Through A City Education, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.
At City Year, our everyday work is guided by the organization's ten founding values. One of these values is inclusivity, which is defined as "an intention or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized." This value shines through in our diverse teams, in the students we work with and in the variety of initiatives and service learning projects we do in the communities we serve.
Chicago is a city rich with every kind of diversity you can imagine, but for many of our students, there is little or no opportunity to travel outside of their neighborhoods to experience this. Fortunately Corps members are in a unique position to be able to engage these students in conversations about diversity and take them to off-site learning and field trips with the help of teachers and administrators.
Recently City Year corps members took a group of students with the Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School, to an area of the city known as "Paseo Boricua." Students and corps members learned together about Puerto Rican culture and incarcerated Puerto Rican nationalists who have advocated for Puerto Rico's independence from the United States.
The City Year team leader, Melissa Georgiou, was asked many questions by a particular student who didn't quite understand why Oscar Lopez Rivera, who is still alive today, is the longest incarcerated Puerto Rican nationalist—now for over 32 years. "The student was particularly stuck by how Rivera has never been convicted of a violent crime," Melissa said. "He made connections to what he could understand. Having his own family members who were incarcerated was one way he continued to explore the conversation with me."
Opportunities to engage with students about complex human rights issues such as these may be rare, and helping them to understand can be a challenge. However, when we connect students' own lives to these larger topics, we end up learning more together than we ever could alone. When Melissa herself didn’t have all the answers she looked at it as her own learning experience. "This moment during my second year of service has allowed me to be free and honest about my knowledge and lack of knowledge about the history and cultures of people other than my own. This curious and honest spirit is natural to the children we work with. I am proud to help them understand how necessary keeping an open heart and open mind becomes when approaching social justice or human rights issues."
When I think about inclusivity, stories like this are what come to my mind. Not only are the students we serve given the opportunity to experience diversity by working with our teams, but our corps members get the chance to grow from them as well. It is through this shared learning experience that we can begin to explore rich topics and open young minds to the issues facing our society and every person's inherent ability to change the world.
Images courtesy of City Year Chicago