At Opening Day ceremonies held across the country this fall, more than 3,000 City Year AmeriCorps members are pledging to make a difference in the lives of more than 196,000 students in 300 high-need urban schools. Joining them for the kick-offs are a diverse range of City Year champions: business and civic leaders, elected officials, athletes and celebrities, education leaders. Some of the strongest applause was heard for speakers who were City Year AmeriCorps members, like Brianna Young, a City Year Dallas AmeriCorps member, who shared her story.
By Brianna Young
My name is Brianna and I am a proud City Year Dallas AmeriCorps member serving at Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School in Oak Cliff. I serve because of the sacrifices of the women and men who gave their hearts, souls, and energy for my education. As a student once labeled at risk and a failure, I desire to help students laugh at the labels placed on them and define their own greatness.
When I decided to dedicate a year to national service, my friends and family had a lot of questions. “You’re going where?”, “To do what?”, “And you’re getting paid how much?”
For all of the inquiring minds, I want to tell you my story:
I grew up in Saint Louis, Missouri in a neighborhood very similar to Oak Cliff. As a young student, I was passionate about learning, yet oftentimes found myself in deep trouble. I was labeled as a “failure," a “menace” and a “thug.”
When I was in the sixth grade, I was suspended for 15 days with a disciplinary hearing. This hearing would determine whether or not I could return to complete my education. The majority of the members in my disciplinary hearing voted against me returning. To them, I was a danger to the school and it would be best if I were expelled.
At that moment, I felt my world crumble. My biggest fear was becoming the youngest member in my family to drop out of school.
It was then that my sixth grade teacher, Miss Davis, spoke up. She told the disciplinary committee: “You know what? You all are reading off a piece of paper to decide who Brianna is and what her fate should be. But you do not see the Brianna that sits in my class and completes all of her work, asks deep questions, and helps her classmates out. If you allow her to leave, it will be the biggest mistake this school will make. Please, give her another chance to show you who she is and what she can do.”
Because of Miss Davis’ hope, the Jennings Public School District and AmeriCorps programs placed in my school, I was able to do exactly that. I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA. I was valedictorian of my class and earned multiple academic scholarships to attend college.
The day I walked across the stage at my college graduation was one of the most triumphant times of my life. For once, I did not feel the weight of the names placed on me throughout the years. Names like failure, menace, or thug did not plague me as I danced my way to my diploma.
Sadly, this is not how the story usually ends. Statistics show that more than half of our student’s stories end in failure, incarceration, and sometimes death. As I have been serving in Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School, I have noticed the same strengths and ills that plagued my school: teachers filled with passion and students with so much potential, yet are stifled by tough neighborhoods and a system that does not favor them.
I chose City Year because I truly believe we make better happen. We insert ourselves into classrooms as near peers, being constant reminders that we are people who favor and believe in our student’s hidden potential. I am grateful for City Year Dallas for giving me the chance to return to the sixth grade, not as a student, but as a near peer role model fighting and believing in them the way Miss Davis did for me.