Dr. Damon Williams closed the first day of the Clemson University Men of Color National Summit on Thursday by describing a model of leadership designed to empower a new generation of leaders.
“The greatest threat facing boys and girls in our communities is the threat of nihilism – the loss of hope, the loss of meaning, the non-existence of purpose,” said Williams, the chief catalyst at the Center for Diversity Leadership and Social Innovation, as well as senior scholar and innovation fellow in Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The purpose of the socio-emotional stuff that is at the foundation of how you make it. That sits at the foundation that allows you to be gritty when times turn bad,” he said. “That allows you to push through when nobody believes in you.”
Williams spoke of eight lessons that he said he believes are at the center of leadership and include embracing learning relationships, finding purpose, seeking truth, building a brand, giving to others, being resilient and developing a success framework.
He said it was critical to understand “the importance of helping young people find passion and purpose in terms of helping our young people define and find their voice to feel a sense of agency that they can be a change-agent in the world.”
“It’s helping them have a growth mindset and what it means to have that mindset in terms of helping them become gritty and resilient; helping them understand the importance of building out their brand, their character,” he said.
Academic experience and credentials are important, Williams said, but will only take you so far.
“It’s going to critically be the leadership development experience that you get. It’s going to be the positive and supportive relationships that you have. It’s going to be the role models and the avoidance models that you define in your life,” he said. “It’s going to be the degree to which you understand how to live healthy and well in this world – psychologically, mentally and spiritually, in so many different ways.”
His late-afternoon appearance completed a day that saw keynote addresses from journalist Roland Martin and Robert Morris University President Dr. Chris Howard, as well as nearly two dozen breakout sessions.
The summit, attended by a capacity crowd of 2,000 high school and college students, academics, mentors and community leaders and held at the TD Center in Greenville, is focused on closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic men and other demographics.
This marks the second year of the summit, a part of Clemson’s long-term commitment as a land-grant institution to prepare a diverse mix of South Carolina students for cradle-to-career success. At the end of the day Thursday, Clemson Chief Diversity Officer Lee Gill said planning for the 2019 summit is already underway.
This year’s summit is presented by the City of Greenville and Greenville County, and sponsored by BB&T, among others.
Raylan Dawkins, a Clemson sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said he found the first day motivational and inspiring. For Dawkins, a lesson learned was to “push yourself to the limits.” Dawkins from Spartanburg is in his first semester serving as a mentor for the Tiger Alliance.
The Tiger Alliance is a college-access program designed to help create pathways to college and build a college-going culture for African-American and Hispanic 9th– and 12th-grade high school students in the Upstate of South Carolina.
A member of the Tiger Alliance, Joseph Jackson, a freshman at Spartanburg High School, said he particularly enjoyed the breakout sessions and panel discussions. He said he also liked learning more about the colleges at Clemson through the representatives manning tables set up outside the breakout sessions.
In introducing the day’s final keynote, Gill described his two years at Clemson as an exciting time. Gill cited the day in 1963 when Harvey Gantt stepped onto the Clemson campus and desegregated higher education in South Carolina. He said he told university trustees when he started that “it is indeed in Clemson’s DNA to be a leader in the field of inclusion and equity.”
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