Troy University and the City of Troy celebrated the legacy of the late Congressman John R. Lewis on Friday with a virtual leadership event that paved the way for the annual leadership conference that will bear the late Troy native’s name beginning in 2022.
Formerly known as the Leadership Conference Celebrating African American History Month, presented jointly by the University and the City of Troy, the conference will now be known as the Congressman John R. Lewis Leadership Conference.
Friday’s event, “Celebrating Leadership and Legacy: A Transition to the Congressman John R. Lewis Leadership Conference,” was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Dr. Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, the 29th International President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., helping to provide the roadmap for carrying the legacy of the late Congressman forward through the conference and in the local communities.
Remembering the legacy of Lewis, Dr. Wilson, author of the popular book, “You Can Lead,” encouraged participants to “pick up the mantle” and continue the fight for justice and equality.
“John Robert Lewis was a bold advocate for justice, a powerful voice for racial equality, a torchbearer who would not let Dr. King’s dream be deferred. He was one that believed in this nation, but more importantly, he believed in its promise,” Dr. Wilson said. “If ever there was a time to show bold leadership, to get into the type of ‘good trouble’ Congressman Lewis talked about, that time is now. We have a clear charge, a clear legacy that has been left to us to carry forth. That legacy requires courage, it requires us making a conscious decision that we will do something, stand for something, and that we will change things with our action.”
Dr. Wilson encouraged event participants to adopt four leadership legacy actions to fight for justice and bring about change – make a difference, get and stay involved, fight peacefully for what is right and work hard.
“You should always be looking for ways to step up your game and leave things better than you found them,” she said. “The message is to make a difference no matter where you find yourself in life. When you see things that aren’t right or just, you must always be willing to step up, speak out and say and do something.”
Dr. Wilson told participants that all have a role to play.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what your position is, we all have work to do. We all must get involved,” she said. “We are living in an unprecedented time. This is not the time to pull back, think small or stay quiet. Our voices matter. Our actions matter. Our leadership matters. We must become the change we are seeking. We cannot ask others to do what we are not willing to do. We all have a stake in the future direction of this nation, and continued progress can only occur through our active involvement in things that matter.”
The current struggles presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest within the country cry out for bold leadership, Dr. Wilson said.
“We are currently facing many challenges, but struggle and overcoming struggle is not new to those of us who seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” she said. “People of faith have always found a way and shown the courage to step out and do what is right. Today can be no different. It is not easy work, but it is necessary work. We must pick up the mantle of those who have gone before and continue to push for justice, equal resources and equal access to resources in our communities.”
Dr. Wilson said that while other action steps toward leadership are important, no progress can be made without the final one — hard work.
“When we think about the legacy left to us by the person for whom this conference will be named, there are two words that describe him – relentless leadership. John Lewis was one of the hardest working persons that I knew,” Dr. Wilson said. “He showed us each day that there was no short cut. We have to go out and put in the work. Real change, lasting change boils down to someone rolling up their sleeves and putting in the work. Our challenge today is to decide what our path forward is going to look like, decide how we are going to get there and then working together to make it happen.”
Friday’s event also featured comments by Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Troy University Chancellor; Jason Reeves, Mayor of Troy; Nicole Jayjohn, TROY SGA Preisdent; Mary Griffin, Chair of this year’s event; and Dr. Dionne Rosser-Mims, Vice Chancellor of TROY’s Phenix City Campus. Special tribute was paid to the Bishop S.D. James, who passed away in November during a presentation by Shelia Jackson, Director of Public Relations for the city of Troy. Jackson announced that the memory of the long-time conference supporter will be honored beginning in 2022 with the conference closing luncheon session bearing his name.