In celebration of City Year's beloved champion and friend, Eli J. Segal, City Year recognizes one AmeriCorps member each year that demonstrates the qualities of being a Bridge Builder. The 2017 Eli J. Segal Bridge Builder Award is a tremendous opportunity to recognize deserving AmeriCorps members throughout the City Year network. This year, City Year New Hampshire nominated Uthman Olowa, a first year corps member serving in a 5th grade classroom at Beech Street Elementary School. He was selected as one of five finalists and as a result, traveled down to City Year’s national Investors Summit in D.C.
In his daily service, Uthman has figured out the right formula for how to be an outstanding corps member: with students he balances the friend, the mentor, the one holding them accountable, while gaining trust and respect; with the team, he is a source of strength and support; and, with the site, he is a quiet, powerful leader with a bright future ahead of him. We are lucky to have him as part of our Beloved Community.
Uthman has the mindset of an entrepreneur. He is a keen observer, asks many questions, and enacts change within his sphere of influence on behalf of his students. Noting that his students were mostly disengaged in math, but love competition, he began a class-wide math tournament. Over 85% of his 5th grade students participated in the first round, with the goal of 100% for future tournaments. The tournament drills them in much-needed math facts, and has promoted a strong sense of sportsmanship that was severely lacking in his class.
He’s been a “go-to” corps member for his partner teacher and school administration. Early on he was called upon by the principal to help her navigate conversations about race and self-worth with a vulnerable student who is very challenging. Uthman openly shared his own experience of being a child of Nigerian descent to relate to and discuss the challenges and joys of being who he is.
According to Kim Bylancik, Impact Manager at Beech Street Elementary, “Uthman can fly under the radar at first, for he does not boast, is quiet in his leadership, and always seeks to understand before being understood. He does not seek recognition, for he is truly here for his students. Joining City Year was fully his decision based on wanting to give back, and while he has a strong sense of self-worth, he believes this work is simply what he should be doing. He embodies ‘A cause greater than self.’”
In addition to the excellent service he provides in school, and his effectiveness with his peers and teammates, he was selected as co-director to lead the Camp City Year team through the development and implementation of a week-long, winter camp for the students we serve in Manchester. He approaches leadership from a place of listening to his peers prior to making large decisions but never hesitates to make a hard call when necessary. He manages this difficult role with incredible poise. Uthman knows what it means to persevere through challenges and has demonstrates his ability to lead with humility and professional will.
Uthman shared this in reflecting on this honor and experience:
“Having the privilege to attend City Year’s Investors Summit was definitely one of the highlights of my corps year. I didn’t find out I was a finalist for the Segal Bridge Builder Award until two weeks before the trip. My Impact Manager, Kim, pulled me aside before our weekly Team Meeting and shared with me the great news. I was truly in awe that I was selected to travel to Washington D.C. and represent our New Hampshire site, and City Year as a whole.
Upon arriving in D.C., I met people throughout the network and it was the greatest feeling realizing how impactful City Year truly is. I met other finalists who were serving in Sacramento, Milwaukee, Baton Rouge, and Chicago. There is so much great work being done throughout the network and even notable figures, such as former President Bill Clinton, shared their thoughts on how important the work we do is for communities throughout the country. Attending the Summit definitely filled me with pride and left me feeling rejuvenated and ready to finish out this service year strong!”