Written by Christopher Potter, 22 years old, from Arlington, MA serving on the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Team at Beech Street Elementary School
Martin Luther King Day was not a day off for City Year. It was a day of service. Walking door to door in Manchester, the corps collected 1,042 pounds of food for the New Hampshire Food Bank, partnering with other Americorps volunteers. I’m thankful to have participated in service alongside my peers, and it was wonderful to see the community I serve donate so generously. In addition to the physical service I did, I was inspired by the speeches during our morning and afternoon programs. Richard Haynes Jr.’s speech at St. George’s Church is the one I may remember longest.
When Mr. Haynes, now a professional photographer, described battling the “squirrel-sized sewer rats, which were the least of [his] enemies” in his impoverished Harlem neighborhood, the audience was unsure of his point. Yet, by the end, we had gained an appreciation for what it means to rise from such origins–when so much is stacked against you–and what it takes to do so. Mr. Haynes had been mentored long-term by his art teacher, who motivated him to continue his education. Even with his art teacher’s support, Mr. Haynes suffered through segregation and discrimination.
I expect he appreciates his current amenities and security greatly, and is more likely than most to help others facing circumstances as difficult as those he faced during his youth. He inspired me so greatly because he is a perfect example of a “bridge builder,” someone who has crossed a dangerous river by succeeding despite difficult origins, and, rather than continuing safely on the other side, stops to build a bridge for those who must cross next. Given my position in a third grade classroom, I can help my young students across that dangerous river and encourage them to be bridge builders themselves. Seeing Mr. Haynes’ photographic work and hearing him spread his message powerfully reminded me of the need for and the benefit of City Year’s work.
I would like to thank Mr. Haynes for sharing his story with us, and tell him that I learned a lot from it. I will appreciate my opportunities more than ever, and do my very best to make a difference in the lives of others.