Scintilla prompt: Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

It was fall of 2001. I had just graduated from high school in June, but instead of going to college like most of my friends, I was beginning training for my year of service with City Year Cleveland. We didn’t have our uniforms yet, and the Beloved Community Center (aka office) on W. 9th would soon be taken over by some other business when CYC moved to Euclid Ave. I remember sitting close to the front, and seeing the recruitment video about what was in store for us. That video featured this song:


Whenever I hear You Gotta Be, I think of that year. The red jacket ceremony. Putting Idealism to Work (bing!). The children I helped to learn to read in English when No Child Left Behind slashed funding for qualified ESL tutors. Giving my first speech in front of 1,000+ people. Giving my second speech in front of 1,00o+ people. The day we were painting a map of Africa on a playground when our team leader asked us to circle up, and told us that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. Working two shifts on the disaster relief hotline at the Red Cross the next day. Leading PT on Public Square every morning at 8:10, come rain, snow, or shine. It was an amazing year.

The 2nd grade students I tutored that year should be graduating from high school in a couple of months. I never returned to City Year, although I always intended to. Now I’m on a different career path, and I know it will never happen. But there’s a part of me that’s deeply rooted in that experience. I’m proud, incredibly proud to have served as a City Year Corps Member. And whenever I have a feeling like I can’t make a difference in the world, I listen to Des’ree, because she brings back the “Spirit, Discipline, Purpose, and Pride” I felt everyday.

City Year taught me how it is possible to truly embody an ideal.

If you want to create a change, it’s not enough to do. You gotta be.