Things Aren’t That Simple

After graduating from UMBC in May 2011, Richard Blissett served for a year with AmeriCorps VISTA, helping students at Benjamin Franklin High School tackle community improvement projects in Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood. He will begin doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University this fall.

Richard Blissett (photo by Steve Bradley)

I started off in Brooklyn, Baltimore as many AmeriCorps members probably do: ready to go with ideas overflowing and a simplistic idea of what needed to be done to fix things. My objective this year has been to create a pilot service-learning program at Benjamin Franklin High School that engages students in revitalizing local vacant lots. As a bioinformatics major with aspirations of working in education policy, I wasn’t fully sure of what that entailed, but I knew it would give me a chance to work full-time within a school setting.

I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life.

Avoiding clichéd thought trains about the spirit of the community and the perseverance of the people, I think the most important thing I can say about these people is that they’re all incredibly unique. (I’ve made a breakthrough, I know.) What I mean by this is that I had to adjust my thoughts about justice, competence, and reform to accommodate for the fact that my own ideas about social change weren’t going to work for everyone. I had one student who was extremely motivated and a natural leader-type, creating lists of errands for me to run (a.k.a. student empowerment gone a little too far). Meanwhile, another always had the right answers but just didn’t care that much, an issue I once attributed to being bitter. (To which she responded, “I’m not bitter. Bitter is what old people become when they stop baking cookies.”) [Read more…]