By: Jason Harrison
In City Year, we talk often about why we serve. We evoke strong messages of service, equity, and change. We share stories that qualitatively alter the way we view life. We give a year so that we can change the world.
I grew up in Aurora, CO, across the train tracks from the Montbello neighborhood in Denver, CO where I currently serve. I spent nearly every weekend playing football or basketball at Montbello Park. Some of my closest friends grew up here. Some of my best memories took place here.
As a child, my mother instilled in me a dedication to service and that feeling was compounded by my own feelings of responsibility to better my community as I got older. City Year provided me that avenue. City Year has given me an opportunity to effect lasting change in the same neighborhoods with the same kids with whom I grew up.
In Montbello, a historically black neighborhood, value of community was a commonality that went unspoken. People who grew up here had a strong feeling of pride, a feeling most Coloradoans uniquely identify with. Families looked after one another. They relied on and supported each other regardless of their own personal plights. However, Montbello, like many oppressed communities across the nation, has been unable to overcome the hindrances of institutional and ideological repressions. As a result, Montbello High School, arguably the cornerstone of the community’s foundation, was designated as a failing school and placed into turnaround status—a move that shook and angered its community.
With Montbello High School being phased out, along with its legacy and significance, three new charter schools are currently in the process of filling the void left behind. City Year serves at all three of those charter schools, as well as the phasing-out traditional campus. Corps Members will often talk about the impact they are making and the lives they are changing, but I take a very different approach when I measure the service in which I join.
I recognize that over the course of the ten months that I will serve with City Year, the students I work with will collectively teach me more than I can ever teach them—that the students and community I serve will change me more than I can ever change them or it. I realize that although I may be making an impact and influencing others, at the end of the day, my students are the ones overcoming obstacles. My students are surviving the realities in which they live. Not only are they persevering, they are inspiring me.
It’s vital for me to use this space to pay homage not to the work that City Year and I are doing, but to let all those who read this know that what we do as City Year corps members is nothing compared to the sacrifices our students make—nothing compared to the hard work and dedication that our students invest in order to better their lives. They deserve the praise. They are changing the world, not us.