City officials, who did not even know my name, were content to let me attend a high school that was failing. Already packed with minority students from my section eight housing neighborhood, I knew that my education was not a concern for the people who were elected to represent me. My experience and the experiences of people who share my identity, low-income first-generation students of color, is what propels me towards community engagement.
In my first year at Cornell I was lucky to find the High Road Fellowship, a program wherein Cornell students receive a project from a community partner in Buffalo, New York. Students solve a problem that the community has identified.
This was the first time that I worked with a community that I did not “grow up” in. I had to realize that the first step I had to take was to learn, a lot, about the history of Buffalo, the people I was engaging with, and the systemic issues that led to the call for the project I was working on. And I did learn.
By the end of the program I worked with my community partner, Learning Disabilities Association, to create self-empowering toolkits to help students who have a disability advocate for themselves and create conferences for parents to understand their rights and that of their children who have a mental or physical disability. For myself, I created a confidence in my ability to be a part of any community and truly make a positive impact.
If you believe in any systematic issue or love positive change, then you do not need permission or approval from anyone before you are able to create change. You have everything to need and more when you remain positive, flexible, and eager to learn.