My experience at City Year has shown me the true meaning of diversity. Here at Bethune Elementary School, only three of my squad members (pictured above) are from Philadelphia. We are from D.C. to Cleveland, from Romania to England, we come from all over the world. We bring pretty different experiences with us and it is pretty cool that we all are able to connect with each other and learn each other’s point of view, respecting all opinions. Within this safe space, we allow everybody to think freely, collaborate to make lesson plans, brainstorm different ways to approach students and fun effective ways teach and engage with them. Keeping students on track and reaching the 10th grade on time is the one thing we all have in common and we work together towards that goal.

1+1+1=3, 2+1=3 all the same. Understanding that my team is working towards the same goal, but may approach it differently not only sets an example for our students, but more importantly, there is no limit to what our students can learn growing up in a community of diverse mentors. Learning from people different from you encourages you to think outside the box, and step outside of your comfort zone on a regular basis.

A lot of times when people think of diversity, they think about race and gender. Men of color in the education space are rare and I am proud to be one of them making an impact on students’ lives in a positive way. Education is the foundation for all careers, and if we want our young boys to grow up and excel in other fields, as men of color we need to be represented more in education. It makes an impression on students to see men who look like them teach them things and provide guidance. Our example gives students inspiration, hope and a path they can follow, despite feeling the odds stacked against them.

I am using race and gender as an example because it is something that has impacted me personally being in education, but it should not be the only thing that comes to mind when you hear diverse mentorship. Culture, religion, socioeconomic background, and beliefs, all the experiences that make up who a person is impacts the way they communicate, problem solve, and work together.  When coloring, or painting we use a wide variety of colors, even when shopping for clothes. Why can’t we approach the power of diversity in this way when it comes to people? Personally, some of my best life lessons have been taught to me by people who are very different from me.

I am especially proud when the student leaders in my class, who may have not led in the most positive ways in the past are now using their leadership skills to lead in a better direction and share compassion for those different from them. It is a rewarding feeling when I don’t have to be the first one to give them reminders or encouragement because they are sharing it with each other.  Setting an example and leading is only one part of mentorship. Sometimes when the mentee steps up, it is your turn to follow.  When our students make good choices when we are not watching, it is the truest form of successful mentorship at City Year. It is reflective of the adults, citizens, and human beings they can grow up to be. 

Written by City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps Member, Omari Colson serving at Bethune Mary Mcleod Elementary School Team. The work of Omari and his team is made possible by Team Sponsor, Ballard Spahr.


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