My morning path to school is the same every day. The streets are lined with trash, broken glass, and aged needles as a reminder of the chaos from the night before. It is a sight that never improves, but only takes on a different form in the daylight; a chaos that I wish to change, but do not have the ability or the strength to. As I make my way up the steps, the train screeches to the platform. It whisks me away, and I look out the window at my neighborhood awakening from its restless night.
As the sun rises, I am hit with the harsh reality that this is my home.
The train pulls into the station, and I make my way towards school. I cannot help but think of a future that could be. It is a future where I am far away from here, a future where the streets are not lined with trash, a future where I am content.
When I arrive, I settle into homeroom class. The room is filled with activity: classmates copying homework assignments and making plans for after-school activities. Suddenly, the intercom beeps for the daily announcements. The booming voice coming out of the old speaker box is filled with static: “The Philadelphia City Rowing team is looking for members.”
Before that moment I had never heard of rowing, yet felt inclined to learn more.
When I went down to the Schuylkill River after school, an uneasy feeling grew in my stomach. I was nervous. I wondered, “Would I make the team? Is rowing for me?” When entered the boathouse, the room was filled with other prospective rowers. After an extensive tryout, the coaches and the other rowers embraced me as the newest member of the team.
The coaches explained to me that, as a team member, I was required to display discipline and have the ability to work with others. Aware of the challenges I had yet to face, I decided that rowing was something I wanted to pursue.
Each day that I would go to the river, my nervousness would slowly dissipate, and thoughts of home would drift away with the passing water. As my skills and strength increased, I earned the esteemed title of coxswain. As a coxswain, I became a leader who had to navigate difficult situations by adapting to the ever-changing waters around me.
I developed strategic calls to keep my rowers in synchronization. I used clear and concise communication to build trust within the team. And I learned to keep a positive attitude and persevere when our races were not going according to plan. As the season progressed and I continued to grow as a leader, I came to the realization that I had finally obtained the skill set to conquer my fears of home.
Even though the streets are still lined with beds of trash, broken bottles, and aged needles, I now look at my neighborhood with a newfound sense of hope. I not only have control over what happens to me, but I also have the ability to change my surroundings. Because of rowing, I have a new empathetic spirit, and knowledge in the power of determination. The lessons I have learned through this sport have enabled me to be the trailblazer that my community needs.
In the near future, I hope to improve the lives of the people around me by fostering communication, instilling a positive attitude, and encouraging a sense of respect for our environment. Through rowing, I now see that, like my rowers, who are function best when I am leading them, my community yearns for leadership. I will unite my community like the oars that glide through the water in unison, guiding us towards a brighter future.
Jasmine Butler is a graduating senior at Academy at Palumbo in Philadelphia. Her essay, “What rowing has meant to me,” is the winner of the second annual Edward M. D’Alba Leadership Award Scholarship.