By Danah Blake
AmeriCorps member serving at Martin Luther King, Jr Elementary School
My name is Danah Blake and I am from Boston, MA, also known as the birthplace of City Year. I went to school in a community where City Year served both in our schools, as well as in our recreational facilities. City Year was always there for me after school to assist with homework and lead fun activities. In addition to the unsung heroes in the red jackets, I was also surrounded by City Year alumni who became staff at my school after completing their service years. As I went on to high school, I continued to be surrounded by staff who promoted the idea of joining City Year after high school graduation, when many of us lacked plans for secondary education.
I was also a part of another nonprofit, Summer Search. It is an organization catered to providing educational and experiential opportunities to underprivileged youth, where the value of believing in yourself was fostered, and striving to achieve more was encouraged. After an enriching experience with Summer Search, I felt ready to begin college.
I found myself enrolled at Johnson & Wales in the fall of 2011. My best friend joined City Year New York and had begun her service earlier that summer. Going through life at the same age, but with such different circumstances, made it feel like we were worlds apart. The separation created a sense of disconnect between us, and on my behalf, a lack of understanding of what my friend was going through. I quickly wrote off the idea of ever serving due to the stories of struggle and hardship my best friend seemed to be experiencing. However four years of college, two years out of college, one corporate job, and two small businesses later, I realized I needed a sense of purpose again.
It wasn’t until a peer of mine began looking for a new start at life that I remembered City Year. I advocated for the program, even completed the application questions alongside her as moral support. When her application was rejected due to a referral not being submitted on time, she asked me “Why don’t you join?” A question I had been asked before. I looked at her like she was crazy, explained that I would never survive the rigorous work, and wouldn’t be comfortable in the communities - I often come off as uppity to others - and most importantly, I hate waking up before 8am. My friend shot me a stern look mixed with an intense eye-roll. I filled out my application the next day.