The following remarks were written and delivered by Kayla Trammell for the Cohort 17 & 18 graduation celebration on April 12th, 2019 at 32BJ SEIU. Kayla reflects on the Green City Force pillar of Service and the value of knowledge.
First, I would like to say thanks to everyone in attendance, it was the support and effort from all of you that made this journey with Green City Force all worth it.
For some people, service means giving up time to help those in need. This may be a valid interpretation, but when you settle for this meaning, the act of helping loses some of its nuances. I believe service and volunteerism are two-sided, both the giver and receiver earn priceless rewards. This is a perspective of service where service isn’t the time you lose to help, but rather the feeling you gain from helping people, the knowledge you learn from working with people in meaningful ways and the growth you discover by challenging yourself to see your world in a new way.
When I started the program, admittedly, I saw service as what I was going to lose – maybe time or sleep. I was working at an exhausting cafe job, serving coffees to people who live very privileged lives. This essentially seemed like service, but in return, I was left feeling empty. I thought maybe if I served coffees in my own neighborhood, that I would feel more whole. So I tried that, and I realize that I needed the type of service that I could lose myself in so that I could find myself. So I looked close to home and found Green City Force.
Green City Force was this wonderful journey where I was helping developing communities by providing them a service that was crucial, this time not a cup a coffee, but the knowledge to live the greenest life along with freshly grown food. And the NYCHA residents weren’t the only one serviced, so were we. Communities, where we grew up, are changing, and we are changing in parallel by taking control of our lives.
I have this fond memory of the service project we did. During recycling and composting days in Brownsville, which were the hardest days; every Wednesday and Thursday we would collect food scraps and recyclables, running in and out of various developments to make sure not a single bag of waste was left. Convincing residents to think about waste differently required intensive outreach and pleasant and unpleasant encounters to make sure all the residents were involved, at the end of our term it was amazing to see the increase in participation. Growing up, I heard a lot of the hardship surrounding Brownsville. People avoided even exploring it, and although I spent a lot of time in Brownsville because my grandmother lives there, I believed the stereotypes of the neighborhood. But now I see through my education at Green City Force that Brownsville just needs some love. The residents of Brownsville worked alongside us and just as hard as us to make our community unified and even greater. And it was the resident’s energy that made those really hard Wednesdays and Thursdays better and the biggest reward for us. I hope that the rest of New York City begins to see that our community is full of potential and our service and attention made a difference.
I now see that Service means exploring how we are all connected and what it actually means to see someone else’s problem as a part of our narrative, something you feel responsible for. More than any of the people we helped, we helped ourselves. Now, we all have a purpose. Now, we know that we were called to do something bigger and better. Now, we can no longer sit around and talk about the lack of healthy food, and the build-up of waste, and the lack of education in our areas. We have a responsibility to be apart of the solution and are a lot clearer today on how to proceed.
We were and are transforming right in front of each others’ eyes. From the first day, when we were uncertain, not knowing anything but still eager to learn everything, today, each of us more confident because of this experience. What I love most about my cohort is that we were never afraid to give each other constructive feedback. That’s how I knew I was with a group of leaders that were going to hold me and themselves accountable to this work. We challenged each other to be better, and our knowledge is our power because instead of accepting the problem, we are were involved in the solution. As we leave here today, let us remember the power of this knowledge and of service. And, I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to continue the work that we started!
Now, after my term of service, I’m a landscaper at Harrison Green. And although I just started there I can say that I’m comfortable and confident in a workspace. I’m grateful for the path that Green City Force has helped me to set. I will, alongside my job, be a more active member of my community. No more sitting around and waiting to help, tomorrows starting NOW!
Thank you and Congratulations Cohort 17 & 18!
You can meet all the graduates of Cohorts 17 and 18 and read their testimonials on the Graduate Gallery.