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Recognizing Privilege

November 7, 2011

Photo by Laura Slotkoff, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Reed Elementary School

By Audrey Davidson, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Reed Elementary School

Where I come from in rural Oregon, the majority of people are white and there are only two classes—rich and poor. While young motherhood, alcoholism, methamphetamine addiction, and domestic abuse have always been the norm in my family, I was blessed to grow up in an area that had good public schools with caring teachers who offered me a way out of this cycle. My desire to do the same for students coming from similar circumstances is why I joined City Year in the first place. There are ways in which my socio-economic background has made it easier for me to connect to my students, but there are differences that continually challenge the way I perceived my position in the world up to this point.

Last week, one of my students said to me, “You know what I hate? I hate it when people shoot people in front of kids.”

“Has that happened to you?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, tears forming at the edges of his eyes, “There was one time when I was playing in the street and this guy came up with a gun and shot this other guy right in front of me.  I had to run away as fast as I could so I didn’t get hit too. I hate that; people shouldn’t do that in front of kids. It’s not right.”

I sat speechless for a moment and then I said, “You’re right, you should never have had to experience that. It isn’t fair.”

Moments like these make me realize how much I took for granted growing up. I never had to fear for my life as a child. I was lucky to have a mother who loved and believed in me, although she couldn’t be around very often because she was working. I know that even if I can’t physically protect my students, I can provide emotional support and reassure them of the injustice they were born into. Most importantly I can offer them a way out—education—like my teachers did for me.

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