Written by Kaia Duke, AmeriCorps Member serving on the Lamar Advertising Company Team at Melrose Elementary School.
Girls On The Run, a nation wide girls after school program, recently hosted their 5K Race. Teams from different schools around Baton Rouge competed in the race. From CYBR, three school teams joined in the fray. All of the girls run with a partner, be they a coach, parent or volunteer. Though Melrose is not one of these schools, I decided to volunteer at the race and met my soon to be friend Taylor* that morning. She came up to my shoulder, and had a beautiful smile. She seemed shy, but excited to do the run and I was pumped. We stood in a circle and I joined in their pre-practice routines and stretches.
As we started running, we began a game of running from pocket to pocket of space amongst the hundreds of runners. Every time Taylor saw one of her friends passing us her competitive spirit would charge her with newfound energy, bolting off after them with me trailing behind. Only stopping again once we were well past them and only starting again when she saw someone else she know. It was surprising but great!
There was at least one water station every mile, and each and every one was a moment of relief for the young runners. We joined the throngs for the much needed nourishment. Taylor got some while I waited for the other girls to get some before I got my own. This worried her. She would look at me, “Aren’t you getting some water?” “Yeah, but I want to make sure they can get some first.” Taylor looked at me and then turned back to the volunteer. “I need some for my City Year.” Dehydration is impossible when you have a third grader taking care of you. Here she was in the middle of her first 5K, probably thinking I was crazy for not grabbing the first available cup, and Taylor’s first concern - after getting her own water - was making sure I had mine. I could not have asked for a better running buddy.
As we reached the home stretch, we were walking and losing steam. “As soon as I see my mom, I’m going to stop. I’m not finishing.” “What? You can totally finish!” Taylor gave me a reproachful look. “Yes, you can. We started at the start line, so now we’ve got to finish at the finish line.” At this point, one of the other running pairs we’d raced earlier caught up to us again. But things were a little different now. Taylor no longer saw her as a competitor but as a friend to share the experience with. Between the four of us, we worked up to running again. Seeing the last bend in the road, Taylor began to speed up and I grinned as I ran after her.
As we neared the finish line, we passed Taylor’s mom and gave a big wave. Taylor finished strong and unknowingly motivated me through her sheer kindness in the midst of her tiredness. Between competition, friends, and laughter, the girls and their partners pulled together in the name of spirit and endurance. Taylor ran a 45 minute 5K and finished strong. I learned that, even when they are tired, kids have your best interest at heart. They care and love; they inherently know that you’re humanity is tied to theirs and vice versa. As adults, we seem to lose the quality of ubuntu as we are taught to fend for ourselves. Ubuntu is, perhaps, the silent foundation of childhood.
Wonderfully, Taylor’s act of water kindness is not unique to her or extra curriculars, but is found in the classroom and throughout the school. Now that we have finished the first semester and are preparing for the next one, I try to remember other moments like this one with Taylor and encourage others to do the same. The students shine to remind us to maintain our own flame of passion and caring. Ubuntu: I am because you are.
*name has been changed