Community and Convictions

Photo credit: alykat / flickr
I find comfort in daily routines. A few times a week, I head to a small bodega in the South Bronx, adjacent to the public school where Iwork as a 9th grade English teacher. I purchase an excessively sweetened 75-cent cup of coffee and head to Manida Park near Hunts Point Avenue and Lafayette Street. I smile politely to the older gentlemen gathered outside as I near the field, some who used to view me quizzically as a young, whiteteacher wandering about the mostly black and Latino neighborhood, but who now have become accustomed to my regular strolls.

I enter the park gates, breath humbly, and look up at a generic Christian steeple in the distance, the architecture of a local monastery. I begin my prayer. “God, please give me strength, courage, perseverance and peace. Help me to do my best today and to have patience with myself. Help me to understand the path ahead. Amen.”

As you can imagine, it is not easy to be an educator, particularly in the under-resourced areas of the country like the South Bronx. Please don’t misinterpret my message or misconstrue the image of the people who I work with. Having taught in Hunts Point for almost three years now, I know firsthand the beauty, community, dedication and love of what others might offhandedly describe as the “poorest congressional district in the country” without thoughtfully considering the implications of such a generalization. Nevertheless, poverty is a harsh reality in the area, community violence is prevalent, and quality education is less ubiquitous than in the more affluent neighborhoods that saturate our country. The children, families, and colleagues I work with are incredible human beings, but still, it has not been, nor will it ever be, an easy journey. I struggle.

Most recently, I have been struggling to discern what the “next turn” holds for my life. In 2011, my original plan was to teach for two years, the minimum commitment of a Teach For America teacher, then return to my hometown of Chicago. Having once worked in management consulting, I imagined that I would reenter the field, but with a social focus, helping non-profit organizations increase efficiency and the like. But as life happens, it didn’t play out that way. I met a beautiful girl. I decided that two years wasn’t enough as a teacher. I joined Church of the Village. And so the story goes…

But still, I often find myself walking through the park, coffee in hand, eyes to the sky, wondering, “What am I doing here? Where am I going?” And while I don’t return to my classroom with an answer, I’m beginning to appreciate the profundity of the questions.

Furthermore, I don’t think that we can ever know exactly what is around the bend, but what we can do is have faith, prioritize the things that matter to us and double down on the convictions that empower us through the proverbial storms or unexpected turns. For example, I believe that loving relationships are the most incredible asset I possess and I aspire to fill my life with as many of them as possible. Also, I am convinced that my words matter, my actions matter, and I contain within me the power to create positive social change. Finally, when we experience challenge we are growing; no great victory was ever won without a good fight. This is the current wisdom I live by; while wealth, status, and physical beauty can be quickly wiped away, our relationships and righteousness remain.

Again, I do not know what lies in wait at the world’s next turn. However, with my community and my convictions, I feel ready to embrace it.