Guest blog: City Year Chicago
City Year Chicago recently sat down and had a conversation with Daniel Becton during his week-long visit to Chicago. A City Year San Jose alum, Daniel has embarked on a one-year journey through a very special project titled Project Ubuntu. After reading the interview, be sure to check out more information about Project Ubuntu:
READ MORE HERE at City Year, or below.
Last week you were in Milwaukee, where you stopped to visit City Year Milwaukee. What were some of the things you noticed about Milwaukee in comparison to Chicago?
I worked at the Pan-African Community Association on the Northside of Milwaukee and volunteered at a carnival in a Spanish speaking community on the Southside of Milwaukee, so I saw a lot of the neighborhood segregation and class differences. Also, I saw how City Year is transcending those differences in City Year in Chicago and Milwaukee. I’m big on human relationships, and City Year Chicago has managed to avoid the politics and still reach the students, even during the strike. So, by City Year focusing on relationships, it helps transcend the issues that segregation poses. I think we tend to think quality tends to come in spite of diversity. City Year identifies the quality coming through diversity.
Can you tell us a little about who you are, and where you came?
I’m from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and I studied Music & Philosophy at University of North Carolina. I got my Masters in Gender Studies from London School of Economics, so I’m fascinated by identities and how they intersect, and how power is exchanged across these identity groups. As a Civic Engagement Coordinator in City Year San Jose, it kind of opened up the question of, not “What should I be doing, but what can I do?” With City Year it opens up the potential of working together, as opposed to being frustrated by the limits of our separation.
What experiences led you to doing City Year?
I was complaining one day about how academics complain about the world’s problems without doing anything, and someone from Chicago said that there was an organization from their city that got young people to make a difference. So, I joined trying to make a difference, but I hadn’t anticipated how I would be transformed.
Why Project Ubuntu, and what would you say it’s overall purpose is?
I believe in every community, regardless of the economic conditions of the community, you find people helping people, and realizing that it’s not about money or votes, but relationships and active compassion that really helps. I want to celebrate that in a really diverse array of context. So, I’m visiting one organization and one community in every state.
So, after you’ve visited one organization in each state, what do you plan to do with this information?
I’m working on a book examining the ways in which “us” and “them” is formed as mutually exclusive groups that are always hierarchical. The ways that we create the enemy to form our community and how do we transcend this constant social division. We see them as broken, and us as whole because we are positioned against them. We have to recognize that there is no situation where there is a we that is better than them. The more different someone is than you, the more you’re forced to recognize their humanity as opposed to something else you have in common.
Upon completion of your book, is there one lesson you hope that people will take from it?
I think the lesson Dr. King teaches us that you have to challenge groups to find themselves through service. “We” always have the power to change us, to change the groups that we represent. So if you can develop the type of pride where people see greatness as unconditional love, you transcend us and them. Americans pride themselves on being hard working, motivated and entrepreneurial, but how can we reconsider who that hard work is for, and fulfill Dr. King’s dream of being, “A nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity.” This is the greatness that America could realize through its diversity.
Can you tell us about what you’ll be doing with City Year Birmingham?
I worked on the staff of City Year London for the first two years, and I’ll be going back to start the U.K.’s second sight. We’ll be in five schools and we’ll have a heroes program, in England’s “Second City.” Our headquarters will still be located in London, and we’ll have a corps in both London and Birmingham. City Year is unique in the U.K. because it’s the only full-time volunteering opportunity, so we’re changing identities like “volunteer “ and “young person” by bringing more power to those identities than people thought could exist.
Out of all the places that you’ve visited, which place would you say has inspired you the most to continue to do the work that you do?
I would say Atlanta. I worked with men who are homeless and recovering from addiction. I found the environment very intellectually and spiritually stimulating. I had to confront my own biases about the brokenness of “them.” People who are recovering from addition have an incredible sense of gratitude and humility. They’re forced to recognize that power comes from within, and that the most important question is, “What can I do?”