September 16, 2011

Leadership event focuses on young minorities

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The annual Paul Simon Leadership Conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is important for many reasons, according to one of its earliest participants.

“It means a lot.  That’s one of the reasons I haven’t missed one.  From the experiences you have, the people you meet, and the leadership skills and different messages you will receive,” said Shaka H. Mitchell.

Mitchell, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from SIUC in May, has participated in each of the previous eight conferences either as a participant or mentor.  The program started in November 2003 by Paul Simon Public Policy Institute founder and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon and then-associate director Mike Lawrence.

The ninth annual leadership weekend, “Shaping a New Generation of Young Men: Setting the Standard for Leadership, Service, Ethics and Civic Involvement,” is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 17 and 18, at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center and various locations on campus.  Project officials anticipate 35 to 45 youths will attend this year, said Linda Renee Baker, Institute/University professor and project director.

Media Advisory

            Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the leadership weekend activities.  For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Linda Renee Baker, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute/University professor and project director, at 217/553-6660.

The leadership weekend brings junior high and high school youths from the Metro East area to SIUC for two days of activities.  The weekend focuses on enhancing leadership qualities of African-American young men through reinforcing positive qualities, building skills and increasing career awareness education.  The leadership conference honors Simon, who died in December 2003.

Simon and Lawrence, who would be the Institute’s second director, used a 1994 report by the Illinois Commission on African American Males, chaired by former U.S. Sen. Roland W. Burris, a former Illinois Attorney General and SIUC graduate, and discussions with Baker, as inspiration for the weekend. That report offered recommendations in several areas, including economic development and employment, education, family life and African-American manhood, health and housing.

 “This is a motivational and inspirational weekend and a time when they learn leadership and coping skills,” said David Yepsen, Institute director.  “One of the best features of SIUC is the work all of us here do to help young people get on that first step of the ladder of success in life and this program certainly works toward that end.   This leadership weekend program is one of the most important things we do here at the Institute.  It has a real impact on the lives of these young men.”

Mitchell, the son of Cedric and Elizabeth Mitchell of Caseyville, said the support he received in terms of scholarships while at the University along with the support and encouragement from Institute staff was a benefit while he was in school.  A graduate of O’Fallon Township High School, Mitchell said having sat where these youths did just a few years ago helps in the mentoring process.

“The fact that I was once one of them, I know what they are going through,” he said.  “I’m only four years removed from it, and I can understand the questions they have and what they are going through.”

Mitchell will leave in October to make arrangements to teach English in South Korea and also enroll at Yong In University, in Yongin City, Gyeonggi province, South Korea, where he will pursue a graduate degree with curriculum from the University’s graduate schools of Taekwondo and Business, Baker said.  Mitchell spent this summer studying to understand and speak Korean.

Simon “always encouraged youth to travel abroad, as an important step to understanding our complex and diverse world,” Baker said, noting Simon thought it “essential to developing engaged  citizens who will actively participate in shaping our society and world of tomorrow.”

At 10 a.m., Saturday, Mitchell will participate in one of four concurrent 20-minute sessions that will focus on issues that center on leadership, service and civic involvement.  Dexter B. Wakefield, an associate professor in the University’s Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems; Keith R. Burton, Jr., an Institute student ambassador majoring in psychology, and Nicholaus Bates, a senior in administration of justice, are also presenters.  Each of the sessions is in Faner Hall.

At 11:30 a.m., Yepsen will moderate a panel discussion in Faner Hall, room 1326. 

At 1 p.m., Randy Burnside, an associate professor in political science at SIUC will be the keynote speaker and present, “Leadership: The Importance of Service, Civic Involvement, and a Solid Ethical Foundation to Shape a New Generation for the Future.  The Time is Now.”

Leadership weekend participants will participate during the afternoon and early evening in numerous leadership activities at Wright Hall residence hall. 

At 6 p.m., Ramar Henderson, a third-year doctoral student in the counseling psychology program at SIUC will be the dinner speaker at Trueblood Hall residence hall.  Henderson earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from California State University-Sacramento, and a master’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports psychology from California State University-Long Beach. 

At 9 p.m., participants will participate in a panel discussion while at Trueblood Hall that will focus on the importance of mentoring relationships and college survival strategies. SIUC students and former workshop participants Sylvester D. Woodhouse, a senior in criminology and criminal justice; and Reginald P. Wince II, a senior in elementary education, will lead the discussion. Students from SIUC’s Black Male Roundtable, a registered student organization on campus, will join Woodhouse and Wince in the discussion.

On Sunday, the day begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast and ecumenical at Touch of Nature featuring Father Joseph A. Brown, director of SIUC’s Black American Studies Program.

At noon, Carbondale native and SIUC graduate the Rev. Archibald Mosley, one of the first African Americans in the U.S. Marine Corps to fight at Iwo Jima, will deliver an address at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.  Mosley is featured in the PBS film, “The Marines of Montfort Point: Fighting for Freedom,” which tells the story of nation’s first African American Marines training from 1942 to 1949 in segregated facilities at Montfort Point, N.C.

At 1 p.m., Yepsen will announce recipients of the 2011 Paul Simon Leadership and Character Award.