Last week (July 11-15), City Year’s network of leaders - all staff and senior AmeriCorps members - came together in Boston for an annual week-long conference consisting of intensive and productive learning, networking and community building in preparation for the year of service ahead. Sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal, this year’s Academy brought together over 1,400 idealists at Northeastern University to dig into the theme of Idealism in Education: A Pathway to Social Justice. Below are some highlights broken down by day.
Monday, July 11: Day 1 – Social Justice for All
The energy was evident as we welcomed our participants to Northeastern University for a network wide week of ALIGNing, BUILDing, and CONNECTing as One City Year exploring the idea of Idealism in Education: A Pathway to Social Justice. The Opening Ceremony took on a more serious tone than other years, as we came together after a week of, and months of, targeted violence affecting our country and the world. We heard from a representative from every site, who shared their “Why I Serve” statements, demonstrating the idealism and sincerity that our corps brings to our work. Phil Robinson, SVP of Regional Site Operations, reflected on our role in today’s world, sharing that “we have an opportunity to build the beloved community, through education equity, to fight for social justice.” Michael Brown, CEO & Co-Founder, shared with our network a sentiment many shared, that “I need this academy more than ever. To be part of a community of idealists working on something incredibly important.” Stephanie Wu, SVP & Chief Program Design and Evaluation Officer, centered us for the week by saying, “No matter our role, everything we do in the end should help our AmeriCorps members deliver their service.” We ended the night with a celebration and tribute to Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, for her dedication to AmeriCorps and national service.
Tuesday, July 12: Day 2 – Ubuntu
On Tuesday morning, we heard from Jim Balfanz, President of City Year on City Year’s work in the education space. Jim reminded us that everything in education is on a short-term accountability cycle, but kids don’t always grow on a linear path, “we need a long term approach and the system isn’t set up that way.” The second half of the session was a thoughtful Q&A between Jim and Mithra Irani Ramaley, SVP & Chief People Officer.
Next, we broke off into Regional Time (Central, East, HQ, Midwest, RAD, South, West) for cross-site and cross-team collaboration within regions then followed by breaking off into role-based tracks. Summer Academy learning sessions build our skills and competencies by providing differentiated learning opportunities. Participants are divided into role-based tracks to provide an opportunity for specific tools, best practice sharing and team building between those serving in similar roles across the network. Tracks include: Civic Engagement, Development, National Executive Leadership, Operational Excellence, Recruitment & Admissions and ProServe Academy.
After an afternoon of sessions, the network came back together for an evening celebrating Ubuntu: One City Year. The night focused on how our humanity is tied to one another was a powerful night of reflection and inspiration. Thanks to a generous donor, everyone in our network received an Orlando Unite t-shirt to wear after a powerful tribute to the 49 victims of the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando just a short month ago. Following the tribute we were witness to a powerful conversation between Brittany Packnett & Tulaine Montgomery about the #blacklivesmatter movement. Brittany Packnett stated, “Our silence does not protect us. Our silence does not protect our children.” The founding staff team at one of our newest sites, Kansas City, shared some reflections on their city and City Year’s work there. And a number of City Year members shared their talents with us through dance and song. Akeem Lloyd, from Recruitment & Admissions, sent us off at the end of the evening with this message: “Home is comfort. Whatever that means to you. I hope tonight in speaking with someone new that you find home.”
Wednesday, July 13: Day 3 – Excellence
On Wednesday morning we focused on City Year’s Impact. We heard reflections on our impact from five VP & Executive Directors at sites – Rebeca Nieves-Huffman (Chicago), Sarah Roberson (Little Rock), Dan Foley (Jacksonville), Andrew Stein (Detroit) and Tasha Booker (Columbus). Ted Marquis, VP of Care Force led a powerful spotlight on the impact of the physical service our Civic Engagement teams make on schools around the country. A student from the Blackstone Elementary School reminded us “there will be tough times but just keep a smile on your face. It will give a good vibe about your personality!” And two Boston Public School principals, Jordan Weymer (Donald McKay K-8 School) and Lindsa McIntyre (Jeremiah E. Burke High School) shared powerful stories of City Year’s impact on their students and schools. Lindsa reflected “City Year to me is a challenge to the status quo.”
The Civic Engagement and Recruitment & Admissions team spent much of the week in experiential learning – focusing on learning in action. Additionally, an HQ Meet and Greet was hosted during lunch to allow various HQ departments and staff who partner with them to meet, interact and ask/answer questions in person. We closed our day focusing on excellence with the Comcast NBCUniversal Leadership Awards. This year we honored five remarkable alumni (Rahn Dorsey ’90, Jade Elias ’07,’08, Bethiel Girma Holton ’06,’07, Gin Massuda Barnett ’97, Chris Osgood ’95) and 8 Best of City Year sites (San Jose, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Tulsa, Washington, DC, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, and Cleveland), and our staff veterans celebrating 5-10-15-20 years of service. Fred Maahs, Senior Director of Comcast Impact’s national community partnerships and City Year Champion, opened the ceremony and was honored with a City Year red jacket!
Thursday, July 14: Day 4 – Inclusivity
We kicked off day four with a network-wide Unity Rally of 1400+ on Sweeny Field. At City Year, we do Physical Training at Unity Rallies to demonstrate spirit, discipline, purpose and pride in the community and read our Daily Briefing to ensure we are all on the same page. Back by popular demand, we offered two session blocks of cross-track professional development sessions covering topics including Remote Management, Group Facilitation, Internal Communication and Photography. These sessions were facilitated by both internal talent within the City Year network and external partners from organizations including Deloitte and Comcast to name a few.
Thursday evening is the Academy Talent Show which features acts from throughout the City Year network and is an inspiring evening of celebration, performance and song. The audience soaked up the unique and powerful talents of our colleagues. A group of staff and Senior AmeriCorps members representing Miami, Chicago, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Providence, HQ, and Cleveland performed a powerful piece called, “I am Black, and I am proud.” The City Year Miami step team brought down the house with an inspiring step team.
Friday, July 15: Day 5 – Teamwork
We closed our week of aligning, building and connecting in Regional Time with reflections on this week together Academy presents a unique time for this kind of regional collaboration, planning and best-practice sharing.
Then we brought our entire network together as One City Year for a final Closing Ceremony. Our idealists made sure to share final appreciations, say goodbyes and record their commitments to continued learning, growth and collaboration. In the closing ceremony we heard from Dr. Darienne Driver, Superintendent from Milwaukee Public Schools. “Believe. Be bold. Be the best you can be!” We closed Academy with a Spirit Break - where all members in the audience were connected with hands on shoulders and broke on the word “Love” as we began to make the journey back to our individual sites.
Although the week flew by, the impact of the learning and connecting from this week will continue to ripple out across the network throughout this year. Our idealists return to their site re-energized and connected as we embark on this next service year. This is only one stop in the learning journey!