On Saturday June 13 at 11:55 p.m. , I and six other City Year staff members from across the network boarded a plane at JFK for the professional development trip of a lifetime with about 35 other professionals from the U.S., Mexico, China, Australia and Japan. Through REALITY Pro--a Shusterman Initiative--professionals who are working in the education reform movement have the opportunity to build their understanding of their leadership, to reflect on the role of their identity their work, to recharge their conviction about justice and opportunity and to consider how they will contribute to the movement to address educational inequity in the U.S., and beyond. The catch? We do this through a weeklong trip to Israel that challenges us to explore education reform and our personal leadership through the lens of Israel. Hear from Impact Managers, Jamey Applegate ’12 (Dallas), Alex Cooperstock (Sacramento), and Amy Heuton (Seattle/King County), and National Admissions Marketing Associate, Yaa Acheampong ’11, ’12 and Senior Director of Diplomas Now & District Engagement Kellie Hinkle ’05, ’06 about this very unique leadership development experience.
Highlight a specific experience during your trip. ow do you believe that experience influenced your personal leadership?
Kellie Hinkle (KH): A few days into the trip, we drove ATVs through Golan Heights to a former Syrian military headquarters to look over the border into Syria. This building was within 500 meters of the border, and, standing on the rooftop, we could hear bombs going off in the distance. We then moved to Mt. Bental, where could see the smoking aftermath of detonations that news report verified took the lives of many people that day. The feelings of that day, and the juxtaposition of what was anticipated to be one of the most carefree experiences of our time in Israel (riding ATVs through the countryside) and the harsh reality of civil war, are difficult to put into words. The depth of my privilege and fortune has never been more apparent and my sorrow for humanity more abundant. It was an intense and deeply human experience for me, and I found myself then (and find myself now) reflecting on the African proverb (and one of City Year’s core values) Ubuntu: “I am a person through other people, my humanity is tied to yours.”
Jamey Applegate (JA): We were fortunate to hear Rabbi Avraham Infeld speak, and he said something that I can't stop thinking about. He spoke of the difference between loving something and liking something, of the ability of a person to love something but not like it in its current form. He was speaking about Israel, but I saw its broader applicability. In my personal leadership, I need to separate love from like. [...] As a leader, I need to be able to articulate that differentiation, to be able to acknowledge the love I hold for something while not allowing that love to cover up things I might not like, and to be able to use that love as motivation as I seek to make things better.
Alex Cooperstock (AC): One of the essential questions of our journey [was] how do we define leadership? How has our own identity and experience shaped how we consider leadership and how we lead? What does it mean to be a leader in the face of extreme challenge? How do we leverage our strengths and where do we need to grow as leaders? Through storytelling and an artifact sharing activity, I was able to explore turning points and milestones in my childhood and adulthood that have lead me to become the sort of leader I am today. [...] I was able to deepen my understanding of my past and present and have come back with a new resolve around the importance of forming and developing meaningful relationships with those around me to strengthen my work and our service.
Yaa Acheampong (YA): On the Friday before we came home from the trip, we had the opportunity to hear from Holocaust survivor, Giselle Cycowicz. Following this, we spent the rest of our morning at the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem during which our tour guide, among many other things, emphasized the importance of storytelling. As I think about the atrocities that continue not only around the world but in our own country, I find that I want to incorporate this aspect of story sharing within in my leadership--both in encouraging others to share their stories and in sharing my own. I strongly believe that the more you know of a person’s story, the harder it is to dehumanize them. I also see storytelling as a very important way to learn so as not to repeat the horrors of the past in the present and see the silencing of stories as a detriment to progress.
What implications do you see of the Reality experience as a whole in your service and role at City Year?
Amy Heuton (AH): This experience helped me to think critically about my own values as a leader, both as they are and as I want them to be, and to learn from the incredible leaders I talked with on the trip. It was inspiring to be surrounded by thoughtful, passionate people fighting for educational equity in diverse professional spheres and to discuss what change looks like and could look like in our communities.
JA: I feel that the REALITY Pro trip allowed me to take a step back and see my service with City Year in context. We met with so many groups doing hyper-specific work, and I saw City Year through that lens. We act as tutors, mentors and role models to students who need additional academic and social-emotional supports. It's easy to get caught up in the bubble of what we do, for me to get caught up in the work I do at the high school where I serve, but it's necessary to see our work in the greater context of education reform, of the infinite small acts it will take to truly achieve our goals.
What was one of your favorite parts of the experience? What was something that you were surprised by?
AC: I was surprised to learn about the vast educational discrepancies and stratification that exists within the state of Israel. Almost everyone has an opinion about the Palestinian occupation and the religious and political unease that exists in the Middle East, but the plight of the African asylum seekers or the stories of those striving for peace rarely gets brought up. I found it totally inspiring to witness how countless people are working across lines of difference to ensure that children feel loved, supported, accepted, and that they can receive a quality educational experience regardless of religion, creed or background.
YA: One of my favorite parts of the trip was our visit to an Israeli boarding school for immigrants as well as those from difficult backgrounds. Focused on community, Yemin Orde employed practical ways to connect the students to their past in order to inspire them to a purpose-filled and outward-focused future. One of the ways they did this was through having things familiar to the homes of the students as part of the school. I held back tears as we sat in an Ethiopian gojo listening to one of the Ethiopian administrators at the school speak about how important that building was to the Ethiopian students at that school, how validating it was for them to see such an important part of themselves celebrated in this way.