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City Year Founding Story: Cathedral Building

Art by Diane Joo & Christina Pesavento

There once was a traveler who journeyed all over the globe in search of wisdom and enlightenment. In the midst of one village, he came upon a great deal of noise, dust, and commotion. He approached the nearest laborer and asked, “Excuse me, I’m not from this village. May I ask what’s going on here?” The laborer replied curtly, “Can’t you see? I’m busting rocks.”

The traveler approached a second laborer doing the same thing and asked the same question. The second laborer replied, “Can’t you see? I’m earning a living to support my family.”

The traveler then approached a third laborer who was also breaking up rocks and posed the question a third time. With a broad smile and a gleam in his eye, the third laborer replied with great pride: “Can’t you see? We’re building a cathedral.”

— Author Unknown: Adapted from 'The Cathedral Within' by Bill Shore

It often took several generations and thousands of laborers to build a single cathedral. Many would work their entire lives knowing that they would never see the cathedral’s completion. We may have the opportunity in our lives to contribute to the creation of something great, something larger than ourselves.

Our specific role may at times seem minor relative to the larger effort, but each role, each activity, contributes in some way toward the larger goal. To be effective in social change, to maintain one’s focus and motivation, it is important to retain perspective by inspiring ourselves and others with the ideas that fuel our civic imagination and remind us of the “cathedral” we are building together.

About the Artist: This piece was commissioned by City Year Miami for a business breakfast. Christina, who served on City Year Miami's civic engagement team, and her friend Diane, brainstormed the concept and decided on a piece that would depict the building as a work in progress, but with the full building—in all its glory—reflected in the water. In true cathedral fashion, the artwork was put together piece by piece: Christina did the drawing and Diane did the painting. "When you're down in the trenches in the schools, you're part of a bigger movement, but you don't usually see or feel that on a day to day basis," Christina said. "There were a lot of people before me and a lot of people will come after me, and it will all come together in the end in helping reduce the dropout crisis."