By: Neils Ribeiro-Yemofio, Managing Director of Recruitment & Admissions – Mid-Atlantic Region
I came to City Year for many reasons, but the biggest one was to attack the achievement gap – in order to directly support the under-served youth in under-resourced communities like the ones I grew up in.
I grew up outside the DC area, and moved over 8 times in 4 years. I witnessed how the inequities in education not only impacted my life, but also how it has impacted the lives of my cousins, friends, and neighbors. After my mother was able to move us into better neighborhoods and schools, and after getting into college, I began to see less and less people who looked like me, talked like me, and went through the same life experiences that I went through. This motivated me to find my role. Some may call this survivor’s guilt, but I would say it’s a calling – how can I help more brothers navigate through the hurdles of oppression they face in this country?
A key to this calling materialized for me during a recent panel discussion at City Year called Man Up: Becoming Culturally Competent. The panel was made up entirely of leaders from the greater Boston community; that also just so happen to all be black men and whose life work focuses on giving young men of color the opportunities that they deserve.
It led me to reflect on my experience as a City Year AmeriCorps member. During my year of service, I was nurtured, challenged and supported relentlessly – always told that whatever I put my mind into, I could achieve. Imagine if every young person, especially every young black man experienced that same feeling. The world would look a lot more like City Year, and less like what our young students see dominating primetime news every night. The panelists included Suffolk County Sheriff - Steven W. Tompkins; Executive Director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) - Ron Walker; Founder of the BASE - Robert Lewis, Jr.; a member of Governor Baker’s Administration – Hodari Cail; and the Executive Director of Youth Design - Tony Richards, II. The panelists discussed the ever-present challenges about the perception of black men in America, and the challenges of recruitmenting and retaining them at City Year and other service programs. They discussed critical concepts such as ‘code switching’ and being ‘culturally competent' in the face of the challenges this cohort encounters.
Mr. Walker and Mr. Lewis spoke about the cultural responsibility the City Year community has to take in order to improve our knowledge of diversity, improve our pipeline from City Year schools to the City Year uniform, and to not apologize about being aware that we, as an organization, as a community, and as a country, have a long way to go in order for young men of color to succeed without abnormal resistance.
I know that there is not a single solution out there to solve all of the problems men of color face. I also know the injustices that happened in Florida, Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore aren’t going away, and the harsh reality is that time isn’t on our side. But through this discussion with those great community leaders, and the many years I have spent at City Year, I know that idealism is a strong and effective tool to face any difficult problem that comes our way. We all have a calling, and at the end of the day, I have a job to do and I owe it to my brothers to do it.