Ready to Serve: My Journey to City Year Philly
Cameron Cheatham, incoming 2023-24 City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps member, writes about his personal experiences that drew him to service.
I have wanted to give back to my community since high school because of people whom I consider wonderful mentors. I found my passion through words and imagining “what could be” if even one person was aware that impact is possible. City Year is a community that thrives off impact, so when I applied to serve in Philadelphia, I knew that I would be bringing that imagination to life.
During my time in high school at Mastery Charter Shoemaker in West Philly, I was what others would consider a “teacher’s pet.” I spent a lot of my time supporting the faculty and staff. A group of my friends and I—with the help of our 9th Grade Dean, Dia Jones—started a club that recognized the diversity of the school. We organized dress-down days in which students could wear Dashikis to celebrate the community’s African roots and shirts with quotes from African American activists including Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. This was just the beginning of the impact that Dean Jones would have not only on me, but the entire student body. As the years went on, Dean Jones began to take groups of female students to colleges to learn about STEM and encourage them to consider career paths in fields such as robotics and mathematics—which many of them later did. Her dedication to service is what set me on a path to wanting to support my community.
“One thing that constantly replays in my mind is hearing Principal El-Mekki say, ‘We need more Black educators that want to make a difference.'”
I also built connections with the school’s administration, one being my former principal Sharif El-Mekki. We talked extensively about what I wanted to do when I went to college. At that time, I wanted to be a school counselor; this conversation carried into my first year of college. One thing that constantly replays in my mind is hearing Principal El-Mekki say, “We need more Black educators that want to make a difference.”
Sharif El-Mekki, Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development, is honored as City Year Philadelphia’s 2022 Idealist of the Year.
This motivated me on the path to becoming a writer and wanting to teach writing to others. I found my purpose in supporting others to think creatively and showing kids that words, even when written, are the best form of expression.
In my experience, a lot of children can feel frustrated because they don’t have the words to truly describe how they’re feeling. I want them to know that this is okay; even adults struggle with this. I’m passionate about uplifting children toward understanding how words are effective, persuasive and can inspire and motivate others to create impact not only with themselves, but also with their communities.
I’m passionate about uplifting children toward understanding how words are effective, persuasive and can inspire and motivate others to create impact not only with themselves, but also with their communities.
In college, I was focused on my schoolwork and paying for my education, but I always kept that drive to make a difference. Albright College gave students access to Handshake, a platform for college students to find jobs. I received hundreds of emails through this site, but I always seemed to check them when they were from City Year Philly recruiter Derek Pediford. What caught my eye about these emails was the line, “Helping to ensure that students in systemically under-resourced schools receive a high-quality education that prepares them with the skills and mindsets to thrive and contribute to their community.” Though I had the opportunity to receive a quality education, my community still experiences the impacts of systemic under-resourcing. I grew up knowing firsthand what it’s like for students and teachers not to have the support needed to succeed. I also knew what it was like to want to see a community thrive.
City Year Philly Corps members support students with both academic and social-emotional skill development and contribute to positive and welcoming school environments. Read more about our work.
After submitting my application, I had an interview with Dawn McCray, Managing Director of Impact at City Year Philly, that sealed the deal for me. We talked about my experiences and interest in City Year, answering some personal but familiar questions. “Tell me about yourself,” Dawn said. This was a question that I had trouble answering because I don’t usually talk about myself. After having described nearly everything about myself, I got to learn about Dawn and her dedication to community service. The relationship I built over the phone with Dawn confirmed my excitement to join City Year. We talked about nonprofits and my eagerness eventually to start one of my own; she assured me that this is possible and that through City Year, I would gain the skills and knowledge one day to start my own organization and continue supporting communities.
As I go through this next year as a Corps member, I look forward to contributing to Philadelphia’s communities and changing how we view under-resourced neighborhoods. I also look forward to helping students discover their passions and becoming a mentor to uplift them toward whatever star they are trying to reach.
Are you considering a year of service, or do you know someone who is? City Year Philly is currently hiring full-time tutors and mentors for our fall mid-year cohort. Apply by September 15 to start serving October 2023.
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