The Coalition for Transformative
Learning and The College Station
Bridging the Info Gap
|Derek Johnson (l) and Tony Garcia (r) have teamed up to place The
College Station in the Atwood Barbershop owned by Terry Moss.
By Jonathan Gramling
One of the most important institutions in the African American
community is the barbershop and the beauty parlor. Go to any city from
Jackson, Mississippi to New York City and the barbershop is the hub
of community activity, especially on a Saturday afternoon. While the
barbers are busy taking care of their customers, young and old alike,
they are also one of the key outlets for the grapevine, the informal
information-sharing network within the African American community.
Want to know what’s going on? Pull up a stool and pay attention. But
don’t forget to get your haircut.
The Atwood Barbershop, located near the Barrymore Theater, is a
perfect example of the community function that the barbershop plays in
the African American community. They have four barbers and are ready
“We have a larger demographic in terms of guys who come through,
people of all ages,” said Terry Moss, the owner of the Atwood
Barbershop. “We probably get a couple of hundred people coming through every week. We have the less-fortunate, the way-fortunate, doctors,
lawyers and principals, just normal people coming in sometimes. People do like to come and socialize as well as get their hair cut. We talk
about sports, politics, news and everything including normal community activities. Information is hard to come by out there. Here you will get it.”
The Atwood Barbershop seemed like the perfect place for The Coalition for Transformative Learning to try out a new concept that they developed
to bridge the educational information gap in the Madison area’s communities of color.
The Coalition for Transformative Learning is the brainchild of Derek Johnson and Tony Garcia, who are colleagues at Edgewood College.
“The Coalition for Transformative Learning is basically a coalition of educators and social justice activists who promote and encourage
transformative learning in the city of Madison,” Garcia said as we hung out at the Atwood Barbershop. “That’s who we are at the foundation. We
firmly believe that it is our collective, moral responsibility to provide opportunities to re-imagine learning, increase access to higher education,
advance inclusion, strengthen community ties and encourage cross-cultural understanding. That’s at the core of what we believe. This has been
in the works for quite some time with myself and my business partner Derek Johnson. We’ve been going back and forth about what role can we
have in the city of Madison to truly make Madison the choice for all people and all communities. When you look at the data in the city of Madison
and what we see in our own communities, there is just so much that needs to be done. We try to be strategic. We allocate our coalition’s
resources, our time and our energy to work on the issue that we want to tackle in the city of Madison.”
One of the issues that the Coalition wants to tackle is the divide between the African American and Latino communities.
“We’ve seen over the course of our lifetimes here the divide between the Black and the Brown communities in the city of Madison,” Garcia said.
“We see our communities competing for the same resources when thinking about events that are important to our communities and scheduling
over other events and competing for sponsorships. We see our communities not showing up for supporting others, whether it is movements,
whatever it might be. We need to truly re-imagine what it means to be a part of this community in Madison and how we can really eliminate those
barriers and that divide between Black and Brown communities here in Madison. We need to get over that mindset that when one community
wins, the other community loses. Again, there are just so many different issues within the city of Madison we feel the coalition can tackle.
Strategically, the divide between the Black and Brown communities isn’t unique to Madison. This is truly an issue that transcends the United
States. It is a part of our nation’s history. And to get community buy-in to truly understand what it means to change, it’s going to take time. And so,
when we thought about where we can have the deepest and most immediate impact, it was increasing college access.”
Another issue they want to work on, an issue they see every day in their professional work, is the information divide, the divide between
educational and career opportunities and the families within the Madison area’s communities of color who know little — or nothing at all — about
higher education and how to access it.
“The ultimate goal is to really try and bridge that information gap,” Johnson said. “We know that a lot of underrepresented students lack the
appropriate information for them to see college as a viable alternative. While we know based on national data, according to the national
education statistics, underrepresented students — students of color, first generation, low-income — we’ll see an increase in the number of those
students pursuing post-secondary education. But we also know again that they are still lacking the information that is needed.”
And so Johnson and Garcia decided to take the college information to places where people from underrepresented communities may frequent in
order to bridge that gap.
“We are launching The College Station,” Johnson emphasized. “It’s been three months of planning, going back and forth trying to figure out
exactly what we wanted to do and how to approach it. Ultimately, The College Station really serves as a resource hub or information hub within
underrepresented communities, putting college information in some very unconventional places such as barbershops, community centers and
wherever underrepresented students may frequent. That’s where we want to put our information. So The College Station wants to just put the
information out there that is readily accessible to anyone. But again, our focus is on underrepresented students.”
And since Johnson was a friend of Moss’, they decided to launch The College Station in his barbershop.
The College Station is a kiosk that stands about five feet, a kiosk that rotates so that one can grab the information pamphlets that are in its racks.
The pamphlets have been provided by colleges and universities from across Wisconsin.
“Students may not feel comfortable going to a guidance counselor and saying, ‘Hey, I want information about X college,’” Johnson said. “We want
to provide that resource so that families feel very comfortable in coming to the coalition and The College Station to be able to have their
questions answered about the college search process or about financial aid. Navigating that process can be overwhelming for a lot of families. I
see it day-in and day-out in my work that I do in college admissions. They have no idea of which questions to really ask. It feels great to be in a
position to be able to provide that information to so many people who need it.”
The Coalition is willing to place The College Station in any place or space that underrepresented students and their families frequent.
“We don’t care where, if someone wants a college station up somewhere, we would love to figure that one out,” Johnson said. “Obviously we’re
still trying to figure out the best approach. Right now, we’re using paper racks and things like that. If there is a place or venue out there that
really understands and gets what we are doing and is willing to partner with us, we are totally on board with that.”
“Wherever there are opportunities for us, we’ll reach different populations whether it is at El Pastor, mercados or a barbershop, whatever it
might be, where there are college-bound folks who want more information and access, we’re here,” Garcia added.
The Coalition for Transformative Learning is ready to bridge the higher education gap wherever the opportunity presents itself so that it can
spread opportunity to others.
For more information about The College Station, email Derek Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.