Working at an education based non-profit heavily focused on the community with which it works and serves, I frequently get asked if I’m from the Boston area. When I respond with a “No” and proclaim my proud Texas statehood, I am always given confused looks. I am then asked if I attend a college or university in the Boston area, to which I also respond “No.” Of course, I am then greeted with even more confused looks and the following question: “Well what are you doing in Boston?”
Being from Dallas, TX and going to school at Duke University in Durham, NC, I can honestly say that I have no business being in a city with which I am very unfamiliar, in the name of “service.” With every question I received from other people who work at the nonprofit or the students I tutored inquiring about what I was doing way up in Boston, I began asking myself the same question. While I did my best to explain the DukeEngage program to the questioning people who were unfamiliar, giving them an answer that would satisfy their curiosity, I was still left wondering and pondering this idea after each interaction. Here I am, in a city I have only been to once before, trying to serve a community about which I know absolutely nothing.
Whenever I previously thought about the ethics of service, I usually only did so in the context of international travel without realizing the extreme culture and history differences that exist within the United States, my own country. Just how more damage than progress can occur during international service trips if the people who partake are not conscious of the existing culture, the same is possible with domestic service trips. Therefore, as an outsider, I knew more than anything that I needed to approach this internship as a learning experience, rather than with the mindset of me going in to help.
For my DukeEngage Boston internship, I have had the opportunity to work for and with 826 Boston, a nonprofit organization that provides writing-tutoring for students and empowers them to tell their stories through published books. 826 Boston is located in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood within the city of Boston. Through many conversations with my supervisor and observations during my time working with students in schools during the first two weeks, I slowly began to realize why Boston, to this day, is known for being one of the most segregated cities in the United States. This extreme segregation translates to pretty much every aspect of people’s lives including the public transportation system, upon which many rely, with the best and nicest train lines serving the whitest areas and populations in Boston. With this examination of the current status of the city came, an equally important need for an examination of Boston’s history of racial inequality and the ways this transformed their education system. As a result of this newfound knowledge, I understood more about the way the Boston Public School system is structured and some of the issues currently facing its students, teachers, and parents.
Due to the work I have done with this organization, I am able to appreciate the city of Boston in a way I do not think would have been possible had I been placed at a different non-profit. Boston is a beautiful city with a complicated history concerning race and education that I needed to absorb while working here and engaging with the community. So, through this, I have come to the conclusion that I am here in Boston to soak up all the information and stories that I can, realizing that the city is giving me much more than I could ever give back to it. As someone who is very passionate about issues in education and the overwhelming problem of education inequality in this country, it is important for me to know that in order to “serve” within this sphere, I first and foremost need to listen and learn.