We all have moments in our lifetime that we know we will remember for the rest of our lives. These are the moments when we can’t help but smile, these are the moments that give us purpose and make our heart feel full. We have these in our personal lives, professional lives and even sometimes simply in passing with strangers. As an AmeriCorps member, I’ve had these moments with my fellow AmeriCorps members and with my students, and every time, I think to myself that this is why I do what I do.
Throughout my two terms of service, I have seen my fellow AmeriCorps members grow both personally and professionally. It has been a fun experience to witness this and grow right alongside them. There is one situation in particular that stands out to me as a “light bulb” moment. One of my favorite elements of the Denver Public Schools AmeriCorps program is that we often get together to discuss issues of social injustice at our trainings and civic reflections. These conversations allow us to tie the day to day service at our school sites to bigger issues in our society.
In my first term of service, we often tackled the idea of “white privilege”, the idea that people of color are more disadvantaged in our society than Caucasians due to deeply engrained institutional racism and biases. As a Caucasian, who is privileged in this sense, I am fully aware of the fact that my skin color allows me certain advantages in my life. Throughout our AmeriCorps diversity trainings and discussions of white privilege, there was a fellow AmeriCorps member (Caucasian, as well) who was struggling to accept the fact that he lived a privileged life because of his skin color. It was hard for him to realize this because he grew up in very economically disadvantaged household. The mentality is, “How can I be privileged when my family struggles to make ends meet?”, and this makes sense. However, white privilege is bigger than that. We all have our own personal struggles, but the fact of the matter is, even the most economically disadvantaged whites are still afforded a better outlook and more opportunities for success in our society.
After the tragic events in Ferguson this last year, I decided that I would like to facilitate discussions around the situation there and discuss how this relates to the service we do. It was during these conversations, that I heard my fellow AmeriCorps member express that he finally understands the privileges he has been afforded simply by being white. Without our AmeriCorps program, I can confidently say that I do not think he would have ever had this “light bulb” moment. This transformation also gave me hope that people who are set in their ways, can in fact, change their mindset.
Similarly, seeing students change their way of thinking and their behaviors has been equally as rewarding. One student in particular has truly made an impact on me. This student was on my attendance caseload during my first term of service at North High School. She also played on the soccer team that I coached, so we really got to spend some quality time together. She was a sophomore, and having a really rough year. Her attendance needed much improvement, and she was consistently getting in trouble for her attitude with teachers and administration. At a certain point, my assistant coach and I had to tell her that she was not allowed back on the team after disrespecting her coaches and teammates during a game. She eventually took the initiative to come back to apologize and the team decided to give her a second chance. A few weeks ago, nearly a year and a half later, I went to watch one of her games as a fan (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to coach this year and I no longer serve at her school). She came up to me to tell me that she is a new person and that I would be proud of her attendance this year. She asked me if I planned to be at her graduation, and thanked me for everything I did for her. I am sure that this realization and positive outlook came from maturing and through her own experiences and struggles, but AmeriCorps has given me the opportunity to support her along the way and be able to witness her profound academic and personal transformation.
Watching the people I care about make changes in the way that they live their life and the way that they perceive the world around them, always pushes me to do the same. AmeriCorps has put me in a position to transform both myself and the lives of others, every single day. This comes from my interactions with other members and students, through civic reflections and trainings and through the simple fact that I have been given the opportunity to and have chosen to serve my community day in and day out.
– Alayna Shaw, AmeriCorps member