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Each year at Opening Day, one City Year Milwaukee alumni is recognized for their tremendous leadership. This year, the Jason M. Holton Alumni Leadership Award was given to corps five alumna, Ashlei Miller. Read on to learn more about her journey from a Junior City Year, to an AmeriCorps member, to a City Year Milwaukee Alumni Board Member, to a teacher in Philadelphia, and discover how City Year had a major impact on who she is today. 

My name is Ashlei Miller and I proudly, and enthusiastically, served as an AmeriCorps Member with City Year Milwaukee during Corps Five at South Division High School with THE one and only, Cardinal Crew.

I am grateful for the people who continuously see the work that I am putting into Milwaukee, and most recently, Philadelphia. This is more than an award for me; this is an opportunity for me to say thank you to an organization that has invested a lot of time and effort into making me a better leader and teacher, so that I can continue to give the scholars what they need and deserve.

More importantly, I still serve because every student deserves a quality education that can take them wherever they want to go, regardless of their circumstances or resources, and an education that recognizes where they are now but pushes them to think outside the box and potentially turn that passion into something more, something that they can be proud of.

City Year has been a part of my life since the 6th grade. Every Saturday during the school year, as a young hero, which was my first experience working with City Year, we would go out into the community to participate in service projects and invest in the communities that we lived in. This included physical training, community service and mentoring, which, during that time, I really needed. To this day, I still remember my City Year, Joey Plum, who started the process of helping me carve out my greatness. Even when I got kicked out of the City Year Retreat for writing on the board that my teacher sucked, my City Year still told me that he saw greatness in me and that regardless of this one mistake today, I still had tomorrow to try again.

That greatness continued to be molded under the phenomenal leadership of Rebeca Heaton Juarez and Cortney Dunklin, who challenged me and helped me name the work that I was passionate about doing.

As a City Year Milwaukee alumni board member, under the leadership of Laura Perez and Lauren Feaster, I was able to continue practicing my level five leadership by giving back to the corps.

Some of my best moments came because I clicked the box to “serve where most needed” when applying to City Year.  I met my best friend, found my Olivia Pope in Kiesha Johnnies and joined the best sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., all while developing parts of myself that bring me joy and drive my work

I also have to say thank you to Jason M. Holton because whenever I think of someone who leads with a contagious passion and energy, his words and leadership come to mind and continue to drive the work I do today. He called me to a level of action where I can “walk it like I talk it” and THAT is a beautiful thing.

I served as a young hero, a corps member and an alumni board member. City Year is quite frankly the longest thing I’ve ever committed to and it’s about time I get my ring….or plaque.

While I can reflect on this moment now and say it is a beautiful thing, I have to be honest, and say that it was not always that.  There were plenty of days, and still are plenty of days, when I question why I continue to show up and show out.

But forreal though. In a moment of transparency, regardless of how hard you work, the kids don’t always want or understand your support. Seeing the same adults every day can make it difficult to come to work. The daily grind is a lot, the pay is not….but yet, you are still expected to find a way to “give a year and change the world.” What a WILD thing to ask someone to commit to…

As a teacher, I see people walk out on that statement more often than I would like to, and I get it. But I have seen the mountaintop and while I was out of breath walking up--the sight is out of this world. I had to quickly learn that the key lies in the beloved community.

It is a very big idea but you have to learn very quickly that WE are all we got and giving a year is deeper than building relationships with your students, it’s about building relationships with everyone you are surrounded by in order to make sure that the time you are giving and  the resources are not wasted. This work was never meant to be done alone.

On my worst days and more importantly on my best days, I knew that there had to be someone for me to lean on.

During my City Year, I was put into a classroom with another AmeriCorps member who was not trying to be a part of my beloved community.  This person and I are ACTUAL OPPOSITES. We both share the passion and desire to be our best, but we go about it in very different ways. I knew that I was only going to be in Milwaukee for a year, so there was no point for me to make friends with him. But we both knew that in order for our classroom to thrive, we had to put in the work TOGETHER.

We started to build a bond and lean on each other. He is now my best friend, my ride or die, Orlando Verdecia, Learning and Development Manager at City Year Milwaukee.

His wisdom and passion excite me and motivate me to keep going and once you find that person in City Year that makes you excited to come to work on those good and bad days...the way you move changes.  It all started with a single note, but it has flourished into so much more. The bond we created changed not only the culture of our classroom, but it changed the way our entire team moved and made us that much better.

The mountaintop didn’t just stop with the bond we created as a team. We were able to carry that into the work we still do today in order to continue impacting the next seven generations.

I get to see that specifically in this year’s corps because of a few City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps members, but specifically with Indira Hughlett and Mondarien Billups, two of my former students, who I’ve seen grow in so many ways over the past four years. They, and now you, get to do this work to the best of your ability because you have each other, and you too have the opportunity to build the beloved community and ensure that this can happen for another five or more years.

You are now corps nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two and one’s, wildest dream. Welcome to the party!

Remarks given by City Year Milwaukee alumna, Ashlei Miller, 2019 Jason M. Holton Alumni Leadership Recipient 


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