Vote…and Serve

Eric Schwarz is the Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools.

On this very important day for America, I am thinking a lot about the election, about policy and about Citizen Schools. The New York Times has been featuring a video that a former Citizen Schools staff member named Jessica Lander helped create. In it, the legendary filmmaker Errol Morris interviews a number of young people talking about whether or not they should vote in today’s election. One young man is Philip Parham, who served in the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship and then helped recruit hundreds of people to spend two years inspiring children. Errol Morris is stopped short when Philip shares that his own grandmother did not have the right to vote.

The video definitely got me thinking. In a lot of ways, Citizen Schools was created out of a sense that voting alone is not a satisfactory or sufficient expression of citizenship. We need to step up in deeper ways. We need everyone to vote, and also to participate in building a stronger country by raising the next generation.

I think the whole business of social entrepreneurship, which we’ve been a part of for the last 18 years, is really an effort to try to find some alchemy between direct service work and systemic change. How is the hard work in the classroom teaching students connected to a larger policy dialogue about changing things for the kids in our country? We’ve set out to answer that question since the beginning of Citizen Schools. From me working with 10 kids to publish a newspaper, to starting one after-school program in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to operating an organization with partners in 8 states and 15 communities.

We are trying to prove something in a number of places, learn from it, continue to improve it, and share it. We’re not only influencing the lives of thousands and thousands of kids; we’re creating 31 proof-points across the country that are building a narrative that can influence the political process and the culture to drive change for millions of kids.

Elections are an important part of that. So I want to ask everyone to get out and vote. Encourage other people to vote. Vote for whoever you want, but do participate. Get a dialogue going with your friends, families and your communities about how voting is married to service and impact and creating broader change in our country.

And then, when the returns are in, think about how you can fulfill your citizenship for the rest of the year. Serve your community; inspire the children around you. You’ll swing the future of the country as much as the electoral college.