City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley recently had the pleasure of hosting the San Jose Leadership Council (SJLC) for their monthly meeting. The SJLC is a leadership development program for high school juniors attending school in the San Jose Unified District.
The objective of the program is to expose these young leaders to the diversity of cultures, programs and people in San Jose, develop leadership skills and create solutions for pressing problems in their community through interaction with developing and established leaders.
Part of the training was brought to the SJLC by Silicon Valley FACES, which is an organization that builds an inclusive and caring community, free of bias and bigotry, by bringing people together through educational programs and serving victims of crime.
To kick off the training, students were asked to introduce themselves and then share their own definition of what diversity meant to them. Students expressed sentiments of differing cultures, races, genders and schools of thought coming together to work effectively.
When I was asked to introduce myself to share a presentation about City Year, I felt the need to share with them my own definition of what diversity meant seen through the lens of a person who has learned to strongly value diversity and more importantly, inclusivity, through service.
By definition, diversity simply means “difference” or “not alike.” We can be aware of diversity and even appreciate it, but at City Year, our goal is inclusivity.
According to the Idealist Handbook, which is a guide to the ideas and values of City Year’s service,
To be inclusive at City Year is to create the most unified, purposeful force for good from the most diverse membership possible. Inclusivity means working to create a culture that makes all feel welcome, valued, powerful and engaged – capable of contributing to a team and a cause that is larger than ourselves.
Before serving with City Year, diversity wasn’t really something I was exposed to; which was a huge reason why I so badly wanted to join. But now that I have experienced it, diversity means much more to me than the culmination of differences.
Diversity is not something to be feared or tolerated. It is something to be celebrated. It is not meant to separate us into different categories; but rather it shines on what we each individually have to bring to the collective table.
And this is what makes City Year so special. City Year not only puts idealism to work, but we put diversity to work as well.
As a corps member, you are placed onto a team of young, diverse leaders. This team becomes your family and you must learn to effectively work (and in a lot of cases, live) with these people for 10 months in order to provide excellent service for your students.
It’s not easy.
Everyone has different life experiences and backgrounds that impact their actions and decision making. While you may not always agree whole-heartedly with your teammates, it is important to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels that they are being heard and that their opinions are not only valued, but respected.
My team was committed to serving our students and giving them the tools they needed to graduate from high school. And we were committed to doing it together as a team.
This was probably one of the most important lessons that I will take away from my first corps year with City Year. It isn’t enough to recognize diversity; you must embrace it and allow it to become a part of who you are and how you interact with, and ultimately change, the world.
Megan Baker, Recruitment Project Leader Social Media Manager CYSJ