Tag Archives: iserve

An Interview with Nakeisha Neal Jones

3 Apr

In honor of AmeriCorps week last month, I had the opportunity to speak with the Executive Director of Public Allies DC (PADC), Nakeisha Neal Jones. Nakeisha completed the Public Allies  program in Washington, DC. in 1997 and led the same program’s re-launch in 2010. As someone who has experienced being an Ally as well as a staff member, Nakeisha offers an inspirational perspective on the value of AmeriCorps.

Why Service Matters

“Service can build relationships between people that you wouldn’t otherwise meet,” explained Nakeisha. “From my own experience, it can also help you learn more about a community. When I got to college, I decided to volunteer to get off campus. I think it was really good for me because I felt like I lived at Duke and not in Durham.” Similarly, service has the power to change the individual as much as it improves the society. For instance, volunteering taught Nakeisha that “we’re all linked” and enabled her to “use that (philosophy) as a routine way to live. That gift is more valuable than some of things that I’ve done.”

Public Allies’ Assets

Nakeisha believes that PADC can help solve the challenges currently facing our nation’s capital.  Too often DC is divided between the “haves and the have-nots,” lacking a space for “unusual suspects to come together to solve local issues.” By engaging diverse groups that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to work together, PADC builds sustainable solutions to community problems.

Public Allies’ Values

The value that Nakeisha uses most is “continuous learning,” or “the ability to question assumptions and beliefs, understand strengths and shortcomings, and commit to continued growth within a community context.” As Nakeisha explained, “it’s important for us to know why our actions are successful” as well as why we repeat the same mistakes. As change agents, we must study our errors and be open to altering ingrained habits.

From Ally to Executive Director

When Nakeisha was an ally, PADC challenged her “because there were many opportunities for me to reflect on what I valued and why. I realized that some of the beliefs that I held really weren’t as important as I thought they were. The group challenged me to deal with diversity, authenticity and community on a much deeper level that I had experienced before Public Allies. It was wonderful, but the change didn’t always feel good.” Nakeisha returned to PADC to rebuild an organization that shaped her own life path. Her experiences as an ally inspired her to “live the values, do what’s hard, and learn from mistakes,” philosophies that influence how she directs the program today.

The Future of Service

The goal for PADC is to imagine our community in 2023 and to ask ourselves, “What can we say that we had a hand in creating?” Hopefully, we will have built a “healthy, vibrant, relevant, and sustainable leadership pipeline for social good” that is ultimately using Public Allies values, tools, and relationships to solve long-standing community problems.

Final Thoughts

AmeriCorps and other service opportunities help generate a community-oriented culture where it is “normal to give time, talent, and money to other people or causes.” After all, “there’s a role for everyone. We all have strengths. If you’re doing something that’s helping to build a community that’s larger than yourself with whatever time you have, then I’m happy.”

~Angela Miller

United in Service

30 Jan

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“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Saturday, January 19th, the city of Washington came together to honor Dr. King. Public Allies led a day of service, bringing together 250 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. Our community that day included 125 Public Allies staff and corps members from Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC. We were joined by over 100 high school students and teachers from Anacostia and Friendship Collegiate Academy. Our special guests for the day included Chelsea Clinton, chair of Inaugural National Day of Service, Paul Schmitz, CEO of Public Allies, Senator Harris Wofford and Bill Basil, current AmeriCorps Director.

The day was divided into three units: Let’s Serve, Let’s Move, and Let’s Lead. In the Let’s Move station, Playworks corps members invited teenagers and adults to embrace the benefits of exercise, swirling hula hoops and running around the gym. In the Let’s Lead room, allies facilitated a discussion on the legacy of Dr. King, brainstorming how his teachings can shape our lives. The Let’s Serve unit focused on a number of hands-on projects, ranging from a mural painting to a food drive.

My team had just entered the Let’s Serve station, located in the school’s cafeteria, when Chelsea Clinton arrived. We gathered around the lunch tables as she gave an inspirational speech about how her upbringing emphasized the importance of community service. Her father, former President Bill Clinton, established AmeriCorps under the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. After sharing her personal story with us, Ms. Clinton said that she was eager to lend a hand. She joined our group, helping to put together 600 bags of food for Bread for the City. Beans, noodles, and tuna fish were passed along an assembly line as we all joked and chatted, getting to know one another. The high school students on our team opened up, confiding in the former first daughter their goals and aspirations for the future. Several stated that they wanted to join AmeriCorps, others wanted to go to college or to join the military. All seemed encouraged by the message of the day: “We Still Have the Dream.” In other words, we, as a community, will support you as you pursue your dream.

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In my experience as a recent transplant to our nation’s capital, DC remains segregated by ward, class, and ethnicity. There’s Congress, and then there’s Congress Heights. Living here, it often feels as though there are multiple cities, intersecting only at crowded metro stations as strangers impolitely bump against each other in an attempt to quickly get out of the tunnels. Through events like the National Day of Service, Public Allies connects people from different worlds. For four hours on a Saturday morning, we were united by the idea that we all have the power to be change agents in our communities. But the effort has to reach beyond one day of action. I plan to continue working to bridge the gaps in DC, and I hope that you will join me.

As Dr. King argued, “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

For more pictures of the day, check out the Public Allies Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/publicallies/sets/72157632576862845/