On Thursday, I had the pleasure of joining Volunteer Maryland staff, Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism staff, and representatives from other Maryland AmeriCorps programs for the first Meaning of Service meeting. Meaning of Service is a national reading and discussion program that engages service volunteers in conversations about the nature of justice, service, and the public good. For our first meeting, we were asked to discuss a photographer and also “Theme For English B” (1951), a poem by Langston Hughes. Analyzing the literary text of one of my favorite writers gave me a jolt of energy that even caffeine could not compete with.
You may be wondering how service is connected to “Theme For English B” and as a group we began to dissect the poem and form connections in more ways than one. As a reader, it is easy to detect Hughes’s intentional sarcastic tone about the separation of Hughes’s culture and that of the university he attends. I see the same separation in the service field. This separation and lack of diversity is not intentional, but it is present. As a person who falls into two underrepresented groups, a woman and person of color, I am not intimidated by the lack of diversity, but I often wonder why there is still a lack. How is the service I perform perceived? In the poem, Hughes writes, “So will my page be colored that I write?” I ask myself, is my service year perceived as that of a woman of color, or are those two factors overlooked? What about other aspects of diversity?
I admit to not having an answer to either of my questions, but I am interested in having continuous conversations to increase diversity in the service and nonprofit sectors. Like Hughes, “I wonder if it’s that simple?”
This is my theme for service.