Be the change: put selfishness and fears asidePosted: January 2, 2012
By Dantrell Cotton
Imagine a place full of thriving crops and vegetation, a place where residents grew grains and tended livestock. If I told you this place was Chicago, would you believe me? With many skyscrapers, taxis, and residents, I wouldn’t have expected you to say yes.
As a child, I never knew about agriculture, sustainability and the importance of democracy. If you were to ask me what agriculture was, my response would have been “farming.” It wasn’t until I attended high school that I learned how agriculture was connected to food, medicine, education; it is connected to everything.
I had the distinct privilege to attend the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS), which is one of the most successful schools dedicated to teaching urban agriculture. CHSAS teaches an array of hands-on agricultural classes, and provides job shadow and internship opportunities with major agricultural companies such as Monsanto, Kraft, and Quaker-PepsiCo. The school is designed around an ‘inclusive principle’ in which students are encouraged to apply their agricultural knowledge outside the class and in the community. For example, each year the school mulches the local park, has an agricultural tourism program, and is involved with the World Food Prize Organization, which introduces students to global issues on sustainable development. I found this integrated use of course material more applicable and pertinent, and it increased my desire to become active at school and in the community – a perfect example of participation, involvement, and empowerment.
Outside of the classroom, I was an active member and officer in the Chicago Ag Sciences chapter of the National FFA Organization. FFA is a student-led organization which seeks to develop leadership, personal growth, and career success among its members. I have exemplified development in these areas. As president, I was responsible for implementing numerous events and programs, a highlight which was a Hunger Banquet that demonstrated the effects of hunger and poverty around the world. Also, I regularly spoke to business, community, and educational leaders from the Chicago area about going green and sustainability. I graduated high school as valedictorian with many honors, including a full-tuition scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the nation’s top research institutions and a leader in sustainability.
Because of the exposure and knowledge gained at CHSAS, I want to exercise my citizenship by making a difference in my community. Thanks to a quality education and dedicated mentors, a fire has been ignited to do more as a college student, and to educate others on ways to become involved as a citizen.
I’m reminded every day that I must be the change that I want to see in the world. I’m learning the importance of putting my selfishness and fears aside to speak up on issues that affect me and my community.