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My story with Public Allies Arizona starts years before I even walked into a job fair and met my former program manager. For you to truly understand my impact with Public Allies, you must first allow me introduce my journey, my obstacles, and myself. You must first understand how having a village of leaders, nurturers, friends and loved ones all played a part in my journey to get this far. I was born the second oldest of six to a single mother on the north side of St. Louis, City. Where I lived, 16 family members in a three-bedroom home, mostly boys, you would think the house would be a rowdy environment. It was quite the opposite. The house was always full of love for each other, but outside the door was another story. I can still smell the lingering scent of a gun recently fired. I still feel the pangs of not eating and not being sure when a meal would come. I remember how hard my mom had to work to provide for the household, and all of this was before my sixth birthday.
When I joined Public Allies back in 2017, I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself into. After meeting the strong men and women in my cohort, I knew I was a part of something special. I started working with Creighton Community Foundation, for two reasons. First, I wanted to impact the lives of the next generation through education. Second, the founder Jeff Boles, knows and lives the mission that my Godmother instilled in me, “it takes a village, to raise a child.” While working at Creighton, we worked heavily in the neighborhoods of the students who attended Gateway and Excelencia Elementary.
Initially, our new faces in the community were greeted with closed doors, “I don’t want what you are selling”, or no answer at all. Then we started working with the Creighton kitchen staff to assist with the after-school feeding program. On average, we were able to serve around 250+ students a day between the two schools. These meals went to kids who were probably unsure if there would be a meal waiting at home for them. I was once that kid during my kindergarten through third grade years. That experience eventually led me to become very close to my kitchen staff at my new school for the next three years.
Those kids started becoming more and more excited to see us walking the halls, as well as their streets. Doors began opening up more. Parents and community members started to come together. We were eventually able to host monthly community meetings and began seeing our families t at our produce market. We have been able to lend a hand in revitalizing a church exterior and removing tons of trash throughout the neighborhood by hosting clean-ups. These clean-ups would inspire my family to host one of our own back home in St. Louis, in honor of my cousin who died last year due to gun violence.
Public Allies has made my life come full circle. It has been ten months of reflection, ten months of separation, and ten months of elevation. I am now double-placed in two organizations. I am a community engagement worker with Creighton Community Foundation as well as a youth outreach coordinator with Opportunities for Youth. I have earned a position that allows me to help those whose lives may have started similar to mine. I earned a position that allows me to help those who need assistance overcoming their own obstacles. I earned my chance to finally be a leader and create change. Public Allies, Creighton Community Foundation and Opportunities for Youth have helped me go from unemployed with no plan, to discovering a pathway for educational and professional success.
Damonte Johnson is a Class 12 Public Ally, placed at Creighton Community Foundation and Opportunities for Youth. Public Allies Arizona is a 10-month apprenticeship program designed to develop the next generation of civic leaders.