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My AmeriCorps Experience: The Year that Laid the Foundation to Serve

September 12, 2013

Today’s guest post come from Dr. Bettina L. Love.  Dr. Love completed her term of service with the HandsOn Atlanta AmeriCorps program in 2005, and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia in the Department of Educational Theory & Practice.

2013.07.BetinaLove.com

Dr. Bettina Love,
AmeriCorps ’05

In 2004, I think I learned more about myself and the need to learn from others than ever before in my life. I began my doctoral degree program in August of 2004 at Georgia State University studying Educational Policy. That same month, I also started in one of the most intense and fulfilling jobs I have ever experienced: AmeriCorps. As an AmeriCorps member, I worked in a local public school in Atlanta, GA with three other dynamic members (Lara Say, Rosemary Dixon, and Cora Grayer) where we tutored, mentored, and created service-learning projects for elementary-aged students. My typical day was nonstop. As a team leader, my responsibilities were dependent on my ability to not only tutor and mentor students, but also to learn about my students’ community and home life, listen to parents’ concerns and dreams for their children, gain the respect of everyone I interacted with, and examine how Atlanta’s social, political, economical, and racial history of injustice impacted my students’ everyday lives. After a full day of work, I would leave my AmeriCorps site and my students, only to become a student myself. My research focus as a doctoral student was quite similar to my work now: researching ways to transform urban classrooms through the use of non-traditional educational curricula, such as Hip Hop pedagogy, media literacy, and Hip Hop feminism, using the tenets of social justice (i.e., equity, diversity, justice, and the questioning of power and privilege).

My AmeriCorps experience was driven by a deep desire to apply all the theories I was learning as a doctoral student to the everyday lives of the students and parents in my AmeriCorps program. However, AmeriCorps also gave me an education of sorts. I learned that the foundation for doing work rooted in social justice is a life rooted in social justice. I realized that social justice had to be a part of my everyday life, not just something I read about or applied when I saw fit. Thus, AmeriCorps laid the foundation for my understanding of what it means to serve: to learn. AmeriCorps demonstrated the importance of learning from the individuals for who I advocate. Even though I taught elementary school prior to entering AmeriCorps, I had never before taken the time to step back from the classroom in order to  become a better teacher by first learning from my students, their parents, and the community.

In addition to valuable career lessons, AmeriCorps also provided me with a network of individuals who were seasoned in community-organizing, grant-funding, and navigating Atlanta’s local politics and resources. As we grew closer,  these individuals supported me in my revelation regarding a new direction for my life’s work: educating students using their culture and the principles of social justice to transform classrooms. AmeriCorps helped me move towards  my goal of helping teachers create classrooms that are equitable and just for all students.

After my year in AmeriCorps, I went on to earn my doctorate degree and begin educating future teachers. True to my experiences, my current work in Atlanta and throughout Georgia is diverse. I am a full-time assistant professor at the University of Georgia in the Department of Educational Theory & Practice. I also sit on the school board of The Kindezi School, an Atlanta public charter school, where I teach a class called “Real Talk: Hip Hop Education for Social Justice.” The class uses the elements of Hip Hop to teach students math, science, language arts, and social studies. The class also teaches
students  the 5th element of Hip Hop, knowledge of self and community. Last year my fifth grade students wrote, directed, and filmed a movie about the death of Trayvon Martin and how to productively use rap, graffiti, and filmmaking to educate their community about racism, stereotypes, and the need for love. You can view the movie here:

image descriptionMy latest publication also focuses on the death of Martin and its links  to issues within the field of education and teacher beliefs. I sincerely hope this work will expose teachers to the daily realities of Black males and their experiences with schooling. The article is titled “I See Trayvon Martin”: What Teachers Can Learn from the Tragic Death of a Young Black Male. My first book, Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Identities and Politics in the New South, explores how young Black women navigate the space of Hip Hop music and culture to form ideas concerning race, body, class, inequality, and privilege.

I am proud of the year I served as an AmeriCorps member because it gave me the mindset that my research must be meaningful and that understanding my students’ everyday realities is vital to the work of social justice.

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