“As a leader, I strive to daily allow myself to be led into an awareness of a new perspective. I must not cloud my own vision or else I will be leading to better my own needs instead of others. I will strive to be myself shamelessly.” This is my personal leadership mission statement (yay IJ), and the last thing on my mind when my 5:00 AM alarm blares in the morning.

Between the minutes of my first and second alarm, I think of how warm my bed is until my mind strays to the faces of the students I’ll be working with that day. Flinging the covers back before I can think about how cold it will be, I run to the bathroom to get ready for my day. I’ve never had a job before where anything besides the thought of a check was my ultimate motivation for getting out of bed.

It’s not fake.I’m not writing to convince anyone of the awesome perfect nature of this job. The truth is that this is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, because I realize the weight of this work. It is a load that I happily carry for my 10 months of service.

Some days, this job bring me to my knees, but I realize that there are kids on my back that haven’t strengthened themselves enough to walk on their own yet. Each month, I have at least one student who will voluntarily jump off to walk beside me and hold my hand. Day by day I am teaching a new generation to assume responsibility for the daily adventure of learning. To look forward to running toward what they don’t know to discover new things, instead of having to be carried to their destination.

This is even more urgent for me, because I am working in my old elementary school. Yep, in fact I’m in class with my 4th grade teacher. She is one of the toughest teachers in this school who brooks no arguments from her students, and expects your best at all times. There is no room for a bad day. There is only space to devote as many of your brain cells as possible to the task of the day. My 23 year old body enters her classroom everyday and recalls how mentally and emotionally daunting it was to be a student in her class. I then take myself through every year of school that I had after having Ms. F as a teacher, and rejoice that she is still here giving that strong medicine to another generation. I enter as a veteran who knows the landscape and can help those willing to go with me, to navigate and excel in this setting. The same goes for Ms. Z’s students (my ELA group).

City Year Columbia is directly impacting the community I grew up in, and am still very much tied to. My mother’s daycare is located only a few blocks up the road, my family church is further down past the high school, and I would have attended a nearby middle school if I hadn’t moved in 6th grade.

That move was one of the reasons I decided to join City Year. My parents saw the decline in the quality of education where I was, and decided that my sisters and I should be placed in another district. I joined CYSC, because I shouldn’t have had to move because the schools were “better”…we should have moved because we liked the house better. That inequity never settled in my spirit after I relocated and changed school districts. When I learned about City Year’s purpose to help eradicate educational inequity in the schools they work in, I leapt at the opportunity to join the program. Best. decision. EVER.

From Basic Training Academy (BTA) to LOCY (Life Outside of City Year) and LACY (Leadership After City Year) events, each level helped to challenge my growth as a leader, and the daily grind of being a corps member continues to do so. I have to allow myself to be led into my students awareness so that I can know how best to tutor them, or when the issues outside of school are so big that they are bleeding into erratic behavior and a seeming lack of care. My students are my biggest leadership teachers. My example is theirs, whether I like it or not. My red jacket means something beyond having organizational swag. It means that I am a constant reminder of a standard that is expected of myself and of them. I don my uniform and go out like a gladiator to meet with educational inequality in my community on a daily basis. Each day I get fired up to serve a cause greater than myself with spirit, discipline, purpose, pride and power.

Post by: Julia-Louise Doe, Corps Member

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