Think, Work, Serve. More Than Just a Motto.

By Erika Burnett, Hands On Nashville’s Service Learning Manager at TSU —

I chose to attend Tennessee State University because of its rich legacy as a Historically Black College and University. TSU, like most HBCUs, is located in the heart of the inner city. Historically, Black colleges were founded in areas inhabited primarily by minority populations, and those who were most vulnerable and lacking resources. For their local communities, these universities served as an academic resource, a place of employment, medical, and legal assistance, and a pillar of pride. HBCUs were established to have a direct impact on their communities through service!

Visiting with youth from Meeting Point Kampala - a school & orphanage in Uganda - during a field day sponsored and coordinated by a group of Vanderbilt students.

The words “Enter to learn, go forth to serve” are inscribed on the front of the building where I spent the majority of my time during my matriculation. Of course I learned that hard work and academic rigor has its rewards. But the most meaningful lessons were those not found in my text books: the essence of leadership is servitude; community is more than a geographical proximity; service has no end, there is always more to do, more to give, more to strive to change. To find ourselves we must first lose ourselves in worthy causes. I found myself and my passion through service.

My passion led me to serve as an AmeriCorps member, to East Africa as an advocate, and drove my work at the Oasis Center here in Nashville as a program coordinator, among many other pursuits.

Tackling the invasive plants at Radnor Lake during a recent service opportunity with TSU students.

My journey has now come full circle as I currently serve as the Service Learning Manager at TSU.  I recently led a volunteer project at Radnor Lake with a group of students. The weather was cool, the sky was cloudy, and it was a Friday afternoon! The odds were NOT in our favor. Yet, it was a most fulfilling experience to watch 15 young adults (many of whom had never been exposed to this type of environment) excited as they learned why invasive plants are harmful and their eagerness to remove them! One student shared her thoughts: “the overall experience was great and I walked away knowing I made an improvement, served the community, and learned why and how my help was appreciated.”

In Jena, Louisiana, in 2007, rallying in support of racial justice after the Jena 6 incident.

Whether it’s walking to Samaritan Ministries to serve lunch, hosting an HIV awareness campaign, or feeding the stray dogs that roam around campus, TSU students are being the change they want to see in their local Nashville community and in the world. As my alma mater celebrates its Centennial year, I am grateful to serve as a bridge connecting thinking to service. I am encouraged, that without publicity or notoriety, without titles or accolades, Tennessee State University continues to cultivate a spirit of leadership as students enter to learn, and go forth to serve.

A walk (and a smile) for breast cancer awareness. Who says volunteering always has to be so serious?!

As Service Learning Manager at Tennessee State University, Erika Burnett oversees the collaboration between Hands On Nashville and TSU to engage university students in meaningful volunteer service throughout the Nashville community. Previously, Erika worked at the Oasis Center as a Youth Engagement Program Coordinator. Prior to Oasis Center, she worked as the Community Outreach Coordinator for the YWCA of Middle Tennessee. A graduate of Vanderbilt and TSU, Erika loves to dance and is the co-founder of a ministry-based dance company. She re-joined Hands On Nashville’s staff in September 2011 after completing her AmeriCorps term at HON in 2007. Learn more about Hands On Nashville’s collaboration with TSU or e-mail erika@hon.org.

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7 thoughts on “Think, Work, Serve. More Than Just a Motto.

    1. Aletha, thanks for your nice note! So glad you’re enjoying our blog. We are constantly amazed by the incredible things volunteers are doing in Middle Tennessee, and are excited to share these stories with the community.

  1. The article was truly inspirational, that lady there is on fire…..sky is the limits. Glad it points out that their can besmall things, that have greater purpose if we take the time to seek an understanding.

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