A program developed by UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development is helping prepare young African American males in Colquitt County to be future leaders in their community.

Leadership Legends is designed to equip young African American men to positively contribute to their community and empower younger African American males that follow them, implementing a generational change.

“Growing up in this community, a lot of the leaders I looked up to are getting older and we do not see the next group to take their place,” said Brian Knighton, principal of Stringfellow Elementary School in Moultrie. “I feel an obligation to give back and help develop that next generation of leaders.”

Knighton and Ralph “RJ” Taylor, a financial advisor, reached out to the Fanning Institute through the UGA Archway Partnership in 2017, and worked with Fanning faculty to develop the program.

“It combines parts of our leadership development curriculum—such as understanding personal leadership styles and different leadership types, effective communication, goal setting and collaboration—with mentorship opportunities and an emphasis on community engagement and service,” said Terence Johnson, a public service assistant at the Fanning Institute.

Thirteen African American eight graders joined the inaugural class, which began in fall 2018.  School and community leaders identified potential participants, who were then asked to make a commitment to participate in the program.

“We chose eighth grade because it is a pivotal time period in a young man’s life where it can sometimes go one way or the other,” Knighton said. “If we can instill these leadership and behavior skills at this age and continue to provide support, they will carry those skills with them on their journey through high school and beyond.”

In the first year, participants focused on leadership development, building relationships and public speaking.

“When I first started, I didn’t want to speak in public, but now since I’ve been doing it for the last year, it’s going to help me a lot,” said participant Joseph Stokes. “Usually, I’d be scared to do something like this, but now I’m not.”

This fall, when the participants are in ninth grade, the focus shifts to mentorship. In 10th grade, the program will focus on community engagement in Colquitt County. When the students graduate from the program at the end of 10th grade, they will become mentors for participants in the next Leadership Legends class.

Developing a diverse group of leaders is vital to community sustainability, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“Today’s community leaders have a responsibility to develop the leaders of tomorrow,” Bishop said. “We are honored to partner with Colquitt County on this unique and innovative program and look forward to continuing this program in the years ahead.”

After the first year, students are recognizing the benefits of the program.

“My favorite thing about this program is team building,” Jacolby Edwards said. “It shows me how to help and what to do in certain situations.”

Added Everett Green: “To me, a program like this is important because it helps people build up their confidence and their leadership to help others.”

Colquitt County was the first community in the UGA Archway Partnership, a Public Service and Outreach unit, begun as a pilot program in 2005. Through Archway, a UGA employee is embedded in a community, brings together local leaders to prioritize the community’s challenges and marshals the resources of the university to address those challenges. Since the program began, 13 counties have been Archway Partnerships.

Writer: Charlie Bauder, charlie.bauder@uga.edu, 706-542-7039

Contact: Terence Johnson, tdj@uga.edu, 706-820-4643