By: Turner Cooper
As I sit on a plane 35,000 feet in the air, I can think of one thing: the marriage of two great friends. I’m headed to see Derrien and Courtney vow to spend the rest of their lives together. When I reflect on my time as a Bonner Scholar and a City Year AmeriCorps member, I see two different experiences that together created a “matrimonial” path for me to become a first grade teacher. The Bonner program and City Year pushed me toward a life unimaginable, yet clearly divine.
I wasn’t always a Bonner Scholar. I am quite lucky. I was a persistent and probably annoying freshman that loved community service and tried to shove it down everyone’s throat. I wanted everyone to know that “service was the rent you pay for living,” but I didn’t realize that this was setting me apart from my classmates.
It was coming from a genuine place. I wanted to give back because I was only able to attend Morehouse College after so many have given to me. But things got tough during the Fall of 2008. I was on the verge of not being able to return because my grades were too low to keep my housing scholarship, and the world was crashing down – until Bonner came to the rescue. It singlehandedly was the biggest financial contributor that kept me in college. Service saved me.
I discovered my love for teaching as an elementary school tutor in the Spring of 2009. I tutored daily, or as much as possible, given my new schedule and major (English), and tried to find myself again. As I continued through college, the Bonner program never left my side. The Bonner Office of Community Service was a gateway for me to find my true passion in life and stumble across a program called City Year during my senior year.
I remember talking to my friend Stephen, who would later become my roommate, about deciding to serve for City Year in Chicago. He thought the program was a good fit. The fresh challenges, delicious food, and a new city to explore made Chicago an easy pick.
I remember my first day “boomin’ and bumpin’” with Connie Chi as we kicked off our service year with a beautification project for Harper High School. We were serving students and community in a manner I had never seen done to this magnitude. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I was surrounded by people who were just as excited, if not more, to be serving the community.
Jason Dones, my team leader, was a driving force in making sure I reached my highest potential as “Turner Cooper, a proud City Year AmeriCorps member serving at Chicago Talent Development Charter High School on the Westside of Chicago!” Nothing beat the idealism of the CTD team. I can say to this day, that those eight corps members were the best team I ever worked with.
We worked hard, fought, believed, failed and got up, but we never ever gave up. This was the wake up call I needed as a budding teacher. The odds were against us, but we persevered. We met the needs of our students with idealism and unwavering faith. We supported and appreciated one another – even the crazy guy in a banana suit. We supported and loved our kids. To this day we still believe “service is the rent we pay for living” as teachers, lawyers, thespians, community advocates and counselors.
Coming back to the wedding I am attending this weekend: having my friends Derrien and Courtney in my corner has enriched my experience on this journey called “life.” Similarly, being a Bonner Scholar and a City Year AmeriCorps member has directly impacted my life as a first grade teacher. I see these two experiences as individual times in my life, but when coupled together – I would be remised to say that they don’t impact my classroom every single day. To Bonner and City Year, I say “Thank you.” My classroom says, “Thank you.” Our communities say, “Thank you!”