A Cities of Service Love Your Block AmeriCorps VISTA member for two years, Ryan Jackson served as the liaison between the community and the mayor’s office in Birmingham, Alabama. Once unsure of what it meant to be a VISTA member, his experience in the role motivated him to point his career path toward city hall. Today, he serves as Executive Assistant to Mayor Randall Woodfin, often leaning on the expertise in Birmingham and its residents he gained as a VISTA member.
How did you end up as the Executive Assistant to the Mayor?
After the effort I put into the VISTA position, the chief of staff offered me the position to serve as the mayor’s special assistant. The AmeriCorps VISTA program has really laid a foundation for my career, giving me an opportunity to showcase my talents while also growing in this new space.
How did the Cities of Service AmeriCorps VISTA member role prepare you for your current role?
My time as a Cities of Service VISTA member in Birmingham gave me firsthand knowledge and understanding of what it takes to actually serve the citizens of Birmingham. I was able to program manage for a lot of different issues. It laid a foundation for professional development, for humility—it helps you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. It gave me a heart for the residents of Birmingham.
Were you surprised by what it was like being an AmeriCorps VISTA member?
I was surprised. I didn’t fully understand what I would do or how I would feel. I had heard about the AmeriCorps VISTA program, but I went in blindly. I did understand the sacrifices I would make financially, but I didn’t know how it would help me find my purpose. That’s what AmeriCorps VISTA did for me. It allowed me to identify my purpose and to walk in it, regardless of the money. It allowed me to see that my mission in life is bigger than any dollar amount.
The AmeriCorps VISTA program has really laid a foundation for my career, giving me an opportunity to showcase my talents while also growing in this new space.
Can you name one specific experience from your service year that helps you with your current position?
One community we served was the Tuxedo Heights neighborhood, where we revitalized a park. Citizens were clear in what that park meant to them, the history behind that park, what it did for the community, what it did for people of color.
To see the anguish that they had because the park wasn’t kept like it should have been, and then to see the joy upon their faces after revitalization—that’s what gave me meaning. It can be difficult planning different projects and getting everyone in a neighborhood to buy in. To see the response that citizens have to the systems you’ve created for them to build on—those experiences meant the world to me.
Most of the communities that we serve are comprised of senior citizens. They aren’t able to get out and do the work that we can do. Seeing us partner alongside them meant them saying, “The condition I am in–it can change.” If the government has the resources, then we should stand alongside our citizens and continue to make progress. Seeing us transform the area or revitalize an area meant the world to me. I grew up in some of these areas. Allow me to give back—that’s what Love Your Block did for me.