Remarks delivered by Alex Williams, City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps Member on the Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education Team. Alex was choosen by his peers to share a commencement speech at Graduation on May 31st.
“You're the only black male corps member at Obama. You hear what I'm saying? We need you.” – Impact Director, Paola Deliz
From that moment on, that was my mission. I texted my team leader, Kyle, and my impact manager, Vi, that I was never going to complain about being at school, and I didn't. I loved it there.
THE Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education became my heart.
That's a special place. I wouldn't trade my school, my team, and my experience for anything.
My main motivation everyday was my students. Sadie would beat me up if I stood up here in front of the entire corps and called them just my students. OUR students. Greeting those buses full of eager and anxious young people and of course my K3, 4, and 5 students who always leaped off the bus to attack me with love everyday.
I serve for them. I serve to bring them equity and justice. I serve to lead them off the path off the school to prison pipeline that too many of our scholars have already fallen into. I serve to continuously improve the school culture and climate of every building I step into. I serve because it’s all of our mission to live out the City Year values in everything we do. Make it your mission, wherever you go, to execute PITW #181 – Make. It. Better.
We owe that to our students. Those students who you got up early for and stayed at the office late for. The ones you call your babies. We all have those students. I want you to take a moment right now and say their names where you’re sitting. These are all our students. I think about my students and the students I met at other schools. J*and D* from Rufus King, T* and C* from Pulaski, the Clarke Street boys basketball team almost every weekend of the season, and of course W* from Vincent.
Although I didn't get to see everybody serve everyday, I know by the interactions I had with those young people, how much of an influence you've all had on them.
Service is full of adversity, which means it's also full of triumphs and accomplishments.
Kyree*, an ambitious, fun loving sixth grader at Obama once said, “Big words come from small words.” This is perhaps the most profound statement I heard all year, because it’s applicable to everything in life. Building on small triumphs and accomplishments paves the way for big accomplishments. All those days of hard work added up to weeks, which added up to months of progress. Big gains came from small gains. Big wins came from small wins. All those small wins you’ve piled up this year have resulted in this moment. Where you can take the lessons you learned here and apply them to the rest of your life for even bigger wins.
Towards the end of the school year, I received an opportunity to return to Obama next year to become the teacher for 4th grade. Deciding between that and coming back to be a Team Leader next year was one of the hardest decisions of my life. Those current third graders deserve consistency, a quality education, and somebody who loves them unconditionally. I also saw it as an opportunity to improve the culture and climate of the school I fell in love with. Ultimately, I'm coming back to City Year to become my message and execute PITW#181 – Make. It. Better.
To me, that means making an effort everyday to improve the school, community, and organization that serves the young people who look just like me, from the same neighborhoods, with similar experiences. I wouldn't be the person I am today if it weren't for the people and support systems I had growing up. For y'all to be that for our students all year, I, my young black male student self, trying to navigate all the pressures and expectations of the world, is eternally grateful.
If I stood up here and appreciated everybody by name that's helped me or made a difference to my service year, we'd be here for a while. Instead, I want to thank my tribe, my rock, and anybody who supported me in any kind of way. Whether that was sitting me down and explaining to me how I can be a better corps member and serve my students more effectively, sharing your space and experience with me for anywhere from two minutes to two hours, speaking up whenever you saw injustice anywhere, or simply forwarding an email advocating for our young people, thank you. You are where I draw my strength from. My life experiences are my head, students are my heart, and you all, you are my will. We all need each other to prosper and break down those barriers and walls of oppression.
That's Ubuntu. That's City Year. I hope that we can all remain tied together in our hearts, thoughts, empathy, and actions. Be intentional. Be visible. Be active. Make a difference.
I've made connections, friends, and allies this year that are eternal and deeper than a one or two year commitment. This year is only the first step in this long walk. Thank you all for stepping forward with me. Together, we proved that we are invincible.
That unity, now THAT is a beautiful thing.
*Students names have been changed.