Working for the 1girl program at Champion Middle School has been one of the most humbling, eye opening, and educational opportunities of my life. 1girl is a program built to empower young women to aspire to become young leaders in society. By holding a facilitator position within this organization, I have acquired so many leadership skills myself. I never realized how many leadership skills I lacked until I was holding an administrative position this semester. My role within this organization is to assist in the creation of the curriculum while leading on site at Champion Middle School where I oversee three other facilitators. Entering into my second year at Champion, it was easy for me to desire to take the reigns from the new facilitators coming in and want to run the program the way I had been doing it the year before. I was not open to many of their ideas and opinions and I felt as if I knew all of the answers. It was really difficult to make the transition from being the only facilitator to an administrator. My role now was to do the background work so the facilitators could run the program smoothly and if they ever had questions or concerns they could consult with me. I was to assist the new facilitators and allow them to experience and fall in love with this program the way that I had the year before. But I struggled with this. When they came to me with ideas I was quick to turn them down, feeling as if I knew what was best for the girls and they should just follow my lead… I was the one in charge right?! But thank god that my boss stepped in or I would have failed, not only myself, but also, the facilitators, the program and most importantly the girls at Champion! Through some conversations, she helped me to realize the irony of me leading a group of young women to be leaders while I was struggling with what being a leader looked like! This helped me to realize how my lack of leadership skills could have a large affect on my girls and the program itself. We talked through some options on how to be a good leader and what it takes. We discussed many things like trusting the facilitators and allowing them to try out different techniques with the program. When I presented this new approach to the facilitators at my site, they were super excited. From this experience I really learned how to be an open and inclusive leader. I learned the importance of listening to other’s views and ideas and also that sometimes it is more beneficial to take a back seat and give the floor to others. We won’t have all the best ideas, even if we believe we do, and we definitely will not have all the right answers every time. The beauty of having a diverse team is the access that you have to different views, although if you don’t even consider these alternative options you will truly miss out on the opportunity to be the best! Learning this was amazing and I am so thankful to be a part of a department that truly cares about my growth and achievements and will do whatever it takes to help me reach them. The Department of Social Change not only benefited me in this area but also benefited my middle school girls. By allowing me to create a curriculum out of this lesson that I learned at the age of 20, the girls at Champion Middle School received a lesson in learning how to be a leader at the age of 12. Oh how I wish I had the opportunity to learn these lessons at their age! So thankful for this program!
Community. It’s the new buzzword. We’ve attached the word to college courses and majors, written textbooks on how to build it, painted pictures depicting it, and had dinner table conversations on how great it is. Yet, I’m often stuck asking myself “what is community, really?”
I suppose at it’s stripped down version, a community is just a place where people live together. Maybe those people have the same interests or goals. Perhaps they aren’t working toward anything in particular, but have a certain characteristic in common. It seems to imply some form of interaction among the people. The physical area could be very defined, or not exist at all. Yet, all these words I’ve just written don’t seem to touch on that special ingredient that makes community something people are so excited about.
I’ve decided to look closer by examining the Columbus “communities” I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in. The first is Linden. I was there originally to volunteer with BCEC at a library. I worked with younger students, many of whom were the children of Somali immigrants. I learned that Linden is so plagued by crime and poverty that it’s name carries a negative connotation—some people living in North Linden have even tried to get their section renamed “East Clintonville” so that they don’t have to carry the stigma. Talk about lack of unity! My next experience was at an urban farm in Franklinton. It’s an area rich with history and arts that also struggles with food insecurity, gentrification, and vandalism. Inside abandoned houses is evidence of squatters, drug deals, and robberies. Longtime residents take pride in the area and lovingly call it “the Bottoms.” As of recent, I’ve began running a program at a high school in the Near East Side. In this conglomerate of neighborhoods, typical issues like poor nutrition, lack of transportation, and low access to healthcare are common. But I’ve also noticed unique dynamics, like an increase of diversity causing unwelcome readjustments and residents living in unequal socioeconomic situations.
But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to work and volunteer there. It’s not enough to interact with stakeholders and read statistics. It’s not enough to observe the behavior of mothers, laugh with kids, or listen to stories of teachers. It’s not enough for me to get on the COTA and let it drive through each of these neighborhoods, occasionally deciding to just wander around alone with mace clasped in my right hand. I still didn’t (and don’t) understand what community meant in these places. Something was missing.
One night, while thinking about these disadvantaged groups I don’t understand, I realized the key to understanding community was to look at the place I’ve lived and learned in for the past few years—The Ohio State University. Then, I thought about what community meant for someone from here, and I realized what was missing was a feeling.
It was the camaraderie of walking down High Street when it’s dark out and everyone is a little tipsy but anyone could be your best friend. The collective, unspoken stress that wavers in the air while studying for finals at Thompson Library. The rush to get soft serve ice cream at Traditions before they turn off the machine. The sound of a Crimson Cup frozen hot chocolate being blended. That first day of spring where it’s just a little bit warm but everyone floods oval beach. Our complicated relationship with the panhandlers outside Buckeye Donuts, our desire to skip chem lab and go day drinking on Thursday, our love alongside our deep weariness of football culture, and our hatred of major rental companies in the area.
It made me think that in Linden, Franklinton, and the Near East Side, there are similar feelings unique to that place. These shared feelings and experiences was what really made a community a community.
By briefly working in these neighborhoods in Columbus, I wasn’t going to get it. As much as I want to be apart of the euphoric sense of community these places felt, I can’t. I’m just some student from a university who probably won’t even stay in this city permanently.
But that was okay. Perhaps the most important thing was to be aware that you’re unaware of so much. That was the key to good community service: serve a community, but understand you don’t understand. Come from a place of curiosity. Be consistent. Be humble. Listen. Know you’re outsider. Try to be an insider. Fail. Start over the cycle. Maybe, just maybe, after a dozen times, you’ll come to terms with it.
On a sweltering Monday evening, I knocked on the door of a suburban home about fifteen minutes south of downtown Columbus. A dog barked and a child squealed with delight as I heard Mrs. Ankney’s muffled voice telling me to enter through the garage door. She greeted me with her usual warmth and we chat as she continued completing miscellaneous tasks around the kitchen. Her energetic four year-old bounced around the house, showing me his toy trucks and asking for someone to join him in playing video games while their gentle and nosy dog seemed more interested in sniffing my backpack. I helped myself to some homemade Chex mix at the kitchen table as Mrs. Ankney juggled preparing dinner and responding to her son’s periodic exclamations of triumph or frustration at his game.
As East High School’s theatre teacher, Mrs. Ankney makes her classroom an accepting environment for her students, and I’ve had the chance to witness the rapport she has with many kids–she’s relatable, candid, and stern all at once, a combination that seems to make her a much-loved figure in the school.
Since TED-Ed Club at East High’s inception in January 2015, Mrs. Ankney has been its steadfast coordinator and champion. As much energy as we put in as site leaders for BCEC, our programs would stand little chance of flourishing without coordinators like Mrs. Ankney who generously give of their time and talent, serving as vital links between BCEC and a given organization’s administration. Through the conversations we’ve had and by watching her interact with students and coworkers, I’ve learned a great deal from Mrs. Ankney. I believe that her perspective, along with that of other educators, is one that is often overlooked. Thus, this blog seemed like the perfect opportunity to make it known and she kindly obliged.
She put some cous cous on the stove and sat down as I clicked record on my phone. What follows is our chat:
Me: Why did you decide to become a teacher and how did you know that that’s what you wanted to do?
Mrs. A: Okay, I wanted to become a teacher when I was a senior in HS–because when I was a kid, I wanted to become a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, which I know is insanely specific. So I wanted to do that for a long time until I got to high school and I had to take anatomy. And I thought, no that’s not what I want to do. You have to take a lot of anatomy when you go to medical school. My mom was a nurse, so she was in the medical field; she always wanted to be a teacher, but her parents told her they wouldn’t pay for her education if she [became] a teacher.
I decided that I wanted to go into theatre, because I loved it and I had been doing it forever. And I started thinking about jobs I could do, and the idea of being a theatre teacher came up. And my theatre teacher was such an inspiration to me, she was a huge mentor in my life. So I decided I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to be an artist, but I also wanted to be able to have a family and kids.
Me: Do you find that your colleagues share the same path in how they got into teaching and why they got into teaching?
Mrs. A: I think everyone’s path is different. Some people got into teaching because they had teachers who inspired them, and some people became teachers because they had teachers that they really hated. And I think that drama teachers, especially, there’s this weird perception that people become drama teachers because they couldn’t hack it as artists. And, when it comes to drama teachers, that’s what happens a lot of the time. There aren’t jobs, and it’s so competitive, and so people become teachers. And I think that does a disservice to the students to have somebody teaching them who would have rather been doing something else. But, of course, now that I think to myself that I might want to do something different, too, I wonder if I’m better or worse at my job because of it.
Me: What has been your experience working in the public school system–have you always worked for a public school?
Mrs. A: I have always worked for public schools. I started my career at a high school in North Carolina, at Terry Sanford High School. On my first day of substituting, I met this teacher who was showing me where to go; I was subbing in a culinary class. She was like oh, you’re a drama teacher? We have a drama opening here. I had another job slated for the next day, so I went there, but I started subbing on Monday and then I got hired full time. And then I moved to a school of choice in the district; kids wore uniforms, but it was still a public school. It was phenomenal. My first year was also the principal’s first year, and he had a 100% graduation rate his first five years there. It was the same population of kids that I teach here, but, for some reason, it was totally different. The way the school was run was totally different.
Me: So, what may be the factors that make East run a bit differently than Reid Ross? In your experience.
Mrs. A: East is sort of an emerging school and schools take time to turn around, I think. Usually, they say that, under a new administration, change takes about three to seven years. So, we’re at the end of our third year now, the end of our second year with this complete administration. I think that a lot of change still needs to be made with the way students are handled, the way parents are communicated with, the way staff members are treated. And I…it’s hard, and I don’t imagine that I have all the answers as to how to do it. I try to be charitable in my thoughts about it. But I also know what it’s like to stand at the bottom of a hole and look up, thinking there’s no way we’re going to get out, and then do nothing. Because it is easier to do nothing than to start. So I think that the first couple years, we didn’t…we didn’t push as a staff and everything kind of stayed status quo, even with the different leaders. And I see some good things coming. We’re doing an awesome thing with Harry Wong and the Five First Days of School. Are you familiar with Harry Wong?
Mrs. A: Okay, he’s an educational theorist, and his whole thing is “routine + procedure = structure”. And it’s about using those first two weeks of school to nail down and rehearse expectations so that you’re rewarding behavior instead of punishing ___ re-teaching expectations every time. And if you start firmly–kids do better when they know what to expect–…The school I worked at in North Carolina, the principal had [each staff member] read Harry Wong’s book at the beginning of the year as a school book club. He also used E. Perry Good, she wrote a book called A Connected School, which looks at behavior from a plant-based perspective instead of a rock perspective. A lot of people look at behavior from the rock perspective–just because you push a rock around all day, it’s still going to be a rock at the end of the day. If you look at it as if our kids are plants, plants grow–
Me: In the direction of the sun…
Mrs. A: Right, so she uses that metaphor, and I see some of that creeping its way [into East]. And I’m not sure if we had to get here in order for that to happen.
Me: There is a saying that “people change at the precipice”
Mrs. A: The changes that I’m seeing happen over the summer, in the meetings I’ve been going to and in the things we talk about, I’m really excited about them. It feels sincere, I am excited about it, but I would not be surprised if I went back and things are the same way they always are…I miss going to work and feeling like I’m on fire. I miss getting home exhausted because I had a productive day. I feel like I just run into a wall every single day.
Me: So, moving into some TED-Ed questions, have you seen any kind of changes in the culture of the school in the year and half we’ve been there?
Mrs. A: I’ve seen changes in individual students. I think we’ve got some time.
Me: Do you see it building into something that could [change school culture]?
Mrs. A: I do, I think the things we have planned for this year will help with that.
Me: That’s exciting! So, on that vein, what’s your biggest or craziest idea for TED-Ed Club?
Mrs. A: School-wide.
Me: I love it!
Mrs. A: Yeah, every kid that takes class, to write a TED talk, and to actually give it. It’d be a school-wide event that everyone has to attend. My goal for the end of the year is to have kids looking at what we’re doing and saying I want to do that, not what is that.
Me: Increase our visibility in the school? I like that.
Mrs. A: Yeah.
Me: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about East, or TED-Ed, or what you do, in general? Teaching, the kids…
Mrs. A: Just that we want more people to see what we’re doing. You know, even if you don’t have a kid that goes to East, come to the plays, come to the football games, be involved in your community. We want them to see what is happening in the schools on a daily basis. Sometimes these schools…they get vilified in the media and there’s all this other stuff, some great things happening, but you can’t sit on your couch and read the Dispatch and think you know what Columbus City Schools is about. You have to come and see.
Me: Mhm, I like that a lot.
Mrs. A: I just want people to come in and to see what it is we’re doing. People who just live in the neighborhood, or even people who just live in the city.
Me: Yeah, for the play, I was so surprised to see like 20 cars in the parking lot…
Mrs. A: And it was phenomenal, too!
Me: They were so good!
Mrs. A: They were so good, and I was so proud of them. And so impressed with the work they did. And no matter how many signs and flyers I put up, I just can’t get people to come to see a play at East High School at 7 o’clock on a Friday night. And that makes me sad. And I get it, that’s a large town mentality, but, I think, if we want to make a difference in our schools, we have to start thinking about the community. There doesn’t always seem to be a connection between the neighborhood/community and the schools. I’m not sure where that comes from, and I’m not sure how to fix it.
Me: Well, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.
Ms. A: Thank you, are you sure you don’t want any [dinner]?
“The politics of respectability are counterproductive to an honest engagement with race. And on the other hand the kind of politics of amnesia practiced in broader white society, at least in the presence of others, is counterproductive to that kind of conversation. When we can create a forum where we can honestly and openly engage that, then I think we have much more progress”
– Michael Eric Dyson, best-selling author and professor of Sociology at Georgetown University
The conversation of race, especially in the context of America, is a topic complicated by a history of racism and inequality characterized by a fight for civil rights and more broadly a struggle for human rights. Of course, there is almost an incomprehensible amount of information and considerations required to really delve into this topic, but I’m not attempting to prescribe a fix all solution to a systemic and embedded issue in our society. Nor will I deliver a pedagogical criticism and analysis of what we have done wrong because if you want that and wish to really comprehend the issue of race, you’ll turn to history. Naturally, that will require investing in countless hours of research and reading, but well worth it and practically necessary to develop a sense of cultural and global competency because outside of actually engaging with marginalized and oppressed groups, it is arguably the most accessible and best option. Instead, I will offer we open ourselves to conversations of race, so we may advance our society and develop a healthy relationship with this term.
Michael Eric Dyson’s quote comes from an interview on the “Aspen Ideas to Go” podcast about his new book, “The Black Presidency”, examining the influence of the politics of race on President Obama’s presidency. I will not be commentating on President Obama’s handling of racial issues, and leave you to form your own opinion on those matters. The significance of this quote is its ability to highlight two ideas hindering our discussion of race: the politics of respectability and politics of amnesia. If you are not familiar with the politics of respectability, it is a term coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in regards to how black people were forced to carry themselves in the 20th century by earning respect through the way they carried themselves. It includes the way people dressed, interacted, and functioned to become prominent authority figures. They were practiced by figures like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and many others. The issue is when we attempt to apply this same strategy going forward because it shows we have stagnated in changing the way we understand race. It calls forth the question of do you dress the way you do because you like it or are you dressing to conform to pressures outside of your control? I realize this terminology and practice extends to other minorities who are not racially or ethnically black, and it is not so simple as to instantly cast it aside. Our society is still warming up to the idea of accepting people’s cultural traditions and representations such as wearing hair naturally or covering hair with a hijab, especially in the context of the employment. We ask for diversity, but with the caveat of trapping people into normality. We are forced to conform, which speaks volumes to how little we can appreciate the beauty of our differences and merely use the term diversity loosely as a statistical litmus test. The politics of amnesia endorse a similar constraint in our future. Let’s be realistic, white people are the majority of this nation, so yes they bear a heavy burden of being forced to acknowledge race and the complications that come with it. And, America has a lot to answer for in regards to race compounded by the recent events of police brutality and historically for its mishandling of the issue in relation to all minorities. But, the minorities of this nation, Asians, African Americans/Blacks, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, and others (depending on how people identify) must carry this same responsibility by fostering conversation and educating others. It will take a coalition of all people to open the space for race and advance the conversation.
We are all humans bound on the same overwhelming journey that is life, carving different paths, but bound to cross paths with one another. As Boaventura de Sousa Santos notes in his work, “social practices are knowledge practices”. When we continue to ignore race based on the fallacy we live in a post racial society, then we solidify this misrepresentation as undisputable fact. When Martin Luther King speaks of judging people not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character, it is a beautiful dream calling for us to redeem our humanity. A dream which tells us that our complexion is something we must look past so we may weigh the essence of who we are versus the perception of how we may appear. Yet, this dream is a fantasy. We have barely begun to accept race and to race towards the end of our dream without the struggle of understanding one another would be detrimental. We should know because we have tried. To transcend from a racially divided society and into one where race is no issue instantaneously cannot be done. We must slowly build the bridge to reach Martin Luther King’s vision, always placing the groundwork for an evolution of society. We build now, with this generation by challenging the taboo applied to an essential social construct. Have the tough conversations, push people to learn more, and educate others. Do this so we engage one another in open, meaningful dialogue to recognizing each of our races are unique and beautiful. For you’re not defined by your skin color, but how consciously you navigate that space of race.
Growing up, I was a pretty quiet and shy kid especially since I was raised by my father for the most part. He was in the military so my brother and I were taught through strict rules and punishments. This instilled politeness and respect for others, which resulted in my shyness. This shyness began to fade when I became decent at baseball because you had to be confident and intimidate your opponent to succeed. Today I am extremely competitive and hate losing at anything I do. Even with my competitiveness, I was still in my shell. This shell broke when I started school at OSU. I worked at the Wexner Cancer Hospital dealing with patient’s one on one all day everyday, which enhanced my people skills because I was forced to talk with everyone I met. The interpersonal skills that I learned at the hospital helped me get the job where I am currently dealing with young adults. I have continually been forced to take control of situations that I would not have normally taken control of due to my shyness. Stepping out of those boundaries at the hospital and in the youth correctional facility I work at has helped my further my career path and my future. For those who are close to me today, they know that I am not the shy, quiet, reserved kid I once used to be. I get comments from my family members all the time about how I used to be the most innocent little kid and how much I have grown up and progressed. If I wouldn’t have taken the leap of faith that I did to further my personal skills, I don’t think I would be in the position I am in today, about to graduate from THE Ohio State University with connections that will last a lifetime.
From Erin Davies, 2/22/16, 8:37 AM:
Damn, that’s sobering.
Not quite the response I had hoped for.
Erin – executive director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition – was responding to a point of clarification I had asked of her about an announcement that had criminal justice advocates, including me, buzzing this past month.
We’ve just finished the first month of the semester of Buckeye REACH at Franklin County Juvenile Detention Facility in Downtown Columbus, where the volunteers have been doing a crash course on the importance of politics and voting with the guys. President Obama inevitably came up, and in the mix a security guard mentioned the news: that the President had announced a ban on solitary confinement for youth and low-level offenders.
“What? We ain’t seen that,” raised one of the youth – reminding us in true form that policy headlines often don’t translate into our people’s realities. “Well…that’s because states don’t actually have to follow it. We ain’t doin it in Columbus.” The reply was close; it’s actually because the executive actions are a ban for federal, not state, prisons. An indisputable jurisdiction considering we live in a federalist system, but an important distinction to note nonetheless.
Considering this, I looked into the numbers. How many juveniles does this landmark policy protect? Here’s the sobering part: 26. I had contacted Erin thinking that, considering the fanfare surrounding the announcement, I had missed some segment of the population in that number. But because youth in the federal system only really come from Native American reservations or D.C., a count this low should be expected.
I say this not to undermine the importance of the President’s ban. Every person, especially a child, who benefits from a less punitive criminal system is worth a celebration. I say this as a reminder that we cannot afford to become complacent. This ban cannot be the dusting of the civic arena’s hands at juvenile justice reform; its greatest use is as a tool for advocates to leverage at the state level to follow the federal’s suit. I find no point in patting ourselves on the back in Ohio because our juvenile justice policies are considered some of the most progressive in the country – considering the overhauls the state still needs to make, it only serves as a reminder of how severe the situation is nationally. Our function, rather, should be momentum. In 2014, Ohio’s Department of Youth Services struck an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to “dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate, its use of seclusion on young people in its custody.” With the usual necessity for legislative change in the U.S. to be led by example, such a step will hopefully contribute to a model to be followed by states that have not taken action yet, and along with it bring a reduction in solitary for adults as well.
When it comes down to it, we should not be incarcerating children at all. The effects of institutionalization have been incapacitating generations for years, and that we have to fight to safeguard youth from this extreme an injury – that of solitary confinement – feels like a concession. It’s proof that we cannot rely on the system to reform itself – the word “hopefully,” voiced by Obama and reluctantly echoed by myself just sentences ago, creates space for complacency between us and that end goal of deincarceration. And if we only accept the concessions, doing nothing to generate community power and push for even more legislative momentum, the state will not help us span it.
Seventy one percent of students at The Ohio State University are from Ohio. That is 41, 590 students. So it is not surprising that whenever I get asked where I am from and I respond with “Maryland” they look at me and say, “well, why’d you come here?” The question always surprises me. It is asked as if the individual does not realize how great of a school Ohio State is, or how large a network Ohio State has, or how well known Ohio State is, or how so many people would love to come here. It makes me feel like that individual does not see Ohio State as anything other than just a state school. It makes me feel inclined to tell them just why I came here.
I applied to nine schools during the process of my college search and Ohio State was always towards the top of my list. I was looking for a large school that would provide me with a strong sense of community, allow for many different opportunities, and give me a potential to challenge myself while also having a place I could call home. I was looking for an out-of-state school because I wanted a different experience. When I visited Ohio State I fell in love. I felt like I belonged. The campus was beautiful; there were so many opportunities; there was freedom to be the real me; there was freedom to try new things; there was a sense of community and extreme pride in being a buckeye. I knew I could find a home here. On a less personal and more realistic note, Ohio State was the most affordable college I applied to. Ohio State is among the cheapest public schools in the nation. In addition, Ohio State was one of the few schools that had such a large scholarship offered to out-of-state students. So why did I choose Ohio State? Because it can be the home away from home for many different people, and because Ohio State recognizes the financial difficulties of being an out-of-state student and provides support.
After I got on campus, Ohio State continued supporting me as an out-of-state student. They provided opportunities like Buckeyes Beyond Ohio where I was able to go on a retreat with other out of state students for labor day weekend my freshman year. I was able to ease into the Buckeye community and feel comfortable even though I was 6 hours away from home. The sense of community I felt when I visited was definitely evident in my first year of college. I always felt like I was a part of something, whether that was through football games, hanging out with friends in my dorm, or getting involved in different organizations. Ohio State quickly became my home.
After I had settled in and made friends, there was one thing that continued to bother me. I love Ohio State and I love the opportunities it has given me, but I still deal with cultural differences between my hometown and Columbus. My hometown of Germantown, Maryland is one of the most diverse towns in the United States. I have always grown up with kids from different ethnic and racial backgrounds than myself. I knew this had an effect on me, but I did not know how large of an effect until I came to Columbus. I constantly noticed how white it was here. It is the norm to walk into a restaurant and see only white people. At home, if I walked into a restaurant and saw only white people I would immediately notice because that rarely happens. I had to get used to the different racial and ethnic make up of Columbus. This was much harder than I thought it would be. Not only are there fewer minorities at Ohio State, but also the groups are highly segregated. There are few interracial friend groups. This was so new to me because I have always had interracial friend groups and it honestly weirded me out to have all white friends. This is something that I still struggle with. The animosity and segregation between different races is something that I am not very used to. It frustrates me to see a strong lack of understanding of diversity among my peers. It has, however, taught me a valuable lesson on why social change can be so difficult. If the whole nation were as diverse as my hometown, it would be easy to work toward change. But that just isn’t the case. Ohio State is made up of individuals who grew up in rural all-white areas on one-end and inner-city areas with a large minority population on the other. There are many places in the United States that are still segregated and so it is understandable why people are not open to and understanding of diversity.
This is one reason that working in the Department of Social Change has been another home for me. This department is one of the most diverse groups of students on this campus. Not only are we racially and ethnically diverse but we are all coming together to work toward social change. It is a group of people who hold many of the same views as I do and share the same passion for justice and change in our society. So as different as it has been for me to go from Maryland to Ohio, there are still places on this campus where I can feel at home.
Today marks the final week of the Buckeye Leaders at the Library program for the 2015 fall semester. As I write this, I am sitting in my small apartment, bad coffee at my right hand, taking a break after organizing the snacks for the five weekly sites. This has become my routine. On Mondays, I get up for class, then meet my coworker to pick up a tremendous amount of goodies for the kids: everything needed for the upcoming week. I get back, toss everything across the small kitchen table and divide it up into five bulging grocery. I tie the flimsy plastic arms together, hoping they don’t rip this time, then take a seat. I may get up to wash some dishes or complete a small piece of homework before I leave for the Linden program. Other times I’ll just have a good sit. And some bad coffee.
This is my Monday now. It is mostly dedicated to BCEC work; I prep for the subsequent three days at different Columbus Metro Library branches, helping out with homework, reading, and doing my best to put on great programs for great kids – not to mention the snacks. It was daunting at the beginning, but I settled upon a way to make it work. I spend twelve hours each week directly working with kids from Linden, Livingston, Franklinton, and Hilltop. We also have a program at MLK, but it happens at the same time as another. It kills me that I can’t be there as well. I spend about another five hours in transit. I am dropping off supplies for the folks at MLK, going to and from all of the branches, giving volunteers rides, and picking up supplies every Monday. I spend another three hours or so doing everything else it takes to keep the engine running. What supplies did I forget? Did I follow up with those interested volunteers? How many people do I need to interview today?
At times like this, having a good sit can be intoxicating. Sometimes it calms me down, but other times, I just want to stay glued to the chair. Sometimes I don’t want to start the week and drive past high to 17th to Cleveland and go north to Linden. Sometimes the selfish part of me just wants to stay in my apartment, clean some dishes, put on music, and drink bad coffee. This is the same part of me that hits the snooze button in the morning when I need to catch up on prep for classes. You likely have a similar version of your self you’ve come to know over the years.
But I always go. And as soon as I am there, I can’t even remember the part of me that would do anything else with my time. A couple snapshots of things that have happened this year: kids at Linden in teams helping each other make butter like it was the most important task of the day; kids at Livingston having an impromptu meditation session as a throwback to an earlier week’s lesson; kids at MLK being challenged by programs on DNA, fractals, and optics, presented by OSU’s budding experts in those fields; kids at Franklinton running back and forth to sort rubbish for a recycling relay; kids at Hilltop insisting to act out stories for each other when we had only planned to write them; kids opening up about the family member’s they’ve lost over the years, then turning the page and continuing to read their short book to you.
There are some difficult days. Sometimes I feel as bad as my coffee tastes. Sometimes I think it’s not doing any good and that the problems that these children face are bigger than anything I will ever face. But then I have a good sit and think. I reframe and recenter. All experiences, great and terrible, impel me onward, giving me the fuel to keep bringing my bundles of snacks to the kids who run up for a hug and make fun of my hair.
So I’ll stand up now. And stay hopeful. And keep shuffling toward a better Columbus.
The name is extremely fitting. Buckeye R.E.A.C.H. Often names of programs are just names. I have been a part of many educational programs in my four years at OSU and usually the program names are just in place to identify the program. Sometimes the name is motivational or maybe just describes what the program does. However, it’s never a way of life. Except for Buckeye REACH. Relationships and Education in Action through Community and Hope.
Relationships and Education in Action. These words are the ingredients of REACH. They’re what we do on early mornings at our various sites. They mean excitement, exhaustion, and hard work. They are what makes it Ohio State’s premier community program. The relationships in REACH are not surface level. Over the past four years, I have been able to develop deep bonds and have truly made friends with some of the young men in Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility. I have been able to see them grow from gang members with crime on their minds to scholars with college on their mind. Furthermore, they have seen me grow as well, and that’s what truly makes these relationships valuable. The combination of these relationships with our interactive educational activities is what make these ingredients perfect. During REACH the men we work grow a great amount academically. Pen Pal letters allow them to develop better vocabulary and writing skills. Book clubs allow them to explore novels they wouldn’t have thought to pick up. And films allow them to critique many of society’s flaws. This combination is the Action. Because of our relationships, the education portion is extremely joyful. This joy allows the development of a love between OSU students and Circleville youth, as well as a love for Buckeye REACH. With this love, I have witnessed mindsets and lives changed from those in college and those behind bars.
In its early years, I did not understand why Community and Hope were a part of the acronym. Honestly, I thought it was there to make the name sound more appeasing. However, as the program develops, I see that my initial thought cannot be further from the truth. The people who make up BuckeyeREACH are truly a community. From Dr. Patty to the freshman who just wants to help out, to the youth who has been a part of the program for three years, everyone feels a part of this community. This can be seen by the great amount of laughter and smiles, or the fact that everyone (volunteers included) has nickname. Lastly, Buckeye REACH gives everyone in the community hope. After our time together, the youth are left with a sense of hope that they too can be in college like us. In addition, many volunteers leave with the hope that many of the young men we meet will lead a good life once they are released. This hope is what keeps me coming back. The hope that the dear friends I have met in there will eventually become leaders of this nation is why BuckeyeREACH will be my fondest college memory. The name is perfect. And as we further build Relationships, Educate the youth with Action and provide a sense of Community and Hope, Buckeye REACH will be perfect too.
This time last year, I had no idea what made me feel alive, I wasn’t sure where I was meant to be, and I had no clue what a fiery passion in my heart could ever feel like. I was a freshly 19 year old college freshman who had literally just bombed my first semester (My GPA was a 1.9), I was on academic probation, I was lost and confused and after I realized I wasn’t smart enough or dedicated enough to be a doctor, I didn’t know what I was smart enough or dedicated enough to be. This time last year, I came in contact with a group at OSU called Buckeye Civic Engagement Connection (BCEC), and through BCEC I began volunteering at a number of site with an abundance of incredible, passionate people. The first site I ever volunteered at was a Juvenile Correctional Facility and looking back, it has completely changed and shaped my entire life. One Saturday, as I was there hanging out and having discussion with the youth that I have grown to absolutely love and care for, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotion. I was filled with such a joy seeing them laugh, relax, interact and open up, I was filled with deep sadness at the lives they were thrown into, the lack of options most of these young men had growing up, I was filled with a desire to affect their lives and to help them, I was filled with confusion and bitterness at the world and the cold people who have turned their backs on this population of people, I was filled with love for these boys, a kind of love that has deeply changed me. In this juvie, I found my passion. This time last year I walked through the doors into a room of youth and volunteers having no expectations, no understanding of what my life could become because of this extraordinary group of people. Today, my heart is different because of the kids that a lot of people on my Facebook feed are quick to blame for every single one the problems in our country. Onlookers want to shame the “gang bangers”, the kids out in the streets, but no one stops to think of the bigger issues at hand. Here are kids with no family, no love, no opportunity, no education, no options, and no help. They have no one to encourage them and tell them they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. Here is a population of young people who are written off as statistics, they are counted out, and they are left in the cold while the rest of the world forgets them because society is too busy with their own lives to love the lost ones. I have changed, in mind, spirit and heart, and I have chosen to dedicate my life to serving the population of people who had no one teach them any better than to be whom they are. My heart aches for the sadness, the poverty and the lack of educational opportunities in our communities. I have found purpose and happiness in working to change lives. BCEC has given me some incredible opportunities outside of just volunteering in the juvie. I have been all over the city, working with every age and population, being led by the greatest people I know. I wanted to say thank you to the people and the organization that changed my life. In the last year, I have been taught what passion not only looks like, but how it feels. I am feeling beyond blessed to have this heart and this joy for service and I can’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life. I encourage each of you to go out, serve your community, volunteer, reach out, change lives and see just how much your life changes too.