Jimmy for the City- Profile of Author Derek Rhodes

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Derek Rhodes wrote Jimmy for the City with the hopes of inspiring young people toconsider careers in public service.  A graduate of both Durham Academy and Duke University, Derek has been exposed for much of his life to opportunities of service and community engagement. He believes that these experiences were invaluable to his character development and wishes that more children were exposed to these opportunities and encouraged to pursue their passions in service and community. 
1.  What was your inspiration for Jimmy? Growing up, I loved reading. I read everything. My favorite books were a series written by Bill Cosby, The Little Bill series, and all of the Dr. Seuss books.  These books really taught me things and they had meaning. The authors disguised these 'lessons' by making the books very short, engaging, and to the point. I think we've seen a decline in these types of books and I wanted to fill a void.  
I was also inspired by our recent political climate. I think it's more important than ever that we remind children that the most significant service takes place at the local level. Also, leadership and public service are not always what you see on television. There are plenty of ways to go about serving your community or your country and that is what this book aims to demonstrate. 
2. What experiences in your youth influenced the notion that contributing and engaging in the community is valuable and essential? My parents always challenged me to help others. From an early age, I was volunteering with my church, cleaning up the public park on Saturday mornings, or even sitting in on a city council meeting. These experiences, in addition to the books I was reading, helped me see the value in community service. I watched change happen in front of my eyes and I saw what was possible when people are selfless. 
3. How did your schools (DA and Duke) help you learn about your community or provide experiences for engagement? I was pretty fortunate to attend a school that took community engagement seriously. This was evidenced by our Community Service days, a full day (9am-3:45pm) in which students were put in teams and assigned to work with different local organizations.  
Author Derek Rhodes
The community service days at Durham Academy made for a natural transition when I got to Duke. I was familiar with service organizations, needs in the community, and had a solid network of clubs and groups to whom I could easily reach out. College, itself, is a tough place to be engaged with what I'll refer to as the 'real world,' because you become so involved in the myriad of opportunities available. For example, it's hard to block out time in your day to get off campus to a local homeless shelter when you have a cappella club, class, tutoring, and a dorm meeting all in the same day. Durham Academy really provided me with a blueprint for how to structure my day - or month - around just one service opportunity.  
This is all great; but, of course I have to point out the need for more curriculum based work around community engagement. While at Duke, there was a push for more authentic engagement in our History, Public Policy, and Political Science classes.  We wanted more academic opportunities to explore the history of Durham, the issues facing North Carolina, etc. We even suggested that Duke create a required first-year course on one of these subjects, just as Writing is required for all first-year students. I think this is something that all colleges and high schools can very easily, and should, do. 
4. What would you tell kids was the best part about being involved in their community?  I tell everyone, being involved in your community just makes you feel good. That's the best part to me. It's nothing super profound. It's the simple fact that at the end of the day, you are happy, the person, group, or city you helped is happy, and you are knowledgable about something other than yourself and your immediate world. That pays enormous dividends. Everyone wants to be happy in life. I've found that I'm most happy when I'm doing things for others. I think that's something everyone can get on board with - no matter how old - children to adults. 
Jimmy for the City is on sale at and all proceeds go to supporting young men interested in participating in internships with a focus on community engagement and service. Derek can be reached via email for further conversation and assembly bookings.

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