At­lanta stu­dent's world opens up with service

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - COUNTY BY COUNTY - By Christophe Quinn cquinn@ajc.com

Civics les­sons took on new mean­ing for an At­lanta stu­dent af­ter she put them into prac­tice.

Ila Wil­born’s ex­pe­ri­ences re­flect find­ings of the 2018 Brown Cen­ter Re­port on Amer­i­can Ed­u­ca­tion — which fo­cused this year on civics, and which noted most classes are miss­ing a key com­po­nent. Service.

Cit­i­zens need to do more than know how our com- mu­ni­ties and gov­ern­ments, from lo­cal to na­tional, work (or how they are sup­posed to work, any­way.) They need to do some­thing with what they learn. They need, the re­port says, a sense of civic duty (who talks about this any­more?) and con­cern for the wel­fare of oth­ers.

Get­ting this is crit­i­cal for “broad par­tic­i­pa­tion is es­sen- tial for a healthy, inclusive democ­racy,” the re­port notes, while also say­ing that civics classes ought to of­fer more chances to get in­volved.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port: “It ap­pears that civics ed­u­ca­tion to­day still oc­curs, for many if not most stu­dents, through dis­cus­sion rather than par­tic­i­pa­tion. But ac­cord­ing to many ex­perts, dis­cus­sion alone is in­ad­e­quate to pro­vide stu­dents with the type of well-rounded civics ed­u­ca­tion they need to pre­pare for lives as en­gaged and in­formed cit­i­zens.”

What dif­fer­ence does ser- vice make?

I asked Wil­born, a Cham­blee Char­ter High School grad who is an up and com- ing se­nior at Florida Agri­cul­tural and Me­chan­i­cal Univer­sity. She was a typ­i­cal teen- ager in high school, en­gag­ing in some out­reach and help with her At­lanta church. But she has clocked over 200 hours of service in three years at FAMU.

She has helped reg­is­ter peo­ple to vote, worked hard in men­tor­ing and help­ing fresh­men make the ad­just- ment to be­ing on their own at col­lege — from pick­ing classes to fig­ur­ing out how to turn mi­crowaved Ra­men noo­dles into some­thing bet­ter tast­ing.

Meet­ing and help­ing oth­ers from all over with dif­fer- ent sets of needs, likes and back­grounds has opened her eyes. It’s been a hum­bling process, she said. It has made her aware of the priv­i­leges she grew up with.

Wil­burn, ma­jor­ing in broad­cast jour­nal­ism, got other real world ex­pe­ri­ence as a re­porter this sum­mer as one of six re­cip­i­ents of the 2018 Chevro­let Dis­cover the Un­ex­pected Jour­nal­ism Fel­low­ship. She trav­eled and re­ported sto­ries in At­lanta and Vir­ginia dur­ing her eightweek sum­mer in­tern­ship, learn­ing more as she trav­eled and met oth­ers and told their sto­ries. In Tal­la­has­see, she watched in awe as mid­dle school­ers and high school­ers marched on the state Capi­tol af­ter the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School shoot­ing Feb. 14. “You would see the younger kids out there in the street, fight­ing for our rights,” she said. She saw the power that the move­ment of young cit­i­zens work­ing with their par­ents make a dif­fer­ence. The Florida leg­is­la­ture passed a bill that changes rules for buy­ing firearms. Her ad­vice now to younger stu­dents? “I would say you are in a priv­i­leged space. It’s im­port- ant that you not only fo­cus on your stud­ies, but you fo­cus on the com­mu­nity around you.” At some point the young gen­er­a­tion is go­ing to have the torch passed into their hands, or they’ll take it. Then the re­spon­si­bil­ity will be theirs, she said. “We have to pick up that torch be­fore it is dropped so that other peo­ple can get what we have got­ten,” Wil­born said. Civics 101. Wil­born gets an A.

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