Family, friends, staff, partners and fellow Corps members of Cohort 20. It’s an honor to address you all today. I don’t take this honor lightly and I hope to do it justice.
I begin by sharing a memory of day one: I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; I was settled as a group leader in an afterschool program in my community and attended Bronx Community College and was a Youth Council President for Sedgwick Houses in the Bronx and still felt a pull to further challenge myself and connect to people my age, oftentimes I was surrounded by older adults. It was appealing to do service of this kind with people my age.
I attended an information session in April 2019 at Patterson Houses. I thought to myself, “where has this program been all my life?” I felt the challenge that I was looking for and a weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I felt it necessary to connect to a bigger network, deepen my learning on how to activate the community; alongside young leaders of color and of course offer my skills to the cause.
The first day of orientation – I was ready! I had my outfit prepared the day before, notebook, pen, sat in the front seat. I remember the hard chairs, the long 9 hour days of orientation, traveling to Brooklyn early mornings from the Bronx, the interactives, the great lunches, building bonds with fellow young leaders, everyday meeting new staff of GCF. I noticed the intentionally organized design of orientation. The two weeks of learning about our history, social, environmental injustices, leaders who had done it before us. The description of what was expected in service completely shifted, shook, awakened us into action. At this point, I was a different kind of ready.
Service bootcamp arrived with rain, with 3 laps, we got down and dirty- literally, but it was satisfying, it was motivating and exciting to experience new skills related to land. Learn a new language, learn about residents, about the surrounding community. It was an awareness of neighborhoods, people and land that has changed me forever.
It was powerful to know that at the same exact time every day my peers and I would be activated in service across the City with our own missions to tackle in our own designated communities. We became masters at outreach; the greatest example of success at our farms was seeing new residents believe in us and get involved. My leadership experience was tested and grew more than ever, by juggling multiple responsibilities revealed patience, tolerance and unique problem-solving abilities I didn’t know I had. Special Forces joining our existing Cohort made us complete and validated all that we had learned in a short time.
As a Cohort, we laughed, we cried, we stumbled, we exchanged techniques, gave lots of feedback to each other, we were greeted and respected by alums and partners. Most importantly, we put our commitment to the test and succeeded. Earning our official uniforms embodied another level of ready. I was assigned to Forest Houses in the Bronx. The pride of wearing the uniform in my home borough filled me up with confidence knowing that we had everything we needed to influence and lead the way. We were given a stage and tools to change the mind of the committee, just as our chant said. Like my fellow corps member Alyssa Perez said at our last community meeting that rings true “we are the sun showers to societal wildfires.”
Our uniforms made us visible, available, accessible in a way I had not experienced before. “Brown on our chest “A” on our arm cleaning up the city why won’t you tag along.”
Message to my Cohort, we grew up, we aren’t the same people we were, we are prepared, we are confident, we use our voice to affirm what we need, we have a common journey that ties us together, a strength that was pushed to the limit. We know we will never stop. Remember, we are together for a reason, not a season.
We practice who we want to be – EVERYDAY!
We are the ones, we – STAY READY!
Thank you to all of the GCF staff for your consistent support and encouragement.