Why I Serve

City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Anna Akers-Pecht, serves with the Microsoft Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School. In her blog below, she explains how her experience growing up in rural Southern Virginia inspired her to make an impact in public education, work to break down racial barriers and commit a year to service.

City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Anna Akers-Pecht, serves with the Microsoft Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School.

City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Anna Akers-Pecht, serves with the Microsoft Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School.

I serve because, while Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools, it never fully integrated them. Growing up in rural Southern Virginia, I experienced firsthand the lasting, harmful effects of segregation. After the Brown v. Board ruling, U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., called for a campaign of “Massive Resistance” in Virginia, during which white Virginians resisted desegregation at all costs. Rather than integrate, a neighboring county, Prince Edward, shut down its entire public school system for five years. In my own county, Brunswick, many white parents created a private academy that still exists today.

I attended the public school system, where the student population was roughly 80 percent African-American. The majority of students qualified for free and reduced lunch, and our school system constantly struggled to meet federal benchmarks on standardized tests. I was always frustrated that my school never received the full community support it deserved, as many local businesses support the academy and not the public schools. Perhaps most frustrating to me were the teachers who worked in the public school system, yet sent their own children to the academy. One day after school in the tenth grade, I was talking to my English teacher’s daughter, who attended the academy. As we spoke in the hallways, she told me, “Mama doesn’t like me hanging around here after school,” expressing concern about drugs and violence. I felt hurt and infuriated that my own teacher would characterize our school in such a negative way.

Growing up, I only thought about how the academy’s existence negatively affected the public school system. Now, however, I realize the academy is only a symptom of the lingering, underlying racism that has seeped down like a poison through the generations. Beyond the schools, this poison has prevented our entire community from growing and reaching its full potential.

Making the distinction between desegregation and true integration, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Desegregation will break down legal barriers, and bring men together physically. But something must happen so as to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right.”  I serve to break down these destructive barriers between groups of people, so that our country will one day fulfill Dr. King’s dream of “a truly brotherly society…a beloved community.”

City Year Celebrates Opening Day 2012!

City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Becka Gross, is serving with the JPMorgan Chase Diplomas Now team at Denny International Middle School. Below she recounts the power of City Year’s Opening Day.

On Friday, September 21, the 2012-13 City Year Seattle/King County corps ran through the doors of City Hall joining an audience of friends, family, board members, donors, and elected officials to officially kick off the start of full-time service in schools. City Year Executive Director, Simon Amiel, fired up the audience and corps, leading them in a chant: “More kids, in school, and on track to succeed!”

City Year corps members, staff, elected officials, donors and community members came together to celebrate Opening Day.

City Year corps members, staff, elected officials, donors and community members came together to celebrate Opening Day.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn shared his support for City Year and the impact he believes our service has on the community. Comcast sponsor and City Year board member, Steve Holmes, also shared his gratitude for the incoming corps, stating that the work of City Year is “changing the forecast for a generation to one of hope.” Another highlight from the event’s program was Jessica Silye, a City Year alumna, who shared the stage with a former student she worked with, Sam Martin. Together they described how both of their lives were profoundly impacted by their experiences together and the work of City Year.

City Year alumna, Jessica Silye, and her former student, Sam Martin, talk about the experience they shared together through City Year.

City Year alumna, Jessica Silye, and her former student, Sam Martin, talk about the experience they shared together through City Year.

The keynote address came from corps member and recent graduate of Garfield High School, Mohamed Adan, who inspired the crowd with his life story and passion for service.  After fleeing chaos and violence in Somalia, Adan’s family sought refuge in Kenya and eventually was granted political asylum in the United States. Adan entered Seattle’s public school system at six years old and found in the years to follow that the new language and culture created great barriers against his academic success. While recalling teachers suggesting to his class that they ask their parents for homework help, Adan said with a grin, “my parents didn’t speak a lick of English and attempting to solicit their help on my homework would have resulted in blank stares or a whole lot of head scratching.” Though his teachers were supportive and dedicated, they did not have the resources to provide the individualized support necessary to foster each student.

City Year corps member, Mohamed Adan, shares his experience of growing up in Seattle and what inspired him to serve his community.

City Year corps member, Mohamed Adan, shares his experience of growing up in Seattle and what inspired him to serve his community.

Adan reminisced about the people in his life who believed in him, helped him overcome the setbacks he encountered, and ensured his success. People in his school and community “who dedicated themselves to education. Who believed in the potential of every student to succeed, and who worked hard in difficult situations and with limited resources because they knew the tremendous impact education could have upon their students.”

The community support, words of encouragement, and palpable enthusiasm of Adan reminded the corps, and each member of the audience, of the vital importance of the mission they are embarking upon. We can’t wait to see the impact that each of our 67 corps members makes this year!

*To see more photos from Opening Day, click here.

Powerful Service, Powerful Leaders

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City Year‘s tagline is “give a year. change the world.” The understanding of that tagline is found in its inherent duality. A corps member must work to change their outer world: the students and communities they serve, while they simultaneously work … Continue reading

The City Year Red Jacket, A Promise

“She’s the strongest person I know,” a corps member said describing a friend to whom she dedicated her red jacket.

One of the most visible elements of City Year is the red jacket. The red jacket is a symbol of permanence, guidance and support. It is a promise that every member of our organization who wears the jacket is committed to serving our nation’s children and each corps member is working to positively impact our nation’s drop-out crisis by working as a mentor and tutor. When a corps member puts on the red jacket, they become a representative for the entire organization–they embody City Year’s mission, culture, and values.

“He made me who I am today,” a corps member said of a loved one whom inspires and motivates his service

This year’s Red Jacket Ceremony was held at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park in South Seattle. At the ceremony every corps member was asked to dedicate their jacket to someone influential in their lives or an inspirational idea. Dedicating the red jacket a very personal experience, and then sharing that dedication helps to build Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of the beloved community.

“She inspries me to be persevere through challanges I will face during my service year,” a corps member said a loved one that inspired him to serve.

Dr. King once said “…something must happen so as to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right. In other words, our ultimate goal is integration which is genuine intergroup and interpersonal living…Only through nonviolence can this goal be attained, for the aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of the beloved community.”

“You don’t know service, until you’ve met him,” a corps member said of a loved one to whom he dedicated his red jacket.

When you share your story with other people, you are opening up and trusting that people will be ready to listen with an open heart and an open mind. As a City Year member, there is nothing more important than putting on the red jacket, as all of your power and idealism flows from that seemingly simple action. Sharing what the red jacket symbolizes is a meaningful demonstration of what motivates us to serve and ultimately why we each work to build the beloved community.

“I’m so proud to serve the students. This jacket is for them,” a corps member said of the students she will mentor and tutor this year.

Text by Senior Corps Member Denise Rene Taylor