/Civil rights icon John Lewis addresses students
(PHOTO/ Drew Akers) Congressman John Lewis was the keynote speaker for the 17th annual Leadership Conference.

Civil rights icon John Lewis addresses students

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Daniel Hunt

Staff Writer

The 17th annual Leadership Conference concluded on Saturday as keynote speakers Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., spoke about being “change agents.”

The two-day conference, hosted by Troy University and the City of Troy, was held Friday, Feb. 2, and Saturday, Feb. 3, and commemorated African-American History Month. Students, council members and leaders of the community all took part.

Lewis has been a sitting congressman since 1986 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2011.

He had a clear message for the young people of the conference.

“Study and learn as much as you can,” Lewis said. “Read.

“Keep up with current events and follow your dreams, and you can make this world different. The young people of this world are so smart and so gifted.”

Lewis said it is important to continue moving forward.

“We don’t need to go back,” Lewis said. “We need to go forward; we need to go together.”

The introductory assembly was held in Sartain Hall Friday night and was followed by a series of seminars and a luncheon in the Trojan Center on Saturday.

Lewis, often called “The boy from Troy,” who was one of the first African-American applicants to Troy University, though he never enrolled, was the main speaker for Friday.

Lewis rose to prominence as an important figure in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. He was the youngest of the “Big Six” leaders to speak at the March of Washington where Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Saturday morning marked the opening of the student seminars. Each conference surrounded a certain theme: “Financial Fitness,” “Emotionally Healthy Change Agents,” “Equipping Leaders to Handle Tough Assignments” and “Discovering/Rediscovering the ‘Leader’ Within.”

Each session was led by a young professional who has excelled in their particular field of work.

Following the seminars, Sewell concluded the conference as she spoke to all in attendance, encouraging compromise and involvement.

“What the American people must do is elect people who are willing to work together,” Sewell said. “Compromise has become a dirty word, but here is the truth — whatever issue is in front of us, I can tell you what my priorities are for my district, and if I get a little something for sitting at the table, I have advanced the ball.

“So, the reality is you, the American people, must vote for people who are willing to compromise.”

Sewell, who represents cities such as Montgomery and Birmingham, is the only Democratic representative from the state of Alabama. A native of Selma, Sewell began her career in politics in 2010 when she was elected to become the first black woman in Congress from Alabama.

“The engagement of a few is not enough,” Sewell said. “We need the engagement of all.

“If there is any lesson that we have learned from the civil rights movement and the voting rights movement is that ordinary people can work together on an issue in a non-violent way and change the world.”

Anna Laura Kirchharr, a junior English major from Uriah, said she enjoyed hearing Lewis’ speech.

“It was inspiring to meet the man that has impacted so many lives throughout our country,” Kirchharr said. “More than anything though, I learned that it is important to build bridges and not walls between people.”

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves recounted meeting many influential figures during his lifetime.

“No one has left me as awestruck as John Lewis,” he told the Tropolitan.