Anthony Siracusa ′09
I came to Rhodes to gain the experience needed to choose between two possible methods of making a difference in the world—radical reform or patient integration.
For me, radical reform would be to innovate and expand the bicycle program I began at a Memphis inner city church. The idea was to teach neighborhood kids how to fix bicycles while providing them with a safe space while they learn these skills. The kids can build a bicycle, keep the bike, and practice teamwork while working in the shop. The program gave me a vent for two of my passions—promoting bicycling as an alternative to cars and working with troubled kids. The bicycle program addresses each of these issues, and is a creative way of interacting with young people in an educational environment.
A more traditional way of working with troubled kids is to become a high school teacher in an inner city school. Rhodes has shown me how powerful the classroom can be in transforming the lives of students. Teaching high school would be the patient integration approach. It would provide me a direct, though small way to address what I consider to be the biggest problem of our time: violence. To address that problem we must teach young people that there are more effective ways to settle disagreements, and the classroom is an excellent place to dialogue about differences.
My concern about violence led to my interest in the Reverend James Lawson, one of the heroes of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. My interest in Rev. Lawson led me to the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies, a program that pays students a stipend to do an eight-week in-depth research project on a topic related to the Mid-South.
The more I learned during my research, the more my admiration grew for Rev. Lawson. He is a non-violent warrior, who as a man of God, is determined to overturn evil wherever he sees it, whatever the personal cost. Rev. Lawson is a great inspiration to me, and I was able to speak with him personally because of my research.
Rhodes has provided me with incredible experiences, not the least of which is the opportunity to make personal connections with members of the faculty. Professor Charles McKinney made an impression on me with his warmth and candid humor. I have connected with Professor Robert Saxe through discussions about American music and its cultural impact on our nation. History Professor Tim Huebner reaches out to students as he demonstrates a deep and abiding interest in the development of each student’s scholarly abilities.
My experience at Rhodes has also been enriched because of the college’s location in Memphis. So much has sprung from this rich soil! Memphis has unique institutions like the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Sun Studio, the National Civil Rights Museum and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And what can appear as a drawback in Memphis, such as an under-funded public school system or too many people living in poverty, is also a compelling opportunity for service.
One of the best things about Rhodes is the opportunity to apply lessons in the classroom to problems perceived in the world. But, the single biggest challenge of service is its inherent vulnerability, the risk of being wrong, being misunderstood, having all your assumptions dashed on the stones of others’ experiences. Finally, such experiences challenge me to return to the classroom, develop intellectually, and return to do service with fresh insight and ideas.