Attendees remembered the past and speakers called for action in the present at the 15th annual Leadership Conference held this weekend.
The conference, a yearly collaboration between the city of Troy and Troy University, featured civil rights activist Juanita Jones Abernathy and actor-director-dancer Jasmine Guy as keynote speakers.
The event is a celebration of African-American History Month, and this year’s theme was “Remembering our Origins, Opportunity, Truth and Spirituality.”
Abernathy was married to Ralph David Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest associate, and was involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
“They bombed my home and 15 minutes after they bombed the house, they bombed our church,” Abernathy said at the opening ceremony on Friday night. “We sacrificed because it was the right thing to do.
“We walked those miles (between Selma and Montgomery) so that you could have the right to vote and still you don’t vote. I’ll hear people say, ‘My one vote won’t count’ but what would happen if a thousand people said that?”
“You have to have a sense of duty towards your fellow man,” she said.
Abernathy shared stories of her husband, King and Rosa Parks, and she lauded her home state’s efforts to change the nation.
“Alabama saved America from herself,” she said.
Abernathy said she believes that young leaders have a great opportunity to lead the next generation and must step up to fulfill their civic duties.
“The ball is in your court,” she said. “We bounced it around, now it’s your time to achieve excellence. Don’t be mediocre, (there are) too many average people. Aim for the sky and you’ll make it.”
Sierra Terrell, a senior psychology major from Waldorf, Maryland, said that she found Abernathy inspiring.
“I thought she spoke with a lot of honesty,” Terrell said. “She is definitely genuine and I think it definitely enlightened us on many things that happened in the past.”
Saturday’s closing remarks were provided by Jasmine Guy, whose career has included Broadway productions like “Beehive,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Grease” and TV shows like “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Dead Like Me,” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
“I had a great time,” Guy said about the conference. “I was moved.
“I was going like ‘What am I gonna talk about’ but it just came to because it was just such wonderful loving group of people and I was just moved to get us to stay together and keep loving each other.”
Guy spoke about the challenges of addressing sensitive issues in comedy shows, the need for increased communication within families, political participation and the realities and current struggles of African-American individuals.
“If you have a false sense of your freedom, you don’t realize what was taken away after the Civil War during the reconstruction period and it happened again with Jim Crow and it’s happening again now,” Guy said.
Sue Bell Cobb, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, author Kemba Smith, Bishop S.D. James, Founder and CEO of the nonprofit Humbled Hearts Inc. Dana Wilson and Troy alumnus Stephen Scott were other speakers at the convention.
The speakers held sessions with participating students and guests on Saturday.
“Student session were very much geared towards leadership and how we can affect our own mindset and making positive attitudes and assessing situations and moving your life the way you are supposed to,” said Kara Jane Henry, a junior mathematics major from Gurley.
Four students were also presented awards for excellence in leadership and community service at the closing ceremony. Seniors Adrian Gee, a communications major from Tuscaloosa, Erin Woods, a human services major from Hoover, Quenton Martin, a social sciences major from Tuscaloosa and, Jamal Banks, a human services major from Columbus, Georgia, were the recipients.
“Just to know that I have shown good leadership on campus, setting a good example for the people coming behind me, it was a good feeling,” Banks said.
Woods said it was an honor for her to receive the award.
“It’s good to know that my hard work is paying off, the things that I am doing are not gone unnoticed,” she said.
Troy alumnus and Board of Trustee member Lamar Higgins was also honored on Friday as chairman emeritus of the leadership conference advisory board.
“It’s been a great experience just watching people from all across the South—we have people who come as far from as Orlando, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, Huntsville, Alabama —to attend these conferences,” Higgins said.
The conference was Higgin’s brainchild. It started in 2002.