I match stride with my supervisor walking next to me, while gazing above at the colossal white building with symmetrical pillars which is our destination. We reach the front door, ring the bell, and are allowed to enter. After signing in and receiving nametags, we head to the counseling center for a meeting full of concerned and dedicated parents and employees. This impressive building is actually a public school placed in the near northeastern area of Denver. The Cole Arts & Science Academy, known by the students, parents, and teachers as CASA, currently provides opportunities for 540 preschool through eighth grade kids.
However, when looking at the numbers more closely, you will find that the statistics transform into an animated portrayal of life in this neighborhood. Approximately 93% of the kids attending CASA receive Free and Reduced Lunch, 94% of the kids are minorities, and 50% are English Language Learners. These high percentages describing students at CASA reveal only a glimpse of the realities they face; yet it shows that these kids deal with more stress and obstacles than I have ever experienced in my small hometown in rural Iowa.
The outward appearance of this school is grand and elaborate, representing both the hope of a well-fought-for education and the despair of challenges faced by the students inside struggling to overcome the barriers put up by poverty, discrimination, and stigma.
You may be thinking that I am being overly dramatic; however, I feel that the amount of emotion that I put behind words can never present the actuality of the situation in Denver. The community members I have met through my internship would want me to tell their story with the same pain and passion expressed in the struggle of their everyday lives. Not because they want to be felt sorry for, but because they want to fight for change for their families and communities.
At my internship at Together Colorado I have seen a lot of diversity, fear, tears, and unjust situations. I have also seen incredible strength, hope for changed situations, and powerful new ideas. The most important thing I have learned thus far as a community organizer is this: it is our job to listen as a fellow human being and to encourage and empower.
(Statistics found from http://media.dpsk12.org/enrollmentsnapshots/ES188.PDF)