It is hard to believe our service year is coming to an end. You know, I never expected to genuinely love the students I served. I figured this role I decided to take on was just another tutoring position where I would sometimes listen to kids talk about their feelings. It is SO much more than that.
We are much more than our titles as student success coaches. We are a friend, tutor, mentor, shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, someone to spill tea to, and someone to vent to about your “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” Someone students can come to when they haven’t eaten, or someone students can come to when they need clothes or toiletries. Someone who loves, who cares, who fights for and believes in our students.
I will really miss my students. Time and time again throughout service I have been asked, “why do you serve?” Easiest question I have been asked this year. For my little brother. For Cameron. For the kids. As most of us know, one of City Year’s organizational values is Belief in the Power of Young People; a value I take very seriously.
Not only are we helping these students learn and grow into who they want to be, they are teaching us about who we are and who we want, or need, to be. At least, that’s what they’re teaching me. The students taught me different variations of flaming, roasting and ribbing. They also taught me that patience is an upmost virtue (because they try mine everyday) and taught me to remain humble and accepting of everyone.
My starfish student, *Wyatt, who was on my social-emotional learning focus list this year, taught me the most. He taught me how to be pettier than I already am, laugh bad vibes away, to stop taking everything personally, how to forgive, love, and support those who hurt or disappoint me, and most importantly, how to uplift a Black King (along with the Black Queens) in the making.
When I first met Wyatt, he didn’t see any beauty in his skin or the significance of being a black man. He would talk down about his skin and would express the negative feelings within him about being black. He didn’t like to be around most of his classmates and would come eat in the City Year room during lunch with me. Once I started to notice a rapport between me and Wyatt, I put forth my best efforts to motivate him academically and mentally. I held him to higher expectations than most of my students once I realized how funny, logical and wise he is.
At first, I thought my efforts in helping him grow weren’t helping. But then one morning, Wyatt came to the City Year room demanding we have a check in to start his goal for the week. Shortly after that, he made it a habit to get a pass to the City Year room and work on his coursework with me during my prep, as well as any other time he could get in to the City Year room. What finally helped me determine that my efforts were helping Wyatt was when he expressed to me the newfound appreciation for his skin and love for his culture; the fact that it wasn’t just me in our relationship that believed in him and what he could do.
By the end of the school year, Wyatt progressed academically, as well as developed friendships with several (and I mean SEVERAL) of his classmates. He learned to be exceptionally supportive to all his brothers in his school’s, men’s group, and to his older and younger siblings at home. Wyatt showed me what change, perseverance, and unconditional love looks like, an eye-opening experience I cannot thank him enough for. Wyatt, along with all the freshman Vincent High School students, contributed to my growth as the leader I feel myself becoming and are the reason why I decided to apply to serve for another year. Those students helped me learn what I needed and am continuing to learn about life, people, and myself. To the Vincent High School Class of 2022, I will forever be grateful for the time I got to spend with you.
Wyatt’s story goes to show why we are so important. Because of City Year student success coaches, the students who are put down know they can find someone in a red jacket to lift them right back up. Because of student success coaches, problematic comments from adults' initiate fishbowls on social injustice, giving students a platform to share their thoughts, feelings and concerns about their community. Because of student success coaches, complex coursework packets are turned into small group sessions where students can feel comfortable enough to ask clarifying questions and get their work done.
When a student is on the verge of being suspended or even expelled, City Year AmeriCorps members advocate and fight for them to receive another chance, an action that displays their belief in the power of young people; an action that has been proven to help. Because of City Year AmeriCorps members, over a thousand Black and Latino students have at least eleven seeds planted within their mindset with the intentions of helping them grow into the beautiful, bright spirits that all of you have seen in them.
And now it is time for Putting Idealism to Work. (BING!) PITW #87: “All People-Especially Young People- Need the Same Eleven Things. Meaning, adventure, community, power, respect, structure, challenge, opportunity, safety, love, and joy.” Because of YOU, over a thousand young persons are prepared to lead their community embodying the wisdom, grace, and strength you helped develop. Because of YOU, over a thousand young people know that they will never walk alone in their journey because “their City Year” will always be with them.
In a nutshell be proud. Be proud of your growth, your perseverance through inevitable obstacles, and your contribution and passion for change. Be proud of what you have done for your students and how they have grown. Be proud of dedicating your time and energy to “service to a cause greater than self,” that strives to build a Beloved Community within each school we’ve served in.
Please remember how you feel in this very moment, along with what all it took for you to complete this service term and carry that with you for your future endeavors.
Congratulations Corps 9, we made it! Thank you!
*Student's name changed to protect the privacy of the student.
Graduation speech given by Dominique Lopez, City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps member
Click here to watch Dominique' speech, and hear her inspiring message to Corps 9.