City Year tries to be an organization that inspires democracy through citizen service, civic leadership and social entrepreneurship--as the mission statement claims. It appears to be extremely effective at accomplishing these goals among its Corps Members. There are countless stories of CMs graduating to start their own non-profit or altering their career objectives to include a public service component. The ones who don't take such drastic action still remain involved. After spending a year on the front lines of grassroots movements in a large city, it is hard to not remain engaged. An alumni study is due out from City Year shortly that should better quantify this concept.
From my experiences this year, City Year is lacking the motivation to translate all these highly idealistic, devoted "young idealists" into true agents for social change toward a more democratic/participatory society. CYCO takes a literacy based approach to the work that is done in the elementary schools. Don't get me wrong, this is noble and difficult work--work that must be done. However, I question whether tutoring children is solving the systemic dysfunction in inner cities communities or if CYCO is merely creating temporary fixes--will there ever be a day when tutors are no longer needed in the schools? If not, why aren't we addressing an issue that could make the role of tutor anachronistic?
So, what can be done to mend the tears in the fabric of inner-city communities? I am not sure. There must be some way to inject a community with a sense of pride and hope for itself. The members of the community must feel like they are in a small village within the larger city. They must utilize this feeling of communal connectedness at all times as they interact with neighbors, children, and outsiders. This is the hard kind of change to inspire in others--it nearly calls for an ontological change on the part of community members.
It is not impossible. This kind of change can and does happen. It has to. I don't know where or how, but I cannot lose hope in it existing. This should be my mission in planning our service for the upcoming months--find a way for CMs to foster real social change toward democracy in the communities we serve. I will try to keep this blog updated with my adventures down this path of social change.