Helping teens develop leadership skills was one of the ideas behind the Chesterfield County Public Library’s mini-leadership conferences.
The fourth annual three-day conference – officially known as the Teen Leadership Institute – was held at the Chester Library last week. It featured motivational speaker Charles McLeod.
McLeod – who grew up in southern Chesterfield County and graduated from Matoaca High School – was the first black basketball player at Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University). He credits his humble beginnings and early years living in public housing, aka “the projects,” for keeping him grounded and giving him the ability to communicate with diverse audiences.
He previously was a researcher and college counselor, but is now “retired” and a motivational speaker.
McLeod said he began motivational speaking some 30 years ago because “a lot of kids were not motivated to do things with their lives.” He wanted to help them make their dreams come true and become responsible.
Anti-bullying, self-esteem and not being a bystander or walking away when others are bullied were just three of the topics he and 13 students discussed at last week’s conference.
“I’m a really shy kid,” Mitchell Fowler Jr. said during a lunch break at the conference last week. “I think it will help me kind of break out of it and improve my public speaking.” He said that other teens should come to the spring break conference in future years.
Joel John emigrated to the U.S. last year from India. He believes the conference will help him set rules and better adjust to life in a new country.
Jen Ford, the assistant branch manager at the Chester Library, organized this year’s event. Jess Harshbarger came up with the idea for the first conference, and then regional manager Jessica Gonzalez tweaked it.
Cordell Farley, a Blackstone native who had a minor league baseball career, wrote a memoir about the challenges he faced growing up. Farley provided the inspiration to proceed with the conference, Gonzalez said.
Ford hopes to offer the mini-leadership conference in other locations in the future.
“It’s a really good opportunity for teens to spend their spring break doing something beneficial for themselves and their community,” she said.