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Ubuntu, relationships and how we’re all connected

One of my favorite City Year core values is ubuntu. This value is a term of the Zulu tribe from South Africa that translates to “I am a person through other people; my humanity is tied to yours”. Ubuntu embodies the reality that everyone is inherently connected, that our humanity is a ubiquitous, shared thing that should be honored and respected. Ubuntu emphasizes the interdependent nature of humanity; without us even doing anything, we are all already tied to one another. The way I look at it, there is nothing that we can do to negate that interconnectedness, but there is so much we can do to enhance it. We can choose to live our lives with a deep awareness of ubuntu and its deeply rooted virtues of respect and compassion toward others. If we are all connected, then how I treat an individual is a reflection of how I want to treat the collective as well. How I act towards one person, in one interaction, carries meaning far beyond that singular instance.

I have been serving with City Year at Mifflin High School for a little over two months. In just that short amount of time, I have gotten to know such incredible individuals. The students in my classes, the teachers and administrators at the school and the members of my team are all wonderful, unique human beings who have shown me the importance of ubuntu. The path of our individual lives before this year is varied. We have come from different backgrounds, cities and family dynamics. The majority of students at Mifflin were not born in the United States and yet, here, at this moment, for this City Year, we are woven together. What we will learn and accomplish together is so much greater than anyone of us independently. I am consistently reminded of the power and necessity of relationships. “I am a person through other people” has taken on a poignant and powerful reality. A student who needed help to understand something, a teacher who offered a word of encouragement at just the right time, a fellow corps member who offered a safe space to listen—these seemingly small gestures, when seen as the collective effort of our Mifflin community, spur us all on to better versions of ourselves.

There are days when it is hard to be connected, when interacting with others takes so much energy, when I am inundated by stories of hurt and challenge, and it feels like disconnect is louder than its antithesis, but I am always reminded that relationships are worth it and that they require practice, commitment and hope.

When I walk into Mifflin every morning, sharing joys with my team during morning circle, smiling at students as they come into school, all before the sun comes up, I am so grateful for this humanity we all share. I know that I am a part of something so much greater than myself. I know that I am entering into a place that can’t be understood in isolation, that is full of stories and experiences and humans that contain complexities. I am entering into a community where I see ubuntu in the students’ friendships, the school spirit, the teachers’ dedication and the dozens of languages I hear walking through the halls. I know deep in my heart that we are all people through other people; my humanity is tied to yours.

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