By Malcolm Davis
It was nearing the end of school and a former Teaching Fellow was wrapping up a writing segment on mentors. She spent more than a month working with her sixth grade students, explaining what a mentor was and challenging her students to choose one wisely.
Students came in small groups to the Citizen Schools office to turn in their neatly written, tightly sealed mentor letters to their teacher. As the Teaching Fellow neatly stacked the letters she picked one up, looked it over briefly and handed it to me, "Here, it's for you". I was genuinely surprised to receive the letter, assuming students chose mentors outside the building, like famous and powerful people.
I kept the letter in my back pocket for the rest of the day and waited until I got home to open it. It was from a student I had in one of my classes and with whom I'd built a very strong bond. In the letter he stated he looked to me as a mentor/older brother because I always told him the truth and held him accountable.
He also mentioned how I was the only standard of professional dress he had, and I was one of the only positive black men in his life. The student's letter left a profound impact on me for many reasons. It never dawned on me how important my role was as a Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow, and how my role influenced so many. To that point I envisioned myself as only an educator, but came to realize I was a mentor, guidance counselor, and all around life coach. The difficult times in class, the long days, and hard work was all for a designed purpose.
Citizen Schools has provided me an opportunity to make a direct and daily impact. My grandmother always told me "Be the change you wish to see in the world", which I always interpreted as "Stop complaining and MAKE something happen!". This is something I take to heart as a sort of challenge, and live daily to embody the change I want to see.
Through Citizen Schools I've been fortunate enough to bring about that change, through the students and communities I've served. I've watched students come in as rambunctious 6th graders, and leave as stoic and mature 8th graders. Despite the attempts of overzealous police, rampant drug use in the neighborhoods, and gang violence, our students have overcome many obstacles to reach the pinnacle of success, middle school graduation.
Now as a Deputy Campus Director, I have the opportunity to coach and mentor Teaching Fellows, who much like myself a few years ago, strive to be the change they want to see in the world. As a Campus team, and a Citizen Schools community we've band together to eradicate a great travesty in our country today, the severe and evergrowing opportunity gap. A gap I've witnessed and experienced myself, and a gap I work to close with every waking moment.
If you want to be the change this world needs, there is no better place than Citizen Schools, and no better time than now. In the words of my name sake Malcolm X, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."