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A Local Columbia Scholar Talks About the Importance of Community Relationships in His Work

“Intention matters. Process matters. Relationships matter. Grace matters, and accountability matters,” Ken Miles told the audience earlier this month during his talk “Showing Up: Unlocking the Superpower of Lived Experiences for Innovation,” part of the A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholars Lecture Series. More than 100 people gathered on the ground floor of The Forum and online to hear Miles speak about his work, which is intricately, and intentionally, rooted in relationships with the Harlem community and the Bundles Scholars program.

Founded in 2013 and administered by the Office of Government and Community Affairs and the School of Professional Studies, the Bundles Scholars program enables independent scholars from neighboring communities to pursue their lifelong learning aspirations. In 2020, the program was officially named the A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholars program to honor Columbia University trustee and longtime program supporter A’Lelia Bundles

Scholars can audit Columbia classes, gain Columbia faculty mentors, join student clubs, and attend all Columbia-sponsored events for up to three years. They also receive a Columbia-issued ID and can utilize all University libraries. While in the program, Scholars take on a wide range of projects, from developing nonprofits in Harlem to creating photo and art exhibits that document Harlem life.

The Bundles Community Scholars Lecture Series was created by the School of Professional Studies to provide a platform for the scholars to present and discuss work they developed during their time in the program to the University and local communities.

“By sharing the scholars’ work on a range of topics, from health and wellness in Harlem to ragtime and jazz, the series aims to represent the breadth of subjects that the scholars examine while in the program,” said George Calderaro, senior associate director of auditing and community programs at the Columbia School of Professional Studies, who worked to create the series in 2016 and introduced Miles at the event.

As a recent Scholar and community activist, Miles was an obvious choice to give this year’s lecture. Miles described why he chose to launch Intent Partners, a culturally responsive consultancy geared toward helping community members talk about population health, ethical tech, and civic engagement. It was “born out of a desire to connect the dots through intentional strategic partnerships that demonstrate care and work to amplify community.” 

The program gave Miles opportunities to broaden the scope of his work and go deeper into subjects he was already interested in. For instance, he audited one of Dr. Desmond Patton’s classes at the Columbia School of Social Work, where they examined the online behavior of young people, particularly Black teenagers, and how it impacted their offline lives. Today, Miles continues his work on ethical tech leading the Center for Inclusive Innovation & Technology, working alongside Dr. Desmond Patton’s SAFE Lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I started the conversation by saying nothing matters,” Miles reminded the audience near the end of his talk. “So everything we choose matters. We exist in the universe, which means the universe exists in us to find meaning and purpose in your pursuit of what can be made possible.” 

Watch the full event in the video below: