I doubt that there is a single American who is not familiar with the Gutzon Borglum’s masterpiece, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the South Dakota Black Hills. Recently, NBA superstar LeBron James was asked to name who he would place on the NBA’s “Mount Rushmore.” Of course his response was rife with controversy, because memorials or occasions to honor our heroes is personal and certainly everyone does not share the same heroes because we do not all share the same experiences. As I opine on my experiences in Leadership Tallahassee, I too have my own “Mount Rushmore” and it is more beautiful than Borglum’s and LeBron James’ because it includes some of the most beautiful ladies I know.
The first faces I would place on my Mount Rushmore would be Alan Williams (LT 18) and Desinda “Dee” Wood Carper (LT 19). Alan and Dee encouraged me to apply and I was admitted to LTXX. They both were like proud parents and everywhere we went socially and otherwise, they introduced me to the LT family. “This is Darryl Jones and he just got in LT.” They paraded me around town like a fat pig at the state fair. The people I met–politicians, business leaders, policy makers, and the congratulations I enjoyed from LT alums let me know that Leadership Tallahassee was special and I was so very humbled to now be included. LT from the onset gave me a cache that my community service, which at the time had been limited only to Southside Tallahassee and FAMU, did not provide. Because of Alan Williams and Dee Carper and their infectious enthusiasm about my joining the LT family, it was made most clear, like the American Express card-Membership has privileges.
Following our retreat, I learned that membership has expectations. Becky Liner (LT 12), LT Board Chair and Michael Obrecht (LT 17), our curriculum chair, made that quite clear to Class 20 at the onset. Becky and Mike’s faces are on my Mount Rushmore because they had a clear and shared vision of the enormous intellectual, financial, cultural, and even political potential found in our class-their expectations were great. Unlike other classes, which could vote and deliberate on their class project, Becky and Mike told us that we WILL start a Youth Leadership program. PERIOD! They believed that the values and character we could fortify in young people-integrity, sound judgment, empathy, and service to others would endure long after rust and weather would decay temporal gifts from previous classes. Now more than a dozen years and almost three hundred young people later, Youth Leadership Tallahassee (YLT) endures.
Following my Leadership Tallahassee experience, I had all this enthusiasm and knowledge and had no idea what to do with it. Pam Davis (LT 20) and Sue Dick (LT 16) showed me that membership had opportunity. Neither of these ladies required the formality of a classroom to create teaching moments. Pam Davis invited me to be on her Board, Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend (I am a former chair) and although Randy Hanna (LT 6) called me, I know it was Sue Dick who was responsible for my selection to the Greater Tallahassee Chamber Board. These awesome leaders taught me how to harness what I learned in LT and use it to serve. Although I had no financial largesse or clout to speak of, both of these leaders gave me opportunity to use what I did have-my perspective. They valued me and my advocacy for working class poor people and subsequently I valued myself and took even greater inventory of my gifts and did not waste the opportunity to meet the needs of those who constituted our shared and divergent constituencies. Pam and Sue are both on my Mount Rushmore because they were my teachers and gave me opportunity to share my gifts and now I sit on the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees and Chair the Tallahassee Leon County Planning Commission, two opportunities for service that would not have been possible were it not for their investment in me.
When Kelly Otte (LT 21) came in the next class, she was a whirlwind of ideas. We met in LT, and she invited me to join the United Partners for Human Services Board of Directors. Together we started on a campaign to get as many human services directors involved in LT because we knew that the perspective of the not-for-profit human services community would inform their classmates as they participated in the different class days. As a member of the LT Board, a frequent Curriculum Chair and Building Better Boards presenter, Kelly Otte did not want the folks in Leadership Tallahassee to just be better leaders or better professionals, Kelly wanted us to be better people. She educated, equipped, and empowered leaders to serve the community and showed them how to use their vast resources to make our community better. It wasn’t enough for our LT alums and current classes to have privilege and expectation–Membership had responsibility and she sent us forth like worker ants to make Tallahassee better. I beam when I say her name, because through Kelly Otte, the SIMSOC experience endures and the enlightenment continues. Her friendship is the thing I treasure most from having done Leadership Tallahassee.
Finally, although my Mount Rushmore is MY Mount Rushmore, there is one countenance that would be shared on all LT Mount Rushmores and that is Barbara Boone (LT Affiliate). Barbara Boone’s faith and character are what make Leadership Tallahassee so great. Like the great clock maker Himself, Barbara Boone has a way of setting things in motion and coupling people with circumstances that make the LT experience so worthwhile. If you have really paid attention in the Leadership Tallahassee Experience and if you are genuinely aware of the expectation, responsibility, and opportunity that Leadership Tallahassee affords you as an alum, then you realize that membership is not only a privilege, membership is ministry. Barbara sends us forth like Apostles to do great things for the “least of these.” When Barbara Boone appointed me membership chair, I was humbled-“Me, really?” Barbara was really the wind beneath my wings. She encouraged me to start Onyx-an informal group of African American LT alums devoted to increasing African American participation in Leadership Tallahassee. It worked and because of her support, we enjoyed some of the most diverse classes ever.
Back to Mount Rushmore: even though it may be people or faces, it is more about the lofty ideals and virtues that the monument represents and extols. My Mount Rushmore is a representation of the wonderful memories and lifelong lessons from Leadership Tallahassee that continue to inform my life years after my LT graduation. Privilege, expectation, opportunity, responsibility and ministry are qualities and tenets of effective and quality leadership-thereby effectively serving others. I believe in and value Leadership Tallahassee, and I was proud to have later shared this experience with some people I love and treasure-Tammy Hamlet (LT 23), Angela Adams Suggs (LT 26), C. Sha’Ron James (LT 21), John Grayson (LT 24), Remera Jones-Haynes (LT 22), Reginald Mitchell (LT 26), Betsy Henderson (LT 25), Gloria Spradley Brown (LT 25), Calvin McFadden (LT 24), Sharon Ofuani (LT 24) and Andrew Gillum (LT 22). (I hope Dee and Alan are proud of how I tried to “pay it forward”!) My Mount Rushmore is beautiful-Alan Williams, Dee Carper, Kelly Otte, Sue Dick, Pam Davis and Barbara Boone-because what they shared with me through and because of Leadership Tallahassee was like Red Bull-it “gave me wings.”
–Darryl Jones (LT 20)