Hill Harper, others speak on leadership

Lilly Casolaro
Staff Writer

The 14th annual leadership conference, held on Feb. 5-6, focused on the theme: “Century of Achievement: A Salute to African-American History and Culture.” The conference served as a celebration of February as African-American History Month.

Mark T. Griffin, chair for the leadership conference, said the mission of the conference is to “bring individuals together to promote dialogue that fosters multicultural collaboration to strengthen relationship and empower diverse leaders with tools to better serve their organization and community.”

Hosted by Troy University, the conference included community leaders, city council members, students and Troy faculty from satellite campuses who gathered for the weekend to hear from key speakers and presenters. Students and adults were placed into separate sessions for Saturday morning and reunited for the final keynote speaker, Rear Adm. Fernandez Ponds.

Jason A. Reeves, mayor of Troy, said that the conference would inspire those in attendance to do great things.

“You are going to be uplifted,” Reeves said. “You are going to be educated, and you are going to be inspired to action through this conference.”

The keynote speaker for the conference was actor and author Hill Harper.

Harper is best known for his role on the CBS crime drama “CSI: NY.” He played Sheldon Hawkes for nine seasons and received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for three consecutive years (2008-2010) for his portrayal.

Harper has also written several books such as: “Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny,” “Letters to a Young Sister: DeFINE Your Destiny” and “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones.”

Harper paraphrased a quote from Robert F. Kennedy and used it as a basis as a central theme for his discussion.

“The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas,” Harper said. “Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals of American society.”

Harper challenged the audience to put their passion and action into energy.

Carl Cunningham Jr., director of multicultural student affairs at the University of South Alabama, was one of the student session speakers who discussed the importance of mentoring and leaving a legacy behind.

A Mobile native, Cunningham attained his undergraduate degree from Jackson State University in urban studies. He then received a master’s degree in geography and a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Southern Mississippi. Cunningham personally mentors 10 male students in Mobile.

Cunningham said that a “legacy is something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past.”

Students were encouraged to leave a legacy and protect that legacy. They were then given five phases to carry out their legacy.

According to Cunningham, leaders must be connected to their legacy and self-identify, train, compete, socialize and strengthen it.

“Leadership development is an important and strategic way to build relationships and trust while equipping leaders with the skills and practices to increase their impact and sustain themselves over the long haul,” said Cunningham.

Sheyann Web Christburg is an author, civil rights activist and dedicated youth advocate who spoke for the first adult session.

Christburg is the co-author of “Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil Rights Days,” which recalls her childhood experiences with the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.

Christburg founded KEEP Productions a youth mentoring and modeling program, in 1980. The program seeks to provide personal growth and build self-esteem for children and teenagers aged two through 18.

Patricia Barnes was one of the speakers for the adult sessions at the conference. Her talk focused on achieving success despite roadblocks and speed bumps. Sister said the most important thing about achieving success was her believing in herself.

“The most important thing is to believe in yourself,” Barnes said. “Once I took that first step, I never looked back. If you’re a great leader, people will follow you.”

Barnes, known as “Sister Schubert,” began baking her famous rolls in 1989 in the kitchen of her Troy home for friends and family. Since then, Barnes has three bakeries located in Luverne, Saraland, and Horse Cave, Kentucky, which produce over 9 million of the homemade rolls.

Jasmine Younge, founder and chief operating officer of Havah-Younge Inc., spoke in one of the final student session about the opportunities that are available to African-American leaders today.

Younge said that leadership and a desired result could not be fully achieved until solid leaders listen, are open, and lend themselves.

“Leadership is not an individual thing,” Younge said. “You cannot lead others until you lead yourself.”

Rear Adm. Fernandez Ponds, the final speaker for the conference, spoke on building character and achieving a vision.

Rear Adm. Fernandez “Frank” Ponds, Commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Three is a native of Alabama and has had various assignments serving the United States as Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, Naval Surface Group, Middle Pacific and more.

His personal declarations include: the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and various service and campaign awards.

“Adversity does not build character,” Ponds said. “It reveals character and shows who you really are. If you want change, then you have to make change. Don’t ever stop dreaming.”

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