacity of our project team and particularly community members to advocate for safer streets. Community members are the experts, and they have taken on various roles as facilitators, co-creators, neighborhood walk auditors, and more. Everyone on our project team has a stake in UPSJー USC Kid Watch, USC Price, and LA Walks. Over the course of the year, each person has brought firsthand local knowledge, data, and experiences; Kid Watch Members have grown in their confidence to voice their stories and concerns to the broader community. This is valuable data that might otherwise be missing from exclusively quantitative data sets.
USC Kid Watch Ambassador, Lilia Garcia, shared that, “My favorite memory is when we made the map, as it was filled with points with each of the needs of each of the members, volunteers, neighbors. For a community and for our safe families, we will continue united in action.”
USC Kid Watch Program Manager, Irvin Jerez, has said, “I think the most impactful thing that I’ve seen throughout this collaborative project has been seeing the community members really rise to a place where they haven’t been pushed to before…Specifically talking about our USC Kid Watch Ambassadors, I think they have gone above and beyond anything that they’ve ever done before. Leading their own workshops, leading the discussions, and making whole presentations, I think, has been really outstanding and I’m very proud of having them on my team.”
Sabrina Im, Development Associate for Public Matters, also noted that, “Transitioning from online engagement to direct, in-person engagement with our community partners has changed my perception of what’s possible when it comes to organizing for collective care.”
Another USC Kid Watch Member, Maria Menjivar, further emphasizes this point of cultivating collective capacity, stating that not only was she able to share the needs of her community through UPSJ, “We were also able to listen to the needs of our community.”
USC Kid Watch Members will be integral in the dissemination of our co-created media assets for the upcoming messaging campaign. Their expertise has led us into this next phase and together, we have a deeper reinforcement of the traffic safety concerns affecting the community members of University Park.
GH: What creative methods did your organization use in the promotion and messaging of your Go Human Mini-Grant project?
PM: For everyone’s safety, each media shoot was done outdoors and all members were physically distant. We directly engaged with parents and children on sidewalks, curbs, and crosswalks, using a combination of costumes, props, and band-aid stickers for the production of media assets. Bringing in community members’ previously identified priority concerns for each school, these activities set the foundation for co-created storylines, prop and costume making, and experimentation.
Reanne Estrada, Co-Principal and Creative Director for Public Matters shares,
“We try to make the process fun, even as the issues we address are serious. Creating content together with a spirit of fun can result in messaging that is disarming and effective at connecting with audiences. It’s also quite reaffirming and empowering, this process of centering the work from a place of positivity (community, collaboration) rather than the usual deficit-mindset.”
In addition to being the Program Manager for USC Kid Watch, longtime resident Irvin Jerez says, “Being able to introduce a community that I love very much but that maybe other people sometimes…I don’t know if ‘looked down upon’ is the right term, but maybe don’t think too highly of? And being able to share that and show both the positives and the negatives, which I think every community has. But some communities only showcase, you know, the positives. But it’s the positives and the negatives that really make the people of this community who they are.”
He continues his reflection, emphasizing that, “One of my main reasons why I took on this job, and why I love it so much, is because I’m able to give back to the community that has formed me to be the person that I am. And I think even growing up, I never saw this place, as a place I was stuck at, you know? I want to be able to give back and be able to share these different experiences that I think a lot of the time people in this community don’t know they have. Or they think, “This is the way things have always been, and this is the way they always will be.” And I think it’s really cool that I’m a part of this. And in some way, I hope that I leave a little piece of my legacy.”
The messaging campaign for University Park Slow Jams will be launching this fall on multiple platforms. Participatory, humorous, and attention-grabbing, the goal of the campaign is to situate traffic dangers within existing systems ー the built environment, automotive privilege, prevailing attitudes, and behaviors. Ultimately, UPSJ hopes to expand its support base by inviting residents, decision-makers, and others into constructive dialogue.
Look for this content as it rolls out!
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.