Today's post is written by Bethany Hamilton, JD, NACHC Community HealthCorps Program Officer and AmeriCorps Alums NAC Member. This is reposted from the AmeriCorps Alums blog published today on 1/30/13.
There is at least one fundamental rule all AmeriCorps Alums know well: if someone offers a free meal, we will come. It is also fair to say that AmeriCorps Alums have rather grandiose, heroic visions of fixing society’s ills and we relentlessly desire to be a piece of the action (as you may have guessed, the “action” presents opportunities to share our magnificent ideas and be a part of the solutions). So it was only fitting that even years after serving I would jump to the opportunity to enjoy a free (well, sponsored) supper at the United States Institute of Peace amidst a slew of honorable guests and thought leaders.
So what, you ask? Well, this wasn’t your everyday supper and these weren’t the usual guests. In addition to hosting the largest single-site service day event, Points of Light convened one of the largest groups of luminaries in the social innovation and national service world on January 20th for America’s Sunday Supper. The result of the gathering: a candid dialogue on how to increase access to educational opportunities and, thus, improve outcomes for all young people in our country.
Moderated by CNCS Board Chair Laysha Ward of Target Corp. and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the discussion included speakers like General and Mrs. Colin Powell, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Janet Murguía of the National Council of La Raza, Former Mayor of New Orleans Mark Morial of the National Urban League, CEO of CNCS Wendy Spencer, and the Chancellor of DC Public Schools Kaya Henderson. Guests in the audience included the White House’s Jonathan Greenblatt, Senator Harris Wofford, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and AmeriCorps Director Bill Basl. The list really does go on and on, so this is just to name a few. The DC Youth Slam (whom I have dubbed my “partners in rhyme”) shared their spoken word talents with the sea of guests who seemingly agreed with Mayor Emanuel on the declaration that the arts should be a staple in our public schools. Being on the Community HealthCorps team at NACHC, I was especially pleased to hear that the audience also agreed on the necessity for ample physical education offerings in every public school.
As this event was held during the MLK Day celebrations, the dialogue led to a summoning of our civic leaders for action; apropos DC Youth Slam’s affirmation that we can neither sit nor stand still “when we are standing on the shoulders of giants.” You cannot help but agree with them. It is necessarily true that we cannot stand still, because, on the civil rights issue of access to educational opportunities for all Americans, we simply don’t have a choice. The sacrifices of those giants of our past now demand that we provide an extraordinary level of civil service back to our communities. This is a mandate that cannot be challenged or ignored, and that is on the basis of mere moral obligation. Should we be defiant and stand still, then we are failing as citizens, and that failing simply isn’t in our nature as the American citizenry.
AmeriCorps programs embody and foster this broad set of ideals – that we owe a civic duty to our communities, that the solution is can be found within our communities, that we are in this together, and that we are obligated by our shared values to improve outcomes for all. The overall challenge is bold and the orders tall. But, is that not what drives us as a country? Americans dream big and do everything even bigger!
Following the Sunday Supper, I thought, “So, here we are.” As AmeriCorps Alums, members and programs, here we are confronted by many challenges and charged with some of the country’s most daunting tasks. But really, who else gets things done better than us? We think of the most effective solutions; we act on those solutions; and we make those solutions sustainable by motivating others. For us, "Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time," Marian Wright Edelman. This is AmeriCorps. This is National Service. This is being an American.