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Corps Member Monday: Kwanzaa and My Service Journey

January 13, 2014

by Stephanie Ambroise, corps member proudly serving on the JP Morgan Chase Team at Capitol Middle School

It has been two weeks since Kwanzaa and my return to Baton Rouge and I have been pensive.

Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday which began in the mid 1960s, meant to celebrate core values of Black America’s African heritage. These values are family, community, and culture. It’s a harvest holiday, and as my team in City Year has crossed the mid-point threshold, I cannot help but wondered if I’ve worked hard enough to collect a successful harvest.

For myself, the holiday connects me to my ancestry to my journey to City Year. As a holiday also celebrated by the African diaspora, I consider our journey as corps members to be a certain type of diaspora (although not completely). It can be considered as one, though, if you consider that all 64 of us hail from all corners of this country and have displaced ourselves to serve for one year.

I say if you climb up your ancestry high enough, you can pick a hero. As someone who has dedicated her life to serving, and helping to create a world where one can live out their fullest potential, I want to make my ancestors proud. Looking into Kwanzaa,I cannot help but see the overlap between the seven corps principles of Kwanzaa (Nguzo Saba) and what they mean to my journey through my work to serve with City Year.

The days are as such:

Day 1- Umoja: Unity
Day 2- Kujichagulia: Self-Determination
Day 3- Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility
Day 4- Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics
Day 5- Nia: Purpose
Day 6- Kuumba: Creativity
Day 7- Imani: Faith

The last one value is the one which has resonated with me the most. Faith. The first of January was Faith. Amidst all the talk of starting over, and beginning anew, January 1st of Kwanzaa is faith that the seed you have sown will have grown to satisfy. That they will be reflective of the work you have put in. That some sort of progress has happened.

I cannot imagine a better analogy for how I feel about the work I do. I go into work every day with a set of skills, experience, and passion, but since you are working with another human being, you can only have faith they have absorbed what you’ve taught. Throughout all of the self-determination and pooling of team resources, love, passion, and skill-building, there’s no way of knowing if what I’ve done has stuck with all of my students. There’s never a day, though, when I don’t bring everything I have to give to my students.

For me, there is nothing honorable in starting over every year. In my opinion, this is not the way to honor progress/I want to continue the work that I’ve done with my students, learn from my mistake and meet each day with the same drive that I started with.

As someone who has worked very hard, with an incredibly unified team of individuals fiercely determined to follow what they feel is their purpose to make a difference, I feel my City Year journey embodies the spirit of Kwanzaa. Speaking of as a Corps Member, this journey has come with it’s assortment of bumps in the road, errors, and other trials.

The truth is, at the end, all we have is our faith. What the values teach us, though, is that while faith is what we end with, it’s also what we continue with. It is what we bring with us everyday at work, along with a set of skills, purpose, creativity, and a determination to pool all of our collective assets to achieve our goal: moving students forward. Faith is what begins our journey at City Year, faith in the organization, it’s faith in it’s mission. It’s what we take over this threshold, and it’s what, in May, we will take with us toward whichever life path we choose.

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