Helping young leaders become winners
Bobby came back. So did Michael, T’Marsey, and the twins Nicholas and Gabriel. They enjoyed the first Earl T. Shinhoster Youth Leadership Institute last year so much they decided to come back to the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum for the second one last week. And what a “fascinating,” “informative,” “awesome,” “extraordinary,” “entertaining” time it was, declared several of the 17 young leaders who attended.
I have to concur. I left with swollen feet and renewed hope for young people and for their potential and desire to do good in the world. What a delight it was to see young people genuinely engaged in trying new things – like building the tallest tower using marshmallows, spaghetti and toilet tissue (a last minute addition to a team building exercise); and listening with interest to Savannah’s first black and first woman city manager explain what she does and to a 40-something black scientist and entrepreneur from Atlanta talk about his efforts at saving the Amazon rain forest. They also heard from a spoken word artist/teacher, a banker, a clothier, the president of the local NAACP, the head of the civil rights museum, and a contractor turned motivational speaker.
History lessons and everyday life became calls to action for these young leaders, ages 12 to 17. After taking a black history tour of Savannah, one young man remained appalled by what he saw along Savannah’s storied River Street. Cars were parked on “sacred ground,” he fumed, in what were once slave barracoons where his ancestors were held captive.
He later convinced his teammates to make preserving the slave barracoons their communications project. We had asked each team to select three topics they would research, write and prepare for class presentations, which would be video-recorded so the students could work on their public speaking skills. My siblings in Savannah will make sure the teens make their presentations to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and other city officials.
The teens are interested in having their voices –and solutions– heard on a number of topics. They want gang violence and bullying to end in their and schools; better job opportunities for youth and alternatives for teens who drop out of school. They want to help fight childhood obesity and to curb littering among their peers. They were excited that someone would be listening to what they have to say.
One of the other things that struck me about this group was the number of them who were actively involved in their churches. At lunch one day, several of the young ladies began singing “I love you Jesus,” and a young man join saying, “that’s my song.” Two things were clear about the majority of this group – their churches are helping to groom their leadership skills and to build their faith. Both of which can help as they move forward in life.
My family (two brothers, two sisters and two sister-in-laws) organizes, teaches and mentors at the Institute. We have strong support from the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum and its chairman of the board, Dr. J. William Jamerson, and Dr. Ronald Bailey of the Savannah State University. We do this in memory of our brother, Earl, who threw himself into civil rights activities at age 13. One of Earl’s saying was “That’s a winner.” I hear those words when I think about my week in Savannah teaching and learning from some of our future leaders.
Please join me in continuing to pray always for our young people. They need it.