My friends like to joke that my university degree was in rainbows and kaleidoscopes.
From the perspective of folks with a degree in business or finance, my friends are probably not too far off (my degree was Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Human Rights & Social Justice….so yeah, rainbows).
By the time I was graduating college, I didn’t have a clear direction of what to do next. My motto had always been to “do the best you can in the space you’re in, and the rest will fall into place.” So, I began applying to a bunch of volunteer positions with AmeriCorps (a program that aims at supporting communities in need). By the time of my graduation in 2010, I had been accepted into a yearlong program with an organization in New York City.
The job? A full-time volunteer position as the Program Coordinator for an after-school program for 6th and 7th graders in the Bronx (leading, recruiting, and organizing it all).
Had I ever worked in education? Not really. A couple of tutoring and short-term volunteer jobs.
Had I ever lived in/visited the Bronx? Was I familiar with the community/schools there? No. I had never stepped foot in New York City.
Was working with youth my #1 choice on my application? No. I preferred and had more experience with adults, specifically women.
Was I open to learning and compassionate about social justice? Absolutely, even though I was extremely under-qualified for the job.
During my volunteer year I met Group Leaders and Program Aides who had grown up next door to the young people we were educating/supporting. They had already spent years working in the school while I was still getting lost on my way to the gymnasium. They knew Alyssa’s younger siblings while I was trying to remember Alyssa’s name. They looked like the kids. They didn’t look like an anxious, but hopeful blonde white woman from Michigan. And I was in the higher position.
I made beautiful connections with my students and the staff that year, but I want to be clear: I was another under-qualified white volunteer with good intentions passing through for a year to do the best that I could.
It took me many years to recognize how problematic my time in the Bronx was. I did stay in NYC and continued working in education with the same non-profit organization, but rarely did I or the other white educators in those spaces push each other to have harder discussions around race and why so many in power were (and are) white when the communities were (and are) not. I’m not minimizing my compassionate heart or the relationships I cherish to no end—but I am saying that I didn’t deserve it. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean my work wasn’t meaningful; it shaped who I am today.
“Do the best you can in the space that you’re in, and the rest will fall into place”—that motto of mine was rooted in white supremacy. That trust in the unknown existed because, beyond the rainbows and the work done, the hopeful intentions of my white skin were always prioritized over the potential of those already doing the work.
#satya #truthtelling #yoga