More than 900 attend leadership conference

Published 8:15 pm Saturday, February 7, 2009

The eighth annual Leadership Conference Celebrating Black History Month brought more than 900 to Troy University’s campus this weekend, marking the largest crowd in the event’s history.

But, the turnout was far from the only “historic” topic of the weekend.

With two distinguished guests, syndicated television show host Judge Greg Mathis and former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, opening and closing the event, the attendants embarked on a journey with these accomplished guests.

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Mathis, who was the keynote speaker Friday night, focused his speech on the significance of President Barack Obama’s election to the nation’s highest office, saying it is proof blacks and whites can work together.

And this unity, Mathis said, is what blacks and whites alike need to focus on to rebuild society.

Spending time in jail as a youth, Mathis told the crowds gathered to not allow any racial prejudice to keep them from success.

“If the door of opportunity is closed to you, then kick it in,” Mathis said. “Don’t teach our young men and women to fear society. Teach them to face their obstacles.”

Young, the former U.S. Congressman, mayor of Atlanta, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and civil rights activists alongside Martin Luther King, closed the conference on how to overcome difficult challenges.

Tying in global experience, Young said particularly small-town values like those in Pike County should be carried into leadership roles. “We have a great country, and the values that come from our southern rural experiences are essential,” Young said. “The world is desperately in need of those values right now.”

And though the election of the first black president is a truly historic event, Young said Obama will only succeed through the support of his constituents.

“We have a man raised up for the very purpose of leading not black people and not just white people,” Young said. Rather, what the world needs, Young said is not just unity of blacks and whites but of the global population. The conference, sponsored by Troy University and the city of Troy, was considered successful by both. “It’s been a great conference,” said Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford.

“They’ve really brought in some wonderful people through the years, and this year is no different.”

John Kline, director of Troy University’s Leadership Institute, said the speakers brought with them a sense of historical accomplishment.

“For people who have a sense of history, these things didn’t come easy,” Kline said. “It came from people like them.”

Kline said several Troy University students attended, but there were just as many or more from the local community. Even some, he said, traveled from neighboring states to attend the conference.