2016-02-11

By Brendan Anderson, AmeriCorps member serving on the Staples, Inc team with Curley K-8 School

On December 7th, my teammate and I were privileged to attend “An Evening of Inspired Leaders” hosted by Mass Poetry. The event was open to all City Year members who arrived wearing a red jacket because Michael Brown, the founder of City Year, and current AmeriCorps member Julianna DeVasto of the Wellington Management team were performing favorite poems alongside historian David McCullough, news anchor Ed Harding, and former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, among many other successful and celebrated presenters. Brown’s performance of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” was particularly noteworthy as he linked the Statue of Liberty’s construction to present debates about the United States’ role in accepting refugees. Three times he paused for heartfelt applause before delivering a passionate reading of Lazarus’ poem and the now famous lines: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!” Also prominent in my memory were the words of NPR radio host Tom Ashbrook as he prepared to read Billy Collins’ “The Future.” Ashbrook reflected that he is constantly surrounded by poetry in the voices of teachers, bakers, truck drivers, or engineers who call into his show: there’s a poem in the unique words and accent of every caller.

At the end of the evening, with the words of poets and performers echoing in our minds, my teammate and I began to head for the door, pausing along the way as various people thanked us and the other corps members in red jackets for our service. A few of those we met had been on stage not long before and we were amazed and flattered that so many successful people should thank us for what had become our daily way of life. We did not know what to say, partially because we were not sure what they were thanking us for, but mostly because service had become ordinary by then, rendered unremarkable by routine.

I pondered, on my way home, the poems heard and seen, filling all my City Year days in the still little moments where the dormant beauty of the world suddenly blazes into light and simple words cannot suffice. The poems read that evening held joy, sorrow, and hope for the future, everything I see, feel, and find in service daily until I forget how amazing the students I serve truly are.

And then I remember, the smiles of students are the best poems I don’t know how to memorize.

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