October 26, 2012

Simon Institute hosting leadership weekend

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- As one of the event's initial organizers, Linda Renee Baker always believed the annual Paul Simon Leadership Conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale could impact the lives of young men from the Metro East.

Celebrating its 10th year this weekend, the annual leadership conference annually brings 35 to 50 junior high and high school youths to campus 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.

This year's event, "Broadening the Awareness of Young African-American Men about the Importance of Political Involvement, Civic Engagement and the Value of Activism," is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 27 and 28, at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center and various locations on campus. Organizers anticipate about 35 youths will attend this year.

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.

This is a model program for leadership development for African-American males, said Baker, a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute/University professor and project director. Many leadership weekend participants have gone on to attend college, including several who are currently at SIU Carbondale and others who have already graduated from the University.

"In our early discussions we talked about being able to provide these young men with an opportunity and leadership development," Baker said. "The world is in such desperate need of leaders. These kids are getting it. Now we have several success stories that we can show."

Institute founder and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon and then-associate director Mike Lawrence established the program in November 2003. Simon participated in the inaugural event in 2003 shortly before his death a month later.

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 SIU Carbondale 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.

The program is important to the young men who participate and is a fitting legacy to Simon, said David Yepsen, Institute director.

"This is always a moving weekend for the young men and for all of us," he said. "Helping young African-American men was an issue important to Paul Simon when he started this program 10 years ago."

The youths hear "truly motivating speeches from some great role models and it gives everyone a chance to talk among themselves about the challenges they are overcoming," he said. "It's exciting to see them inspired by what they hear."

Several of this year's speakers and conference facilitators are leadership weekend alumni. Shaka Mitchell, who earned a bachelor's degree in finance from SIU Carbondale in May 2011, has participated in the nine previous conferences as a participant or mentor. This year, Mitchell, who is pursuing a graduate degree at Yong-In University in South Korea, will speak via Skype on "The Value of an International Experience for Young African Men."

Mitchell is a prime example of how the program makes a difference, said Baker. He participated as a high school student, enrolled at SIU Carbondale, volunteered and worked at the Simon Institute and upon graduation, he is giving back so other students can learn from his experiences, she said.

Here is the schedule for the Paul Simon Leadership Conference.

Saturday, Oct. 27

  • 10 a.m. -- SIU School of Law, Session with Shaka Mitchell, former leadership weekend participant, SIU Carbondale alumnus. "The Value of an International Experience for Young African Men."
  • 11 a.m. -- Small group sessions, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Speakers are Royce Burnett, associate professor, accountancy, "Grab What You Need to be Successful and Hang on to it," and Pamela Smoot, clinical assistant professor, SIU Carbondale, "Understanding the Legacy of Political Trailblazer Dr. Alexander Lane."
  • Noon -- Speaker discussion with Burnett and Smoot, Institute lobby. Moderated by David Yepsen, Institute director.
  • 12:30 p.m., Lunch, Bucky Dome on Campus Lake.
  • 1:30 p.m. -- Institute lobby, Randy Burnside, associate professor, political science, "Broadening the Understanding of Young Men about the importance of Political Involvement, Civic Engagement and the Value of Activism."
  • 3 p.m. -- Campus Lake, leadership activity.
  • 6 p.m. -- Dinner, Trueblood Residence Hall cafeteria. Youths will also discuss their views of the 2012 elections and one additional topic.
  • 7:30 p.m. -- Trueblood Residence Hall, leadership activity.
  • 9:30 p.m. -- Panel discussion with SIU Carbondale students. Moderator: Derrick Williams, assistant director, Center for Inclusive Excellence.

Sunday, Oct. 28

  • 8 a.m. -- Touch of Nature Dining Hall, Father Joseph Brown, chair and professor, Africana American Studies.
  • 9:15 a.m. -- team building and leadership activities at Touch of Nature.
  • Noon -- Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, State Rep. Arthur L. Turner, Jr., D-Chicago, SIU School of Law alumnus. "A Personal Journey from the Classroom to the Illinois General Assembly: When Preparation Meets with Opportunity and Hard Work."
  • 1 p.m. -- Institute. Special remarks by David Yepsen, Institute director, and announcement of the 2012 Paul Simon Leadership and Character Award recipients.