THE BLOG
06/24/2013 06:45 pm ET | Updated Aug 24, 2013

Service to Others Served ME

Service for me has progressed from a place of being forced to sign up for two terms with AmeriCorps to a life of endless opportunities.

I was a "thug" cultivated by the streets of Philadelphia, and I was down for "whatever." As a child, I attended church and the streets demanded more out of me to prove to them that I was not a "good guy". When I was mandated as a young man by the court system to do community service, it put me in a place that I knew nothing about. I thought, "I'll do my hours of cleaning up and get back to my life." While completing my hours, I was introduced to YouthBuild AmeriCorps at the Crispus Attucks Association.

While at YB AmeriCorps in York, PA, I took my first step on this new path of service by signing up to serve one term on site and my second term in my surrounding community. The crazy thing is, I signed up to keep myself occupied as an alternative to the streets. As a "newborn", I had to go HARD, and with each step I began to learn the TRUE meaning of serving yOUR commUNITY. I wanted to prove to myself that I was not that "thug" anymore, and I wanted to empower and encourage by my actions.

I was honored to serve and help organize the first community garden(s), something that was not common in the neighborhood back then; manage day and after-school programming while creating a tutoring program at the center, and to help the faith affiliations with different ministries, city/county-wide peace rallies and unity marches. I could go on, but the best thing about it all was the change I begin to see in myself.

Now as I pause for a minute to think back and put these memories into scribe, I never would have thought how beneficial this would be. As a member of the National Council of Young Leaders comprised of over seven national organizations, including Public Allies, JFF, Opportunity Nation, The Corps Network, Year Up, Youth Leadership Institute and YouthBuild USA, I was recently elected President of YouthBuild USA's National Alumni Council (273 programs internationally), an AmeriCorps Alum Member and current member of the Aspen Institute OYIF Leadership Council. "That is how you got here, Jamiel L. Alexander: By your willingness to serve in any capacity!" Service continues to open my mind and my heart whether hands on, verbally or in written form. To this day, it challenges me to grow outside my comfort zone.

So as I continue on in this pathway of service, and as this cursor continues to blink while I take time think, I believe that sometimes "It is best to just do it (service) because it is the right thing to do!" (One of the sayings of my mom.)

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."
Henry David Thoreau (Poet and Philosopher, 1817-1862)

It just makes sense to me to invest and be more intentional about National Service, and programs like the Franklin Project.

This post is part of a collaboration between The Huffington Post and The Aspen Institute, in which a variety of thinkers, writers and experts will explore the most pressing issues of our time. For more posts from this partnership, click here. For more information on The Aspen Institute, click here.

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