My name is Jason Breeding and I am a sophomore in the School of International Service. This semester, I am volunteering with an organization known as Models of Minorities in Education (MOMIES), an after-school program that aims to enrich students of primarily African-American descent on black history. I have connected this learning experience to my Roots of Racism course with Professor Rachel Watkins because of the connections between the education gap and racism in America. AU partners with MOMIES through the DC Reads office where I work as a Team Leader, meaning that I help coordinate the tutors that volunteer at MOMIES, in addition to my own tutoring. When I go to MOMIES, I work alongside the staff to watch over the kids, help them with their homework, and to make sure that they have the most positive experience possible at the after-school program.
Before going to MOMIES, I had certain expectations: mainly, that I would be kept busy all the time at site, that the work I would be doing would be truly impactful, and that the MOMIES staff would be organized. For the most part, these expectations were all met. In my previous tutoring experience, I volunteered with a nonprofit called Reading Partners. In Reading Partners, you are assigned an individual student to work through a specific curriculum with – it is very structured. I was most apprehensive going into MOMIES because I knew that it would be a completely different environment with much less structure. But I’ve come to really enjoy the lack of structure. It allows me to get to know more children, it helps me grow my leadership skills, and it also lends itself to my flexibility (children rarely give you the privilege of consistency). With between thirty and forty students, the other tutors and I are always kept busy. And I know the work that I have been doing is impactful – a lot of these kids need intensive, one-on-one support with their assignments. Without our help, a lot of the students would really struggle. By finishing their homework at MOMIES with us, they are able to go home and have fun like kids should, and they can spend more quality time with their families. The only complaint I have is that the MOMIES staff could be a little more involved sometimes. There have been instances where the other tutors and I have felt like we have been left to handle the students by ourselves – we are great at tutoring, but in terms of controlling forty hyper, unruly children… that is a skill that we are still developing (myself included).
For the classroom component of the CSLP credit, I have been keeping a weekly journal where I document my experiences and reflect on the personal impact of this service and the connections I find to my Roots of Racism class. One of the most striking things that I have found is how aware these students are of race, even as young as five or six. The bottom line is that the other AU tutors and I are mostly white, and most of the students are black, with some Hispanic students. It has made me conscious of how aware children are of the world around them, and how the power of race and privilege is real and pervasive. If it has taught me anything, it is that I have to be as aware of these realities as I can, especially as I continue to work with children. Words and actions matter, and as tutors, we can be a force for change.