“‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ was the setting I was raised in,” shares City Year alum Jarvis Nash, who grew up in Florida with his grandparents and aunts. Describing the journey that brought him to City Year, he puts it as simply as he can: “So many people invested in me. That’s what sparked my idea of giving back.”
Jarvis’s grandfather, in particular, was a powerful influence. College-educated, with an advanced degree, he made education a family hallmark. When Jarvis was six, his grandfather had Jarvis read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. He listened intently as Jarvis read aloud, and with each chapter’s end, they would sit and discuss. For Jarvis, after this rite of passage, going to college was no longer an option – it was a requirement.
When the time came, Jarvis chose one of the country’s largest historically black colleges, Florida A&M University. A required course on African American history had a profound effect on him. “It was the first time I understood who I am as a black male in western society,” reveals Jarvis. “It gave me a foundation for my identity – who I consider myself to be, and who I want to become.” College also introduced him to service. He joined the on-campus affiliate of 100 Black Men of America. “It was all about fellowship, mentoring and professional development, but through the lens of African American males,” he says. “It sold me on the idea of service. I loved giving back.”
Joining City Year after college, Jarvis chose to serve in Washington, D.C., believing he could be of service to its large African American community. He crafted his statement on “Why I Serve” – an exercise all City Year AmeriCorps members undertake – to reflect his own life experience:
“I serve because so many people have poured their time, energy and talents into me, and I feel as it’s my obligation to do the same for someone else. I was provided a quality education that catered to my history, community and identity, so I have made it my mission to provide that to others.”
As a first year AmeriCorps member, Jarvis threw himself into mentoring his students, and was deeply drawn to one in particular, who, he discovered, could barely read. Though Jarvis tried continually to help her, she resisted all of his efforts. “I just kept at it,” he states, thinking of his grandfather. “One day I realized it was all about trust. After that, when we worked together, she started applying herself.” Unfortunately this student moved away well before the end of the year “denying me the fairy tale ending I was hoping for,” Jarvis says half-jokingly, now looking back. He did see her once again: she not only remembered him with enthusiasm, but had continued the course he had set with her.
Serving at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, Jarvis worked closely with a student who fared well academically but had outbursts of aggression. “He was an absolute struggle the whole year,” says Jarvis. Together, they focused on building social-emotional skills. One day, he observed the student intentionally not react to a peer whose behavior was a trigger. “For him to have had the self-control to not engage was absolutely incredible!” says Jarvis. When he visited the student the following year, Jarvis saw he had continued to learn and grow. His classmates knew it, too. “He’s actually been good this year!” his classmates said. It was clear their work together had made a difference.
Now on City Year staff as an Impact Manager, Jarvis knows that change takes place slowly, at its own pace, and often out of sight. While he yearns for that “Disney moment when fireworks light up the sky and it all works out in the end,” he has come to realize that progress takes time – and that his job is as much about patience as it is about lesson plans.
Jarvis’s ability to see the bigger picture is just one of many attributes that won him City Year’s highest honor for a City Year AmeriCorps member, the Eli J. Segal Bridge Builder Award, awarded each year at City Year’s Summit. Overwhelmed by the surprise recognition, Jarvis was deeply humbled when he took the stage to thank everyone. “You just have to do what you believe is right and continue to support the students that you came there to serve,” reflects Jarvis. “You might not see the fruit of your labor by the time your service year is done, but you will know the amount of work you put into it. And you can be confident that the next person to come along will do their part as well.”