Johnny Bell: On Being the Change You Want to See and the Importance of Building Powerful Relationships
Each Year, a City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps member is nominated by their peers for embodying the spirit of City Year and is presented the opportunity to represent the corps as their graduation speaker. Read AmeriCorps member, Johnny Bell’s, graduation remarks, and learn the impact relationship building had during his year of service, and how he became part of the change he wanted to see. Watch the full, virtual graduation ceremony, here.
Hello City Year. My name is Johnny Bell and I proudly serve on the Rockwell Automation team at Rogers Street Academy. I’d like to start by talking about relationships and the role they had during my service. This experience has given me the opportunity to get to know so many people who realize that they are the driving force of change. I am so humbled to have been able to work alongside you all this year, so with that, I’d like say thank you to everyone who nominated me. It is a honor and privilege to speak on your behalf.
What a beautiful, and unexpected journey this year has been. My choice to give a year of service was one that brought so much growth and kindness into my life. It was a decision that seemed to have fallen into my lap. When I graduated high school last year, the common choice was for most of my peers to go to college. But I was undecided on what I wanted to study at that time, and I just didn’t know if going to college after graduation was the right step for me. My mom was actually the one who found out about City Year first. She gave me some pamphlets about the organization and I did some research . The rest is history. It could not have been a better fit. City Year has given me the chance to make a positive impact in my community and I am grateful I got to serve with all of you.
Meeting my fellow corps members from so many different backgrounds and sharing personal stories they have given me the confidence to pursue education further. I have never been in such a diverse community of leaders and peers. Seeing men and women of color achieve success in the work place makes me feel like I belong and have the power to be a leader.
I always would look forward to seeing the whole corps on Fridays to ground myself in service and realize I have so many great people to lean on.
Since the transition to virtual service because of Covid-19, I have chosen to NOT dwell on all the struggles this year brought, but rather to focus on all the amazing connections I made with students, staff, and, last but not least, my fellow corps members. The energy and passion I felt from so many, has been nothing but inspiring.
I think about my classroom of 36 young people at Rogers Street Academy, and it brings me a lot of joy. Getting to know the small quirks that make them individuals and seeing them grow throughout the year, I am proud that I got to be their City Year, from Melvin who loves to draw Sonic and would challenge me to drawing competitions, Lucina who went from 30 percentile ranking off track to 20 percentile ranking above grade level in math and would save the candy she earned from class to give to her younger sisters, Nyamiah who is wise beyond her years and was always willing to sing for us in the City Year room.
Our role is so much more than a job description can describe. We create lesson plans and are someone for students to go to for advice, a snack, or homework help, sure, but it is so much more than I ever imagined. Generally, I see our role as a chance to uplift and support others. Within my team we have formed a bond that is built in relating to each other thru the struggle. Weather sharing a story about class that day or personal life. Finding reason and Joy throughout service was something that came quick, when working with so many likeminded individuals. All of us brought together by a selfless drive to be there for the students.
My team uplifted me in many ways throughout the year. The accepting nature of my team prepared us to adapt to the many changes this year has brought. 60 days was the longest our team stayed the same. Being able to ride the waves of adversity is what kept us strong and intact as a team. The days go by with laughter and at times struggle, but we always ended the same and that was as a team.
The skill that really stuck out through this experience for me is being able to redefine failure and success and how much I can learn and grow from my mistakes. From the early mornings to the late nights, City Year provided the support I needed to continue the privilege that is service. I served not for myself, but for the students and families like mine: dysfunctional, and different.
Working with 5th graders gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my younger self and to remember what it was like to be a 10 and 11 year old sitting in those desks watching the clock and wanting things to be different. This time I was under the florescent lights and behind brick walls to make it a better place for the students, to make them feel they are valued and heard. I know I’m blessed to say that I are part of the solution.
Realizing I am an adult now and not that kid who feels helpless and realizing that I have the power to make a difference in the lives of others has given me a purpose.
I would not be here speaking to all of you without guidance from my leadership and team, knowing I could depend on them to bring their best self to service day in and out, They have shown the way and know the way to reach success, mentoring me in the areas I need improvement in, always being encouraging along the way and keeping me in line with my motivation to serve. The love and friendship from my team was unmatched “RRRoger That!” City Year has lit my flame of idealism and I hope I reconnect with all of you in the near future. Keep shining as bright as the SUN. From my black boots to my name tag high and tight. I love y’all.
To learn more or to apply, visit the City Year Experience page.
About the author: Jonny Bell proudly served as an AmeriCorps member on the Rockwell Automation Team at Rogers Street Academy. Johnny was nominated by his peers to be their graduation speaker and was presented with the Spirit of City Year award for embodying the wisdom of operating with purpose and pride and inspiring other to take great pride in representing City Year.
First Year AmeriCorps member, Ava Masias, shares more about supporting Social Emotional Learning in the virtual space this service year.Read more about Building a Space of Belonging Virtually