The most visible part of City Year — the most striking element, the thing that students and adults alike remember — is the red jacket. It is a sacred piece of our culture not because of anything inherent in the material, but because of what it symbolizes. To students, many of whom face real challenges in their lives, the red jacket is a symbol of permanence, of guidance and support. When a corps member puts on the red jacket, s/he becomes a representative for the entire organization – s/he embodies our mission, our culture and our values.
Corps members who successfully complete Basic Training Academy earn the right to wear the red jacket. They receive their jacket at the Red Jacket Ceremony where they dedicate their jacket to a person, idea or cause. At CYNH, we held our Red Jacket Ceremony last Friday. As we sat in a circle, one by one each person at our site announced their dedication then put on their jacket with the assistance of the person to their right.
It is a very personal thing, dedicating your jacket. But it also helps us build community. When you share your story with seventy other people, you are opening up and trusting that people will be ready to listen with an open heart and an open mind. The dedication – and the red jacket itself – is something I take very seriously. There is nothing I do at City Year that is more important than putting on the red jacket, as all of my power and idealism flows from that seemingly simple action.
You see, I believe that putting on the jacket is taking on a big responsibility. I am committing to be the best human being that I can be, every single day for the rest of my life. It is not something I accept lightly. But it is also not something I fear. I am surrounded by support, both at City Year and in my personal life, and it is to that support that I dedicated my jacket. I have many weaknesses but I know that I can improve upon them.
When I zip up my jacket, I pledge to incorporate the qualities of the seven people and groups that I acknowledged at the Red Jacket Ceremony. The passion of my brother, the determination of my mother. The compassion of my father, the faith and hope of a friend. These qualities help me complete the most powerful service I can, and I aim to do the best I can in my red jacket.