2015-02-02

About six months ago I began my City Year journey here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Honestly, I did not know what to expect. Before arriving at City Year Tulsa I had never been to the state before, and so the only real things I knew about Oklahoma were…

  1. The song, “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…” (My friends would sing it to me when I told them I was moving.)
  2. There were occasional tornadoes (my mom’s biggest concern about me moving to Oklahoma.)
  3. It was 1,700 miles away from Boston, MA (I Google mapped this just in case I needed to walk back to Boston.)

Six months later, and I have never heard that song on the radio, have never experienced a tornado (or even come close to it), and have yet to try and walk back to Boston. Six months later, and I have begun to appreciate the “tiny treasures” (as my mom calls them) that Tulsa has to offer—from the Farmer’s Markets on Saturdays to the amazing coffee houses (CHOC, the Phoenix, 918 Coffee, Shades of Brown, and the list goes on) to the ample amounts of parking that Tulsa has (and the cost of that parking) to the lack of car traffic to the Philbrook Museum to the friendliness of the people, etc. Six months later and I have learned more about myself, working on a team, being an adaptable leader, growth mindset, the power of positivity, the power of vulnerability than I genuinely thought possible. Six months later and I have met people that I respect, admire, and learn from daily, and I am so, incredibly grateful for this.

And that’s not to say that the past six months have been easy—because they haven’t. Just like anything else in life, there has been some bumps and curves, ups and downs, and change along the way, but how can we make progress and grow without a few obstacles? When I first got here I was painfully homesick, mainly because saying goodbye to last year: City Year Boston, my amazing 9th grade students, my school team and leadership, the English High School, etc. was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I ran a “girls group” every Thursday where my program manager, three girls, and myself talked about life, how they saw themselves in this world, and self-confidence (among other things.) I lived for those Thursdays, and when I got to Tulsa I desperately missed them. But, “my girls” remind me of my purpose and the reasons why I decided to even do a second year with City Year. Their resilience, intelligence, perspective, wittiness, and humor gave me a more holistic outlook on life. “My girls” in addition to countless other students, my school team, leadership, and City Year {in general} played a role in the most transformational and positive year of my life—and I wanted to needed to be apart of this for a team of corps members. So, when the opportunity arose to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma and be a team leader, I knew I had to go.

Before I embarked on this Tulsa journey my Program Director from City Year Boston said, “Jesse this makes so much sense. You, going to Tulsa makes so much sense.” As I started to become more comfortable in the team leader role, she was right. It did make sense. It made so much sense. I was the team leader for Clinton Middle School in West Tulsa for seven corps members—and between Courtney’s calm leadership style, Jerico’s positive energy, Annie’s intuition, Anna’s initative and drive, Jessica’s equilibrium, Matt’s intentional processes, and Ally’s passion they kept me laughing and constantly got me to question how I could become a more adaptable, intentional, and well-rounded team leader. Before I even applied to be a team leader I remember someone saying, you need to be the team leader that your team needs, not the team leader that you want to be. I strived to do this for Clinton.

City Year Tulsa is currently in its’ founding year, and just like any infant there are growing pains along the way—one in particular being transitions and change in leadership. And so, at the beginning of December, I moved from being the 

team leader at Clinton Middle School to being the team leader at Rogers College Junior High School. The most difficult thing for me was realizing just how much Clinton had become my new team. Of course, I still missed all my friends and teammates in Boston, but I had a new City Year family, and on some of the real challenging days their positivity, drive, commitment to City Year Tulsa, laughter etc. got me through. And, when I moved schools the advice of you need to be the team leader your team needs, not the team leader that YOU want to be came to full fruition. I learned pretty quickly that I could not just expect my new team to ‘buy in’ to my leadership style without truly getting to know them first. In this, I learned what it meant to be an adaptable team leader in a whole different realm. I learned how powerful it is to admit faults and tell my team what I was {and still am} truly working on {patience}. I learned why growth mindset is not only important but also essential and that admitting mistakes freely is not something that should be just written down in the Idealist Handbook as a PITW, but also something that should be practiced in action and as a team leader.

I typically tell my team that there is “no handbook on how to be the team leader of one team and then become the team leader of another,” and this could not be truer. But, this is also true for a lot of things in life. If there were handbooks on everything there would be no failure or mistakes or challenge, and then because of this there would be no progress. Throughout this year I have learned just how important it is to create my own environment for success. I have learned that I don’t really have control over many things or changes or leadership transitions, but I DO have control over the way I can react to those changes. Currently, I am actively trying to see the positive in everyday. I have recently started a positivity journal where I write down three positive things from the day and why they made me happy. It sounds so simple but by focusing more on the positive, and less on the negative I naturally have better days.

And perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from my year and a half at City Year is that many things are temporary, but the skills I have learned, the ways I have grown, and the changes I have made {not only as a corps member but also as a person} will last a lifetime. On February 5th there will be exactly four months until City Year Tulsa graduation. I plan on continuing the power of positivity within me as well as continuing to grow and learn as a team leader and as a person. As Charlie Rose, the dean of City Year, said during a visit to Tulsa in December, "It is okay to have countdowns, as long as you make everyday count." I plan on embracing the power of positivity and doing just that. 


Jesse Carmen is a Senior AmeriCorps member serving as Team Leader at Will Rogers Junior High School. 


City Year Tulsa is powered by ther service of AmeriCorps members. For more information about serving with City Year Tulsa, visit http://www.cityyear.org/tulsa. Applications due February 15.

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