By Jonny Yao ’13, Communications Coordinator 

As a City Year alumnus, the lessons I learned from my AmeriCorps year often pop up in my head, and that is not just because I am constantly surrounded by City Year culture as a current staff member. October is National Diversity Awareness Month, and that has a special meaning for me. Even though I grew up in fairly multicultural communities, City Year still taught me invaluable lessons about diversity. 

1. Diversity is not always surface-level. 

Here is a photo of my City Year team:

Mattahunt Team 2013

Beyond race, we were diverse in age, culture, religion, sexual orientation, educational experience, socioeconomic status, geographic origin, and professional aspiration, among other things.  In exploring and sharing our identities with each other, we came to see the world from 11 different perspectives, and that became a source of power because...

2. Diversity of perspective is diversity of innovation. 

Being on a team with different individuals already means that, together, you will find more possible solutions when meeting a challenge. More solutions leads to greater flexibility and adaptability, but the real magic comes into play when you combine those answers into one ultimate plan. That is how team work makes the dream work—and it can’t happen with narrow perspective.

3. PITW #68: Find Everyone’s Strengths and Work with Them. 

My teammates and I aligned with different leadership compass directions. Through service, I learned how to successfully navigate a project planning process with action-inclined Norths, detail-oriented Wests, vision-driven Easts, and people-focused Souths. This cooperation came together in a powerful way when we hosted a graduation ceremony for the students in our Starfish Extended Day program. We celebrated our students and their families with individual remarks about each student’s growth, performances, and food selections that reflected the diversity of my teammates and the community we served. 

4. Celebration of diversity should be automatic. 

Growing up in Virginia and attending Vassar College, I had groups of friends who were different in many visible and invisible ways. These friendships were organic, not something planned to obtain a sense of diversity. Once outside those environments, however, I realized many people don’t have that experience. Yet, at City Year, we don’t just recognize the diversity of our corps, staff, and communities, we celebrate it. From Founding Stories to the training of our AmeriCorps members, we incorporate and honor many different views. This encourages us to live authentically while keeping our minds of open to new ideas.

Ubuntu. I am because they are; I am because our diversity is myriad. Though we have dispersed far from our team space at Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan, I still carry my teammates’ experiences and perspective with me. Through friendship and service, they remain a source of collaboration, always.  This National Diversity Awareness Month, I am grateful for the diversity that strengthens our communities, nation, and world, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have served with the people who forged the best of me.

What other experiences do AmeriCorps alumni glean from their City Year service?

  • Tam Emerson '07, '08, '10, gained confidence and built a stronger sense of personal identity. 
  • Brendan Lehan '11, '12,  learned what 'teamwork' really means.
  • Growing and learning to embrace challenges are two things Boston alumna Jesse Carmen '14 continues to learn during her senior AmeriCorps year at City Year Tulsa. 

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