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By Jonah Stevenson, Service Leader serving on the Parker-Varney Elementary School Team.


“Everything I’m not made me everything I am” - Kanye West


Most folks at some point in their lives will hit a crucial moment when we seem to resemble work zombies, ending up falling into the cyclical “Eat-Sleep-Work-Repeat” until things go nonlinear and folks suddenly pine for the time that could have led to effective personal change. With more uncertainty of the future, we can often believe that fulfilling lives won’t be attained unless drastic actions are taken to attempt to live a sumptuous life. Mainstream expectations of life lead us astray from reflecting on what truly makes us happy. To combat this cynical mindset, we reflected on our self-identity, shared identity, and our “why” for serving this year to reconvene on our inner-selves effectively. Our CYNH site-wide trip to Alton, New Hampshire gave us the space to tackle our search for identity.


“I’m surrounded by identity crisis everywhere I turn, am I the only one who’s noticed? I can’t be the only one that’s learned”- Gavin DeGraw. (“I Don’t Wanna Be”)


Three days of recharging, reconvening, and soul searching transpired from January 30th through February 1st at Camp Brookwoods in Alton, New Hampshire, right off the southeast coast of Lake Winnipesaukee, about an hour north of our site in Manchester. The most exciting part of retreating was the opportunity to showcase the fuzzy sweaters and cozy socks and our homey vibes that go neglected during our typical service days. It was delightful to get to collaborate with the Development and Executive staff whom we seldom get the convenience of interacting with on a friendly and relaxed level. Besides the timeouts for ping-pong tournaments and furiously pressing our fingers to our phones to play Jackbox, fervent discussions on our sense of identity endured in multiple facets throughout our invigorating week.


“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” - Barack Obama (Alice Walker, 2007)


We’ve chosen to take on identities that stray away from the mainstream by choosing to serve instead of going to college or entering the workforce. For this one year, we’ve forgone the archetypal path of trying to fit societal expectations to stand out as warriors for a cause greater than ourselves. Luckily, our program’s newly reworked implementation of diversity, belonging, inclusion, and equity (DBIE) work allows us to reflect and implement fresh ideas on what thoughts about ourselves and others have led us to where we are today.


“Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?”

-Maya Angelou (Still I Rise)


The first afternoon we were encouraged to mull over our view of selves through collages and spoken words. Reflecting on my self-identity seems to always put me in a tricky spot. I ponder my own self-worth and self-identity on a daily basis via memes, fashion taste, dancing, music, and wondering if who I am on the outside matches who I am on the inside. I’m constantly partaking in an inner battle about who I should be and fill myself with self-doubt which, to be completely transparent, engenders a lot of pain. I’m over halfway complete with my second service year and despite the struggle, I still get tickled with euphoria on the growth I’ve conquered these past 18 months. Identity truly makes little sense because there is not one best way of summing up the millions of ideas of ourselves that get formulated over time, but when finding purpose with social justice and acknowledging the best parts of ourselves, truly profound change begins to materialize.


“You know we've got to find a way. To bring some lovin' here today.” -

Marvin Gaye (“What’s Going On”)


DBIE’s final activity revolves around Dr. Darnisa Amante’s astounding work on ‘Finding Your Why.’ Our site is advised to hone in on our ‘why’ for partaking in equity work in order to find purpose in our lives to pave way for effective purpose and perseverance. Checking in on our ‘whys’ frequently helps to reinforce implementing equitable environments to create justice for everyone around us. Many unexpected emotions arise from truly searching for our idealist backbone. We were able to formulate concrete words that can serve as a reminder for hard service days when things seem hopeless. The words are more meaningful because of the times when we’ve witnessed injustices committed unto others, and the stories of struggle we’ve observed in our communities brings purpose behind our perseverance.


“Hope euphoria can slow dance with society” -

Kendrick Lamar (“m.A.A.d. City”)


ATR allowed us to retreat literally but also figuratively as we introspect about the idealist’s journey we’ve partaken in. I left Camp Brookwoods with a firm grasp on the type of leader I saw myself as and I am mightily grateful that I was afforded the opportunity to share this experience with such valiant individuals. Our identities have so much potential to change the injustices in the world and when the site can collaborate as a whole on a more personal level, members are engaged to become more empathetic and transparent mentors seeking to truly make a difference in the world around us.


If you or someone you know is interested in serving a year with City Year, get in touch with a recruiter today! Our next application deadline is April 19.     


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