Inspiring: Leadership conference seeks to inform, inspire community

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Above, the youth choir performs during the conference.

Above, the youth choir performs during the conference.

The 2015 Leadership Conference at Troy University closed at noon on Saturday just as it opened on Friday night – with an enthusiastic and inspirational keynote speaker and a receptive and appreciative audience.

The 15th Annual Leadership Conference opened Friday night at Sartain Hall on the campus of Troy University with Juanita Jones Abernathy, the widow of Dr. Ralph Abernathy and renowned Civil Rights activist, as the keynote speaker. The conference closed at noon on Saturday at the Trojan Center with Jasmine Guy, actor/director/dancer taking center stage.”

“From beginning to end, this was an outstanding leadership conference with about 600 registered,” said Shelia Jackson, tourism and public relations director for the City of Troy, conference co-host with Troy University. “I think everyone went back to their communities more dedicated and more committed to community service and better prepared as leaders.”

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Jackson said the keynote speakers had messages that were timely and relevant and very well received.

“We had a large number of students who attended the conference and both speakers had messages for them,” Jackson said. “Mrs. Abernathy urged the young people to become leaders and to stand up against injustice and be counted because they can make a difference.”

Jackson said Guy also had a message for the young people and older adults as well.

“She encouraged all conference participants to talk to each other, to find out what is going on in their communities and to voice their opinions,” Jackson said. “She reminded us that not everybody thinks the same way and that we can learn from each other if we take the time to listen.”

Guy drew a distinction between the dialogue among the thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance and the relative lack of discourse today.

“Now we are separated,” Guy said. “We are not talking to each other. We’re not sharing stories. We don’t even watch TV together anymore.”

She reminded participants that the likes of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington starkly disagreed on important matters, but still came to the table for discussions.

“We aren’t supposed to all think the same way. It doesn’t make me less black because I don’t think exactly the same as you,” Guy said. “Are you voicing your opinion? Are you voting? Are you participating and do you understand what goes on during election? Do you know what goes on during the midterm election?”

According to Guy, it’s imperative that families have tough, difficult discussions again, something she feels has been lost in recent years.

“I think it’s important for us to talk to each other,” Guy said. “Don’t forget your babies and grandbabies. Don’t forget your parents and grandparents. Y’all don’t know everything. Those stories at the dinner table, sit there and listen to them for a minute.”

Guy has enjoyed a diverse career in television, theater and film. She launched her professional career at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City, and starred in the original Broadway productions of “Beehive” and “Leader of the Pack.” She has also starred in reprised hit productions of “Grease,” “The Wiz,” and “Chicago.”

She won six consecutive NAACP Image Awards for her portrayal of the pretentious and comical southern belle “Whitley Gilbert” on “The Cosby Show” spinoff “A Different World.”

Jackson said the breakout speakers shared messages they were encouraging, inspirational, motivational and challenging.

The speakers included Kemba Smith Pradia, national public speaker; Bishop S.D. James, senior bishop, Jerusalem Temple; Sue Bell Cobb, former Chief Justice Alabama Supreme Court; Dana Wilson, Troy Regional Medical Center’s Health and Human Services Committee; and Stephen Scott, winner of 2012 Leadership Award.

“It would have been hard to come away from this leadership conference without the desire to make your community and world a better place,” she said.

Jackson expressed appreciation to all of those who worked so diligently to make the 15th Annual Leadership Conference a success and especially to Charlie “Sarge” Dunn, committee chair, and to Lamar Higgins, who gave birth to the idea for the conference.

She also thanked the Wilcox Central High School Choir that provided the music at the opening session.

Troy University contributed to this story.