Service Starts Within

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By Sokhnadiarra Ndiaye ’24

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

“ ‘Ugh!’

Emily angrily slams her fist against her desk, fuming yet again about the betrayal she should’ve seen coming. Startled, Cole, who was sleeping on the desk next to her, nearly falls out of his chair and frantically darts his grass-colored eyes around the room.

‘Ms. Jones! My classroom is not the place for your tantrums! Keep quiet or take it outside.’

Emily sank into her chair, attempting to hide her red face behind her long brunette hair.”

These were the kinds of fictional stories I was writing in middle school. I used to have a ball conjuring cliche tween dramas in class. Stories of Cole, the hard-headed football player, who slowly but surely falls in love with the nerdy brunette who could barely make eye contact without blushing. Funny enough, none of what I wrote reflected the people around me. Thirteen-year-old me would conjure up stories about Hannahs and Lukes despite being surrounded by Natalias, Devons, and Fatimatas, my dark chocolate hand writing about women with long brunette hair as I stroke my cornrows. Like a fish in water, I never questioned where the juxtaposed realities stemmed from. Instead, I carried on, drawing small triangles for noses and long silky hair for women.

The interesting thing though is this isn’t limited to me. These contradictory realities made themselves known again when in my senior year of high school, I realized even my teachers were doing the same thing. I remember my Black teacher had stood in front of my Black class with a book in her hand written by a Black author and, in an attempt to give an example about a point she was trying to illustrate, she conjured up a quick story about a teen named John. Nobody in our school had a name like that. Her perception of normality didn’t match her environment either.

When we think about committing ourselves to serving the world and erasing injustices, oftentimes we forget about how our own perceptions impact this mission.

Who we are, how we see others and ourselves, as well as what we believe in, is a reflection of the state of this world. We as human beings are shaped by the outright and subtle messages we receive from our environments from the moment we are born. And when we think about committing ourselves to serving the world and erasing injustices, oftentimes we forget about how our own perceptions impact this mission. How can we bring about a genuine, humane vision of service in this world when our own perception is stained?

Through reflection and humility. Service starts within. It is not an act; rather, it is a way of being. Oftentimes, the perpetual victimhood that we portray certain communities in stem from this ego-stroking notion that we are the solution to the world’s problems. However, to justly and authentically serve communities around the world, we must be willing to step outside of our ego and question our thoughts in order to see communities in all lights. While it is important to extend a hand to those in and out of our communities, it is equally as important to first think deeply about why we think the way we do. It is only when we are humble enough to question our thoughts that we become closer to the global community and more effective in serving the world. Skipping this step often results in heightened stereotypes and biases when, as we go out into other communities, we serve our biases instead of people.

As Cornell students, we can choose to travel abroad for culture to countries like India, Ghana, and Brazil that are historically only seen through the lens of service and aid. We can be conscious about expanding and diversifying our friend groups and networks. It may even simply come in the form of watching the New Years fireworks and concerts that also take place in countries like Senegal and Pakistan but aren’t shown on our TVs. To see people beyond their problems is to acknowledge their humanity and closeness to you.

So, I urge you to think deeply: through what lens are you seeing the world?

Sokhnadiarra Ndiaye ’24

Sokhnadiarra Ndiaye ’24 is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences at Cornell University. She loves traveling, taking walks, cooking, and chilling. On a good day, you’ll catch her outside having random conversations with strangers. On campus, she’s an Engaged Ambassador, B.O.S.S co-Freshman Representative, and a member of BlackGen Capital and Black Ivy Pre-Law Society. She’s from Brooklyn, NY.

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David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement
The Ripple Effect

The Einhorn Center for Community Engagement at Cornell supports a university culture where Cornellians and partners work together to create a better world.