I was born lucky. I wasn’t born lucky in the traditional sense. I wasn’t born into a wealthy family, or even born healthy. My mother, caught up in the vicious cycle of drug addiction, led me to be born premature, and later to be moved from foster home to foster home. What makes me lucky are not the situations that have surrounded me, rather it’s the positive role model I’ve had with me every step of the way.
When I was six months old I was brought to yet another new foster family. I’ve been told that I was wailing, miserable, and tired when I arrived at their house. As the adults spoke about my background, Melody (my future sister) entered the room. She took me in her arms and she said that I immediately stopped crying, I sighed with relief, and I fell asleep in her arms. Melody tells me that if there is any such thing as falling in love at first sight, that moment defined it. I was legally adopted 7 years later.
I don’t remember a moment in my life where Melody was not my idol. At five years old my dream was to be just like her. I wanted to look like her, be as cool as she was, and I even dreamed of going to the same Ivy League school and studying English. Through her words I understood the importance of confidence, love, hard work, dedication, politics, and most importantly… education.
It wasn’t until I turned 17 that I was reunited with my biological siblings, all of whom grew up going to inner city Philadelphia public schools.
When I met my brothers and sisters, it was immediately apparent that I had been granted opportunities they were not afforded. My siblings lived in a world where status was determined by the territory you defended or the money you earned through illegal activities. My oldest brother was arrested for drug possession with intent to sell. My younger brother was shot because of his involvement in gang activity and now his left leg and arm are completely immobile. What really bothered me was not that these events happened, rather it was the way my siblings made it seem that this was just the way life worked. Normalcy for them was dropping out of school, having kids at a young age, being involved in gangs, and going to jail.
I noticed that just as my siblings grew used to the events around them, I too had gotten used to the events around me. For me status was determined by the books you read, the grades you got, and the sports you played. I had no other option but to go to college. This was what my peers were doing. Nothing else in the world existed. Getting into Temple University was one of the happiest moments of my teenage life. I had an amazing time in college; I learned more about myself and the world in 4 years than I have at any other point in my life. Still, when I graduated I didn’t feel this sense of accomplishment. I felt like the last 4 years of my life had been self-focused and nothing I had done was going to leave a positive mark on the world. So, on May 12, 2011 I handed in my application to City Year.
Just as I knew that I had no other option but to go to college, I knew that I had no other option but to be a part of City Year. This program has been the opportunity of a lifetime. Through this job I get to build lasting relationships, and I get to be a role model for students who are often surrounded by negative influences.
One story in particular I hold really close to my heart. I tutor a 5th grader named Sarah. Sarah* is a leader in every sense of the word. There is this unspoken “cool” about this girl. Everyone looks up to her, they listen when she speaks, and often times the mood of the classroom is determined by whether or not she’s interested in a lesson. When I first met Sarah she was disengaged, her classroom behavior was poor, and she had no desire to improve her literacy scores.
I had several conversations with Sarah while we sat during tutoring. She would tell me stories about how her older sister would abuse alcohol and get into fights, and it was clear that this reckless behavior was trickling down to Sarah, who at eleven years old had already begun smoking marijuana and drinking. During our tutoring sessions I would have very honest conversations with Sarah. I would talk to her about making smart choices, being a leader, and doing the right thing. Sarah told me that when she grows up she wants to be a veterinarian, and I told her that the only way to achieve her dreams is through hard work.
I started to notice that slowly but surely Sarah’s behavior and demeanor changed. One day as we began a tutoring lesson she seemed particularly tired. Sarah told me that she had been up all night with her older sister. The older sister confessed that she wished she behaved and earned better grades just like Sarah. Through tears, the older sister confessed that she looked up to her eleven-year-old sibling. Sarah had become a role model.
What I love most about City Year is not the time I spend helping the kids become strong readers, or making sure they get all their homework done. What I love most about City Year is the opportunity I have been given to make a positive mental and social change in these kids. What I love is the fact that I can be a role model all the while forming amazing bonds with these students.
My name is Tajah Eddy, and I was born lucky because I always had a positive role model, and someone to guide me through a path to success. Through City Year I have been able to give some of my luck back to the community, and I hope that someday the students I have touched can say that they too were lucky.
-Tajah Eddy, Corps Member CYSJ
*name was changed to protect student’s identity