Our first day in Washington, D.C. was ‘Hill Day’, an opportunity for City Year, AmeriCorps members, and champions from across the nation to gather at Capitol Hill for visits with members of Congress and their staffs about the unique role City Year AmeriCorps members play in high-need urban schools. The day started at the office of Senator James Lankford for his weekly coffee with visiting constituents. The meeting was followed by visits with staff members from the offices of Representative Jim Bridenstine, Representative Tom Cole, and Senator James Inhofe. Each of our meetings ended with an invitation to see the service of City Year Tulsa in action. I am excited about the Ripples to come from these initial meetings with our elected officials.
To conclude our Hill Day, delegations from each City Year site and congressional representatives were invited to a lovely dinner at historic Union Station, recognizing and celebrating those who make our work in schools possible. The event featured remarks from members of Congress, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and included City Year's newest honor, the Champions of Student Success Award, which City Year Tulsa awarded to George Kaiser Family Foundation's Ken Levit for outstanding contributions to the advancement of City Year's work in Tulsa.
The second day of the National Leadership Summit was jam-packed with opportunities for learning and diving deeper into innovations in education and national service in America. In the morning, we heard from City Year CEO and Co-Founder, Michael Brown; AnnMaura Connolly, Chief Strategy Officer & Executive Vice President, City Year, Inc.; and Barbara M. Jenkins, Superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Florida, each of whom spotlighted some of our most significant breakthroughs on impact and partnerships and outlined where challenges remain. At lunch, we had the unique opportunity to gain some insight from top strategists in Washington on the road ahead for AmeriCorps and education policy. The highlight for me, personally, was the live episode of Face the Nation that unfolded on the stage in front of us. The panel discussion focused on national service and was moderated by renowned broadcast journalist Bob Schieffer. The panel included Paul Begala, CNN commentator and Democratic strategist and Affiliated Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University; journalist EJ Dionne, opinion writer for the Washington Post, Congressman Steve LaTourette, President and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership; and Neera Tanden, President of Center for American Progress. The bi-partisan panel offered insights on effective strategies in competing for limited agenda space, forging productive relationships with policymakers on both sides of the political aisle, and creating a sense of political momentum looking toward the future of education and national service. Throughout the day, members of the Tulsa delegation attended additional elective sessions discussing how to deepen partnerships with federal, state & local education partners to achieve our local long-term impact plans, innovations in individual giving campaigns to resource our local long-term impact plans, as well as a conversation with Emma Vadehra, Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan moderated by Dr. Robert Balfanz, Senior Research Scientist at Johns Hopkins University and Co-Director of Talent Development Secondary. Each of these sessions provided our AmeriCorps members, staff and local champions in Tulsa with further knowledge and tools to strengthen our relationships with our education partners, donors, and other stakeholders and potential champions here in Tulsa.
The final event at the National Leadership Summit, I Am My Brother's Keeper, spotlighted our collective commitment to the success of all young people through President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Initiative. One of the highlights for me was Dikembe Mutombo. Not only did the NBA legend and global ambassador share his support for City Year's work internationally, he mingled throughout the crowd both before and after the program to meet people and to pose for photos doing his signature "no no no" pose with anyone and everyone who asked. Another highlight of the evening was hearing from Broderick Johnson, White House Cabinet Secretary and Chair of My Brother's Keeper. Johnson shared the success, to date, of the initiative as well as his personal connection to the events occurring in Baltimore only forty miles from Washington, DC that evening. During the event, we were given a sneak peek of the PBS documentaryAll the Difference, which, inspired by New York Times bestseller The Other Wes Moore, follows the stories of two promising youth from low-income, very high-risk families and communities in Chicago. One of those young men is currently serving with City Year Columbia and shared a little about his story, the people who supported him, and how he uses his personal experiences to encourage and uplift the students he serves. This event was the perfect way to end an incredible two days of learning about National Service and current innovations in education, as it shed light on what, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of our work: the human aspect of the incredible young people we are privileged to serve, not only in schools but also in our corps.
Sitting in an audience of luminaries and senior leaders of City Year, I feel a bit awestruck. Included in the crowd are legendary Washington columnists and political strategists, a Cabinet secretary, several members of Congress, even an NBA Hall of Fame inductee. Just a couple tables over are some of the most senior leaders of City Year- our founders and leaders that helped build City Year almost three decades ago.
I come out of my daze with a start. City Year's CEO is striding across the stage, microphone in hand, beginning to share updates from sites around the country. He is speaking about challenges we face, about the progress we are making, about the hope we have for the future. He cites academic studies and current events as he walks across the stage, the crowd listening with rapt attention. Looking around the room, I can't help but think of my own City Year site and the students of Tulsa. I feel so thankful to be here amidst so many incredible people, each of whom care so deeply about the students we serve on three different continents. Attending the National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. reminded me again of why I come to school each morning with the red jacket on, and made me incredibly thankful for the opportunity to reconnect with the mission of City Year.
The City Year Summit has served as a period of enlightenment and a source of inspiration to me. I feel extremely blessed and privileged to be given the opportunity to connect with other City Year members across all sites and leaders in different sectors in a nationwide discussion about education reform and other social justice issues. My conversations with other Corps members have been tremendously impactful and we were able to embrace the philosophy of Ubuntu through our shared challenges, accomplishments and experiences from our year of service. One of my highlights from the event was Charlie Rose’s Four Corners session. During this interactive session, Charlie mentioned something that truly resonated with me. Many of us entering a year of public service consider it to be a gap year- a pause from whatever it is we are doing or for someone like me, a break before journeying through a career path. Rather than portraying your experience as a gap year, Charlie says, see it as a leap year. As I ponder on these words, I found myself bopping my head excessively in awe and appreciation for everything that City Year has done for me. This leap year of mine has enabled me to grow personally and professionally. It has instilled in me the confidence and reassurance that, in spite of the trials and tribulations we may encounter, we must continue to be fired up as Broderick Johnson mentions in his speech. As global citizens, we must be fired up for change, fired up for justice and fired up for youth advocacy. Overall, this experience has given me a change in perspective about the students and communities we serve, and has reinforced my purpose and role as a City Year member which is to serve as a social agent and be a part of a positive force focused on youth empowerment and educational equity for all.