Engage in Opportunities to Expand Your Mind

— Written By Christine Smith and last updated by Diane Lynch

It’s a great way to build a better future-for yourself and for your community.

Last week I had the honor of attending the 2013 Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JCEP) in Memphis, TN. The Professional Development component of this year’s JCEP Leadership Development Conference focused on equipping participants with key principles and skills to build on a solid foundation of core values, self-responsibility, organizational accountability, integrity and purpose. Ultimately, contributing to your ability to lead, manage and educate.

Attending the conference not only allowed me to broaden my knowledge base in leadership but it also gave me the opportunity to build on my cultural awareness.

As you may know, February is set aside as Black History Month to celebrate the achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. In honor of this fact, my colleague and I decided to spend the majority of the day learning more about the Civil Rights Movement in hopes of developing a greater appreciation and understanding about events associated with the movement.

Our first stop was The National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is such an amazing place! It chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement and the legacy of this movement to inspire participation in civil and human rights efforts globally. There are many collections, exhibitions, and educational programs designed to educate visitors.

Prior to the tour, we viewed the film, The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306. This documentary was an account of the Revered Samuel “Billy” Kyles who stood beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and witnessed his brutal assassination. The documentary helps us remember why Dr. King made that fateful trip to Memphis, and takes us inside the last hours of his life. Dr. King came to Memphis to lead a nonviolent demonstration of the 1,300 striking sanitation workers in support of their efforts to be treated with dignity and respect. The men marched peacefully wearing a simple protest sign that said, “I Am A Man”. Later these words became the title of a film that received four Emmy Awards and the best overall historical documentary.

This whole experience was so surreal and humbling. Walking through the museum reading about all the history of the era, looking into Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, and trying to understand the gravity of the moment leading up to the events of Dr. King’s assassination was almost unbearable. It was such an honor to have stood in the place where Dr. King’s spirit resides. The pictures, story boards, video clips, and artifacts were amazing!

Think for a minute, what it would be like if every man and woman practiced and upheld the principles Dr. King died for. What an awesome world we would have.

Freedom’s Sisters. This compelling traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution and Cincinnati Museum Center, gave us an up-close look at 20 extraordinary African American women who fought for freedom and changed the course of history. Women like: Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Barbara Jordan, and Coretta Scott King.

I sensed a spiritual connection as I walked through the museum reading and listening to their stories of courage, sacrifice and devotion to the cause of freedom, justice and equality in America. I soon realized that through their struggles they made it possible for me to enjoy the life and freedoms I have. They are phenomenal women who defied their circumstances and became American heroes. In the words of Maya Angelou, “They make me proud to spell my name WOMAN”.

I challenge you to become a better person by learning more about the history and legacy of African American’s as a way of bringing unity and understanding among people. What can you do in your home, school, church, workplace, and community to heighten awareness of the contributions made by African Americans? What can we do collectively to foster understanding and better relations in our town to make this a better place to live?

Secondly, consider adopting the Freedom Leader Pledge that is given at the end of the exhibit. I will do my best to: Speak up when I see something that seems unfair, treat everyone with respect, especially if they are different from me, and be a leader even if I only lead myself.

NCSU & NC A&T University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

Christine W. Smith
Extension Agent
Family and Consumer Sciences
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC 27533
E-Mail: Christine_Smith@ncsu.edu
Phone: 919-731-1525
Fax: 919-731-1511