Smiley initiates smiles at conference

Tori Bedsole


The 16th Annual Leadership Conference, in honor of African-American History Month, focused on “Overcoming the Community Crisis” with speakers Rickey Smiley and Bishop James Levert Davis.

In his opening statement, Chancellor Jack Hawkins reflected on his years in the military, “recognizing the service and sacrifice of all Americans” regardless of race.

Rickey Smiley, a nationally renowned radio personality and TV host, brought smiles to the audience faces’ as he incorporated reality with comedy during his talk in Sartain on Feb. 3.

“Take your future serious,”  Smiley said.

Smiley was the opening speaker for the conference, and discussed his challenges growing up in a single-parent household after his father was killed.

“Don’t leave with nothing and come back with nothing,” Smiley said about going to college. “Look out for somebody else, because somebody looked out for you.

“Don’t forget about the people that paid the ultimate price for you to be where you’re at.”

Smiley emphasized the importance of going the extra mile and doing more than is required.

“Always be extraordinary,” Smiley said. “The difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary is the extra.”

Bronte Pruitt, a senior political science major from Oxford, said that the George Washington Carver High School choir, which performed at the beginning of the conference, inspired her.

“The children’s choir from Carver High was moving,” Pruitt said. “To see them embrace their culture in the way that they did and to perform with sheer excellence was definitely awe-inspiring.

“The soloist was amazing, and I could tell that she had been working hard, thus inspiring me to work harder at the things I do.”

“I was very inspired by Rickey Smiley,” Pruitt said. “He was telling about his background, and it resonated with me quite a bit.

“I, too, grew up in a single parent household, and struggle was something we did best. To see how Mr. Smiley overcame adversity to pursue success was inspiring because it shows that you can’t determine where you come from, but you can determine where you go from there.”

Saturday, Feb. 4, the conference attendees split into student and nonstudent sessions, which were led by different facilitators and presenters.

The first student session focused on “Overcoming the Crisis in Education — You Can Do It.”

Felisha Ford, director of counseling services at Enterprise State Junior College, broke down the phrase “I Can Do It” into four parts, each with a different message.

“It is hard to hit the bull’s-eye in life when you don’t have a target,” Ford said.

Christopher Jones, director of student multicultural and diversity programs at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, led the second student session on “Linking Social Justice and Leadership within Education.”

“Understand that diversity is not enough,” Jones said. “Seek out understanding about yourself and others.”

The final student session, led by Chandra Myrick, director of residential student experience at Florida State

University, concentrated on “The Importance of Self-Reflection in Your Educational Journey.”

Myrick expanded on four main points — “embrace your journey,” “learn from every lesson,” “start a ripple effect” and “remember why you started.”

“Never forget why you started,” Myrick said. “That’s the very thing that will keep you going.

“Allow your journey to help shape you. Be open to whatever those paths may be.”

Lakerri Mack, assistant professor of political science, and Sadaris Williams, coordinator for student involvement and leadership, presented student awards as members of the Leadership Conference Advisory Board.

Caitlin Smith, a senior political science major from Panama City, Florida; Rashad Dillard, a senior psychology major from Greer, South Carolina; Ashley Snell, a senior exercise science major from Dothan; and Jordan Adams, a senior athletic training major from Atlanta, received the awards for “Excellence in Leadership and Community Service.”

“I was extremely surprised and honored to receive this award after knowing that my mentors and wonderful professors had chosen me to receive this award,” Smith said. “The feeling of walking up to the stage in front of so many great leaders in my life was reassuring because of the fact that I’m doing something right in my personal leadership journey.”

“I felt like I was walking up and getting the award for the friends who pushed me to become better, the professors who urged me to become a part of something bigger than myself and the Lord I serve, who taught me to serve instead of be served,” she said. “It was an amazing moment, nonetheless.”

Dillard described leadership as “inspiring others to do more, dream more and become more.”

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