At the beginning of my time as an AV, my understanding of service within the context of this year was largely tied to the physical space that is my service site. Every morning I’d commute to the school on the other side of the city where I’d perform my unpredictable array of tasks and establish relationships with students and teachers. Entering the school marked entering a mindset of service. At the end of the day, I’d physically relocate and mentally my service was done until tomorrow.
I’d subconsciously begun to equate service with the role that I occupied in this specific place. Come March, COVID-19 shut down all school buildings for the foreseeable future. With my hours almost entirely reduced, I clung to the fact that the relational aspect of my service was not totally lost. On weekly Zoom calls from my bedroom, I’d catch glimpses of my coworkers’ homes with their kids and dogs in the background. Our forced physical separation allowed connection to previously unseen aspects of each other’s personal lives.
However, I can’t say that my subconscious notion of service as a space that can be entered and likewise exited was truly rattled until the week(s) of unrest following the murder of George Floyd. As a white woman working in a majority Black school community, I’ve felt urgently called to examine my own role in upholding racist systems of oppression. I know that the injustices facing my school’s community are not new. From the time I started, it was apparent that the school itself fails to address its own racist policies that prevent their Black students from seeing themselves represented in the leadership of the school.
Now I ask myself, why had it taken me so long to feel personally responsible to DO something about this? The answer: instead of using my privilege to act, I used it to retreat home. In limiting my understanding of service to my role in one physical space, I’d chosen to distance myself from the realities of the people I claimed to serve.
I’m learning that my service must go miles beyond just physically showing up. It must even go beyond establishing loving relationships. I must let others’ pain come home with me, and let it affect the way I think about myself and my responsibilities. Having privilege comes with the duty of loudly challenging that very privilege. If I do any less, I’m serving nothing but a racist system instead of wholeheartedly believing in and working toward any possibility of a real change.
Philadelphia, PA 2019-2020