It’s a long way from Spokane to Compton, California, and it’s a distance represented not only in miles but in opportunities.
Tyler Hobbs, 28, learned that firsthand. He lived in Compton while teaching for two years at Cathedral High School, an all-boys school that serves teens from low-income homes and inner-city neighborhoods.
Hobbs, a 2012 Gonzaga University grad, recently gave the keynote address to a group of GU graduates poised to begin their time of voluntary service.
“In my two years teaching, I had a desk thrown across my classroom, I had a student arrested, I called CPS too many times, I found suicide notes on more than one occasion, I would get emails in the morning that read, ‘Sorry I couldn’t do the homework I didn’t have a place to go last night.’ And the anger, resentment and toughness of my students was often so intense that it was all you noticed,” Hobbs said in the introduction to his speech.
But he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
He served in Compton as a part of PLACE (Partners in Los Angeles Catholic Education) Corps, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles’ Catholic teacher service corps, and with the support of the Krista Foundation for Global Leadership, a local organization that provides mentoring and grants for young adults engaged in a sustained period of voluntary or vocational service.
“It was a pretty radical contrast to most of my life experience prior,” said Hobbs, who’s originally from Thousand Oaks, California.
The first-time teacher taught sophomore English and junior U.S. history.
“It was trial by fire,” he said, laughing.
In some ways his youth came in handy.
“I was familiar with social trends and stuff my students enjoyed,” he said. “In many ways I was a big brother to them.”
That’s not to say his work was without challenge or that he always felt comfortable.
“There were certainly times I felt afraid, or in a state of shock,” he admitted. “I had several students that were not the kind of people you really enjoy spending time with.”
Yet he found much to admire and appreciate. Part of the PLACE Corps commitment is that you live in the area where you work, so Hobbs would see his students and their families at the grocery store or gas station.
“I’ve been fortunate to build friendships with folks who’ve been more marginalized than others,” he said. “The beauty of Compton and parts of East L.A. is that you can see so much goodness and growth. My perception of inner-city life changed by living in the community.”
Though he went there to teach, he also became a student, learning life lessons that continue to inform his decisions.
He enumerated them thus:
Let your conviction be adaptive. Look for the beautiful parts of people before the not-so-beautiful parts.
You can speak up for marginalized groups without speaking for them.
It’s a pretty beautiful thing to be wrong. Hold your convictions in a certain state of grace.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of resilience in the people that live there (Compton),” Hobbs said.
He credits the Krista Foundation for helping prepare him for his time of service and said the debriefing that followed his return enabled him to translate that experience into a lifelong commitment to service.
Hobbs, currently the director of Christian service at Gonzaga Prep, said it’s important to recognize the connection between service and justice.
“You can’t serve the homeless without recognizing the injustice of poverty,” he said.
And he believes service and social justice activism aren’t just for college students or young adults.
“It’s never too late to serve,” Hobbs said. “Your small act of service may impact a greater injustice somewhere.”