One of my earliest memories from middle school is when my seventh grade teacher pulled me aside after class one day and told me that I needed to begin to focus and do my homework because my future was too bright to be messing around for the entire lecture. The next day, I was doing the same thing in soccer practice, and this time, my coach had to tell me to stop fooling around. Later that week, I continued to make excuses for my behavior and my principal had to tell me a third time that my potential was too great to go to waste.
What I remember most vividly about this particular point in my life is not so much the amount of times that I was reprimanded by adults, but the fact that I had so many leaders in my community that cared about me enough to do so. No matter the amount of excuses I made, or the times I sold myself short, they never gave up on me; so, in turn, I never gave up on myself either. That is the reason “belief in the power of young people” is the most important City Year value to me. All young people are born with the ability to dream big, ask the tough questions, and dedicate themselves to a cause greater than themselves. Some young people are fortunate enough to grow up in a more forgiving environment where their mistakes do not define them for the rest of their lives, whereas other young people have to live with the consequences of their actions forever.
Many of the Latino children in my classroom remind me of myself, and I can see my struggles, aspirations, and experiences in so many of them. That is the reason that every day, I try to give my students the same encouragement that I received from those who believed in me. I started having conversations with them about identity and their place in the world as students of color. In particular, we discuss issues of intersectionality, especially as it relates to gender, race, and class. I try to let them know that as they get older, they will face a myriad of obstacles on the way to success, but only by being confident in who you are and what you stand for will you be able to persevere. I do this because the fact of the matter is that they won’t always have classmates that all look like them and not everyone will be bilingual. They won’t always have a teacher that reflects the diversity of their parents, nor will they have a City Year Student Success Coach checking up on them to see if they had a good or bad day, so they need to learn to believe in themselves and each other.
For that reason, I have made it my personal goal to work hard each day to instill in their minds that no matter what anybody says, their minds are powerful, their personalities are unique, and each and every one of their dreams is accomplishable. Even with this goal in mind, each day it seems that they are teaching me more than I could ever teach them. It makes me confident that only by working together can we all bring all our goals to fruition.
Article written by Tommy Molina, City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps member