Tanya McQueen 
AmeriCorps Team Leader, Figueroa St. Elementary School

Relocating from a small suburban town to Los Angeles and serving in Watts, I felt everyone else’s fears and anxieties; however I did not have these fears myself. Yes, I heard many a story about how Watts is very dangerous, and this made me curious, not scared, as to what my service year would be like. I had thoughts like, “Will I witness crime? Will I experience crime? What will my students have experienced in their lives? What will the community look like?" These thoughts did not come with a fear for my safety because I am very aware of my white privilege and I am comfortable in diverse situations and being around others who are different from myself. I have had a lot of positive experiences serving in Watts from learning about Watts history at the Watts coffee house, to being greeted with a smile and a good morning at the local donut shop to early morning conversations with the super market cashier when I had to restock the coffee creamer. There were moments of newness and unease, but those feelings didn’t last. 

All change is difficult, but at some point through my journey, the newness and discomfort turned into routine and comfort. I may not be from Watts, or be able to claim it as my community, but I feel as though I have become a member of the community because I have served there for the past 10 months and Watts will forever have a special place in my heart. My advice to anyone relocating to a new place is to challenge fear and anxiety with curiosity. Be curious and be open to experiencing and learning a new culture/community/setting and know that anywhere you serve has the potential to, one day, feel like home.

Jose Iniguez 
Senior Program Manager, 109th St. Elementary School

Serving in Watts has been a very rewarding experience for me. I especially appreciate being provided an avenue to engage with pockets of Los Angeles that are often ignored. Students want to learn, families want to get ahead, and the community continues to find its way up. I’m thankful to be able to play a small part! Additionally, serving on a diverse City Year team also afforded me with the opportunity to explore my personal identity in ways that challenged my way of thinking and serving others. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Jerry Robertson 
Program Manager, 93rd St. Elementary School

As a young black male in Watts, I had a very enriching and welcoming experience. I was greeted and thanked almost daily by random individuals within the community for showing students that people who "look like us" can be successful. Although I brought negative connotations of my own when I first moved to Watts, after two years of service, I came with more pride for this city than my own. It's contagious! 

Dorian Garcia 
Program Manager,  Figueroa St. Elementary School

When walking into City Year on day 1 of training I was not sure what to expect, especially considering my LGBT identity. Within the first two weeks of service, I discovered I was placed in Watts and my nerves multiplied! But I soon realized that I had no reason to worry. With the support of my team and City Year, I felt secure and safe to serve without needing to hide any part of my identity. Don’t get me wrong, speaking to urban youth about LGBT issues is not an easy task, but what is in City Year? I appreciate City Year’s proactive approach and responsiveness to supporting me, my identity, and my service.   


If you enjoyed this story please check out:

"Rapped" in Love: Connecting with Students through Music

A personal reflection project created by Raul Cabral, AmeriCorps member serving at ew Open World Academy. 

Storyteller of the year: An introvert's journey

Get to know 2016 Sony Storyteller of the Year awardee Cyn Njideka ('16) as she reflects how storytelling gave her a brand new perspective.

Share This Page