I come from a long line of servant leaders. My father fights to address our nation’s crippling mental health disparities, my grandfather served valiantly in World War II and my grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery, AL as a Freedom Rider in the spring of 1965 so that every American would have the right to vote. All my life, I have been taught that when much has been given, much is expected. Therefore, when I entered my senior year of college, I knew I also wanted to make a contribution to my community and to follow in the footsteps of my foremothers and forefathers and that’s why I decided to apply to City Year Boston.
My first day at City Year reminded me of the first day of school: new faces, new culture, new uniform. I heard other people’s stories about why they chose to serve, who inspired them to create change and what they hoped to accomplish during their year of service. Even though we were strangers, we had a common purpose: to work with the Boston community to help each and every student achieve great things.
At City Year, there are a set of values and practices that we use to root us in our work. One saying is, “the highest form of leadership at City Year is that of a servant leader. This means working with and supporting other people.” During my first year, I learned how to support my teammates, trust my leadership team, work with the Dorchester community and take time to really listen to all my students in Mr. Cole’s 4th grade class. It is through all of these people and every City Year Boston AmeriCorps member that I learned social progress is achieved by finding common ground and speaking a common language. City Year taught me that when we speak, it is with one voice, and there is strength in numbers.
After City Year, I went on to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse practitioner, but I never forgot the lessons that I learned and the people that I met. I am deeply grateful for Michelle, a fourth grader who taught me the importance of being patient and for the ’12-‘13 Boston Senior Corps members who always demonstrated that there is love and joy in service.
I’ve learned that service is about community; it is about our connection to one another and the realization that we are all joined by our desire to make the world a better place. City Year is an incredible opportunity to make connections that will last a lifetime and to spend a year (or two) learning from some of the best and brightest humans you will ever have the pleasure of encountering. Some days will be hard, but your teammates and your students will keep you going.
Today, when I think of my family service lineage, I picture the fellow navy men my grandfather fought alongside, the fellow activists my grandmother walked with, arm in arm, and the countless others, like my father, who advocate for mental health rights across the United States. I see their faces, hear them supporting each other, teaching one another, placing hand over hand until the work is done. And, I imagine that when they speak, it is with one voice. Through my commitment to health, justice and advocacy, I also speak in unison to help make a difference and to work with my community to create sustainable change for those who need support.