Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. serves as a strong civic role model for City Year and as an inspiration for our service at Esek Hopkins Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island. We draw strength from his words and embrace his role as a righteous fighter of systemic oppression. As Dr. King wrote in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Despite the efforts of Dr. King to rid the United States of injustice, we are still fighting against inequalities in education. Today, one of the main gaps in educational achievement lies in socioeconomics. According to a 2011 U.S. Census Bureau study, Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings, there is a “clear and well-defined relationship between education and earnings, and that this relationship perseveres, even after considering a collection of other personal and geographic characteristics.” When students are in difficult situations, their attendance, behavior and course performance can suffer. They then become at risk of dropping out of high school, which can negatively affect them for the rest of their lives.
City Year maintains a fundamental belief in the universal human dignity of every person and works to close this achievement gap. For us as corps members, it takes unwavering idealism, conviction in the importance of education, and a steadfast belief in the merit of each student to get students back on the path to success. However, City Year is built upon values that align with Martin Luther King’s wish to create a beloved community. City Year maintains a positive culture because of its overtly positive core values, sayings called “Putting Idealism to Work,” founding stories, routine, and uniform.
Dr. King envisioned a beloved community, in which people worked for the benefit of the whole instead of the individual. The Schneider Electric Team serving at Esek Hopkins Middle School began working to inspire the students on the first day of school. Students know that City Year will be there waiting for them every morning, enthusiastic and ready to start the day. We have already seen the powerful effect this can have. One student, who could be overly impulsive, has become a fixture at our morning circle. He has begun to channel his energy into positive actions, such as patiently helping other students and thinking about the effects his words and behavior has on others.
To fulfill Dr. King’s vision, not only is it imperative for City Year to build a positive community within schools, we also have to help to improve the overall community. A number of us recently decided to spend our Saturday assisting Serve Rhode Island in cleaning up beachfront properties in Westerly that were heavily damaged by Sandy. This clean-up enabled us to reach out to a different part of the community and aid them in piecing their lives back together. Recently, City Year Rhode Island received dozens of letters from elementary school students who work with City Year Los Angeles corps members that expressed their sympathy for those who were affected by the disaster. City Year works not only regionally, but also nationally to bring Dr. King’s beloved community to life by positively impacting people’s lives all over the country.
Thank you to Geoffrey Gillies and Rob Rennie from the Schneider Electric Team serving at Esek Hopkins Middle School for contributing this month’s post.