Reco Sanders is a City Year Los Angeles alum and current Program Manager at Clinton Middle School in South L.A. This past year, Reco was asked to share a story of student impact, or a Starfish Story, at a community meeting where our entire staff and corps gather to center ourselves in service. However, Reco's story was unlike most we've heard before. Here is an excerpt from his presentation.
If you haven’t noticed already, people from Los Angeles have a habit of talking about the freeways they take to get everywhere. It’s the subject of a really great Saturday Night Live skit called "The Californians". I grew up 20 minutes outside downtown L.A. in Pasadena and I also find myself describing the city in the same way. So to set the scene: if you drive 25 miles south on the 110 freeway to the Imperial Highway exit. About five minutes east of that exit you’ll have arrived at a place I called "home.
For two years I woke up at 5am and made the drive to proudly serve at Gompers Middle School. The memories I have of Gompers almost bring me to tears, for their joy and their pain. That year, I met Kevin, a 6th grader in math class who started out unable to multiply or divide. He always had the best intentions, but he had a temper that he couldn’t always keep in check. He would yell at his teachers or classmates and try to pass the blame onto anyone around him. Kevin was on my focus list, or case load, both years that I served.
When we talk about transformations, I can tell you about the many I witnessed in Kevin, big or small. Academically, he became a stronger mathematician because of the hard work he put in with me during class and after school tutoring. Socio-emotionally, I saw him making an effort to stay out of fights, but there was still so much room for him to grow. The more I understood Kevin, the more I could see how determined he was; though misguided. One day, I told him, "Anybody can start anything with you, but you decide how to finish it." That is the quote that he would later reveal to me as having helped him turn it all around. The fights finally stopped.
This year, Kevin is a 10th grader at Locke College Preparatory Academy. When I think of the “Starfish” founding story, I don’t picture Kevin or any of my students helplessly washed ashore, waiting for someone to lend a helping hand. The kids I met at Gompers Middle School would be on the beach, making a difference. They are the powerful youth we talk about in our City Year values. They are capable, dynamic, hilarious, beautiful little people who can never be captured in any statistic. Each of their stories deserves to be told and I make it a point to bring them up often, especially with people who may never think about coming down to 112th and San Pedro.
I graduated college unsure what path would give me the things I had always pursued; happiness, fulfillment, purpose and a paycheck. Kevin didn’t just help me find those things, he helped me discover that if I really loved what I was doing, I would trade the paycheck for a stipend and some EBT (food stamps). When I washed ashore with a degree, but no direction, Kevin helped me find my passion for service. If I’m lucky enough to attend Kevin’s high school graduation, I won’t just be there to tell him I’m proud of his accomplishments.
I’ll thank him for making me his starfish.