Over the course of the past seven weeks, I have learned a lot about what privilege means and represents. Growing up in the suburbs of Wilmington, I had seldom traveled to the inner city, unless it was to take an Amtrak out of the city. The closest I had been to this community had been as a Middle School student at P.S. DuPont, shielded by brick walls and a busing system that quickly transported me to and from school, preventing any interaction I might have with the city or those who live here. My true sense of community required traveling – traveling far – to my home country of India, and I had only ever heard stories about the inner city the community in which I actually lived – the so-called Murdertown, USA.
From the first day on the job at Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center, I quickly found that contrary to the stereotypes and statistics that define Wilmington’s highest-need youth, they are just as exuberant, boisterous, and fun-loving as any kid from Wilmington, America, or any part of the world. The experience of interacting with these children radically changed my outlook on the world and shaped my belief that we all can help make it a better place. I have a much deeper understanding of the African-American community, and I hope that in my professional career and in my personal life, I will be able to effectively connect and interact with people of all backgrounds.
Many of my friends from my neighborhood, my school, and North Wilmington are afraid and scared of the city of Wilmington – places like 6th Street. They stray away from these places they’re unfamiliar with because of articles they have read or stories they have heard. This lack of understanding – something of which I was a victim until very recently – is unfounded, and I hope I can encourage people to bridge this cultural gap.
This summer, my ability to make an impact in the Wilmington community has made all my hard work, struggles, and three parking tickets worthwhile. Seeing a camper’s face light up when he finally learns how to spell a difficult word – or beats me in 2k16 – has been one of the best experiences of my life.
Let’s not sugarcoat: these kids often do not have the opportunities or resources that their suburban counterparts take for granted – through no fault of their own. It is imperative that residents and citizens of Wilmington are more engaged with this often marginalized part of the community so that we can better understand one another. I know that as I enter the workforce, I will never forget what it means to give these kids the opportunity they deserve.
One of the best parts of my job was reading short picture books with campers – what we called Reading Intervention. Before each session, we had two students compete in a 5-word spelling bee. Seeing the gears turning in their heads when – after two or three sessions – they finally understood a suffix like “–tion” or “–ough” was exciting. It was truly a privilege to see them being challenged and motivated by their peers to learn and grow.
I spent 24 days at Hilltop, and seeing that I could be a part of the solution to reverse summer learning loss for so many kids was a paradigm-shifting realization. I could sit with a pair of campers two or three times a week for six weeks and help them read more efficiently or spell at a higher level, with nothing but some markers, a couple books, and a sheet of paper.
Often in education policy-making, officials are quick to assign blame or propose logistically and practically impossible plans to revamp poor quality inner-city school systems. While some of these plans may work, they are difficult to implement, cost millions of dollars, and take decades to show results. Here at SummerCollab, we worked with some of the most disadvantaged students and in just 24 days we were able to see tangible results that showed growth.
Often, those who only view these communities as prime spots for gerrymandering or pandering – depending on one’s political affiliation – forget that the crux of the community, any community, is the kids. The government wants to “overhaul” or “re-engineer” the system instead of working within the established infrastructure and producing growth on an individual basis.
As someone who did work within this infrastructure, I learned so much from these kids about the way they learn and the community that they call home – a place that I now can call my community as well. Many kids speak a different language at home and juggle their bilingualism masterfully when they are immersed in a different linguistic environment at camp. Others have dreams of being break dancers or zookeepers, NBA players or authors. Spectating from a distance and conflating the kids’ lack of opportunity for a lack of drive and motivation is perhaps the worst mistake anyone can make. It is a mistake I probably made – on a conscious or subconscious level – just three months ago. It is a mistake I will never make again.
John Winthrop, the famous leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, once said that America was destined to be a model for the rest of the world – a shining “City Upon a Hill” in his words. Some 350 odd years later, America is number one in the world in GDP, but it falls far behind in facets like opportunity equality and income distribution. There is no reason that both North Wilmington and the City of Wilmington cannot both shine. There is a microcosm of a City Upon a Hill(top) here on 6th Street. I hope that these kids get just as much opportunity to shine as the kid down the block.
More About Dhruv Mohnot:
Dhruv Mohnot is a rising senior at Concord High School. He worked as an Operations Specialist at Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center this past summer, and thoroughly enjoyed working with the 100 or so kids there. He is passionate about economics and politics and hopes to major in finance or business.