By Aaron Coleman, City Year AmeriCorps Member

As Deion walked toward the door, the gleam of Ivy’s unattended Samsung Galaxy caught his eye. He knew he shouldn’t take it, but he just couldn’t help himself. And as he exited the classroom, he slid Ivy’s phone off of her desk and into his pocket. He didn’t think that anyone would notice. He was wrong.

A few minutes later, Ivy discovered that Deion had stolen her phone. She promptly told the teacher, Ms. Lamont, who told Principal Branch, who suspended Deion.

I am Deion’s City Year mentor. Together Deion and I work on character development. So when I saw Deion still misbehaving after the suspension I asked him, “What do you think will happen if you keep acting out in school?” He curtly replied, “I don’t care.” I paused, searching for words to explain how what seemed like trivial decisions to him now would come to define his life later.

Deion is a young black boy growing up in the poorest neighborhood in Washington, DC. As he gets older, certain challenges are inevitable. He will have to both resist the lure of neighborhood crime and drugs, and survive the racial bias and stereotypes others project onto him. These traps of race and class have ensnared countless young boys of color for generations. The fact is education is Deion’s best hope.

However, if Deion doesn’t take school seriously, then he will have neither the cognitive skills nor the credentials he needs to find work in our rapidly globalizing and technology-based economy. He is but one example of the millions of at-risk students in high poverty communities across the nation. For these students, education can be the difference between continuing generational poverty and joining the middle class.

All of these thoughts swirl through my head when a student like Deion says to me, “I don’t care.”  It makes me worry about his future, but for the time being, I am glad that I am here to help him navigate the present. I know that much of his rebelliousness is simply the misplaced machismo of an early adolescent boy. And while he doesn’t always respond appropriately during our talks, I know that our mentoring sessions accumulate and embed themselves in his actions. Eventually they become part of his character.

It was Robert F. Kennedy who said, “Every generation [of young people] has its central concern, whether to end war, erase racial injustice, or improve the condition of the working man.” I believe that it is our generation’s task to educate Deion and the millions of other poor children in America whose promise is boundless; children who if given the opportunity and support, can accomplish anything.

I serve at City Year because we help bridge this gap between what students need and what schools are designed to provide. As the old idiom goes, “it takes a village to raise a child” and in City Year I have found a community that shares my mission for securing the future of our nation’s most vulnerable children. If you are interested in joining our village or finding out more please click here.

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