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A Commitment to Serve

by Rebecca L.

By Joseph Clay, Former U.S. Marine Serves Tulsa Youth in AmeriCorps

On Veterans Day 2015, CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer joined Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett in honoring veterans serving in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps at a Veterans Corps ceremony in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  One of the veterans she met that day was Joseph Clay, a former Marine Corps Sergeant now serving in AmeriCorps through Teach For America.  This is Joseph’s story.

My name is Joseph Clay, and I was, and
always will be, a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. I served my
country in war time, running combat operations as an Infantry Marine in Iraq. My
time in the Marine Corps was one of the most influential times in my life. It
molded me into a warrior and into a man of conviction. I wear that pride on my
sleeve as I continue to serve as a teacher in one of the highest needs areas in
the country – Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue my
service in the classroom where my experience can impact the lives of children
who deserve a quality education.My life has been a test of intestinal
fortitude and sacrifice. My story is unique to me, yet I see aspects of my
experience and identity shared with so many of my students. I grew up living in
poverty and now I serve a student population living in under-resourced
communities where violence is an everyday norm. I lost my father to a motorcycle
accident as a young child. Many of my students have only one parent at home. Like
my students, I tried to endure the challenges of poverty, but dreamed of one
day changing my reality. These shared experiences are why the work I do is so
important to who I am, and why I went into a life of service that started in
the Marine Corps and has led me to Teach For America and AmeriCorps.In the Marine Corps I served my nation
with honor. I also served alongside some of the greatest men I have ever known.
I believed in the spirit of America, and because of that belief I swore to a
life of service to defend my country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
It was with that purpose in mind that I fought in the Iraq war.  Sixteen of my brothers never made it home. I
carry their memory with me every day in the classroom as I fight today to end
educational inequity.June 16, 2006, was the day that changed
who I was as a person and ensured that the sacrifice of others would live on in
my heart. I lost two of my best friends that day to an explosion. My vehicle
was one of three that struck Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, in an
ambush outside of Ramadi, and what followed is forever ingrained in my mind. Many
in our convoy were killed and all were injured. It is that day that pushes me
to bring the message of freedom and equality with me in everything that I do.
Those men believed in our nation, and that day my mission to deliver their
message to others began. I sustained an injury, but I walked away. That injury is
a reminder every day of my life that I was one of the lucky ones. It is with that
mentality that I approach my service to this country, from the classroom and
beyond.Few things have the power to unleash a
child’s potential and open the doors of opportunity like an excellent
education. As a teacher, I can help my students break free from the cycle of
poverty and set their sights on any future they envision for themselves.
Joining Teach For America has allowed me to carry on my friends’ legacy as I impact
the lives of Tulsa’s youth every day as a math teacher at East Central High
School. I am proud to be a 2014 corps member and am one of a growing number of
veterans serving as AmeriCorps members in Teach For America. I encourage my
fellow veterans to join the fight to give our nation’s youth the education they
deserve. As I’ve seen among my fellow Marines, military veterans have a unique
experience and leadership ability that can add real value to the classroom. I get the chance to live the memory of
my fallen brothers in the classroom. Their sacrifice continues to motivate me
to make a difference and their love of our country and its opportunities push
me to be a better person in everything that I do. I am a proud member of
AmeriCorps; I served America, now I teach for America. Semper Fidelis!Joseph
Clay, former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, serves as an AmeriCorps
members with Teach For America in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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