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What Ubuntu Means to Me and My Service Year

I was born at Mercy Hospital near Chicago’s Motor District on the Southside. I didn’t grow up in Chicago’s Southside, however. Since I was a baby, my mom, sister, and I slowly migrated further and further away from the city, out into the cornfield farmland of Oswego, IL. Not many people even know where that is, so I always tell them “It’s near Aurora”. But no matter how far I’ve moved, I have always felt connected to Chicago and always felt a need to come back and live here. When my dad or grandma and grandpa would take me to the Museum of Science and Industry or to 12th Street Beach, we’d drive in through the Loop; I remember me as a five-year-old boy gazing up at those behemoths they call skyscrapers. Later, we’d stop by Lawrence’s Fish and Shrimp over on Canal Street for some popcorn shrimp. Always.

I have always felt connected to Chicago and always felt a need to come back and live here.

Grandpa’s family grew up on Bell and Polk near Taylor Street over on the Westside near where I currently serve at Robert Nathaniel Dett Elementary School. As I continue to serve on this side of the city and acquaint myself with the community, I’m reminded of how deep my family’s roots have grown from this side of the city. Throughout my time as an AmeriCorps member, I have realized how connected I feel to my students and the community they live in.

Ortiz with his two brothers, Javy and HenryOrtiz with his two brothers, Javy and Henry

Ubuntu, “I am because you are”, the pinnacle of human connection and compassion is the City Year culture piece that I connect with the most. From a young age, I have always had some sense of connection with the communities I was living in, but I feel it to my core even more now that I serve on the Westside of Chicago at Dett. Though not every day is easy, I have been able to know so many students and the circumstances of their lives in the four months we have been serving at Dett Elementary. When I’m waking up and getting ready for my day, I look forward to morning greeting where I can say hello to our students, give them a high five, and talk to them about their lives. Being with our students for most of the day has made me realize how much I care and how deeply I feel love for our students here at Dett Elementary. Many of them walk to and from school braving the cold, take a bus, have their parents drive them from as far as 47th Street, and endure the sometimes-hazardous circumstances of their neighborhoods; all for access to education. I think it is because of my experience from where I grew up met with the experiences of our students that I’ve fully realized how much I took my own education for granted when I was their age. From the moment I wake up to the moment I lay my head down, our students are the only thing I am thinking about and the only thing I care about day in and day out. They have revitalized my passion for teaching. They give my days meaning. I only hope I can help them find a purpose worth living for, worth fighting for.

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