4-H Pinckney Leadership Program looks back on 5 years of success

Pictured are 4-H Pinckney Leadership Camp summer staff, from front left: Salena Robinson, Danae Brunson, T’Asia Smalls, Brianna Smalls, Arizona Bowers, Aliya Busbee, Tennare Jackson, Ma’Kayla White, Tyrinn Moton, Jordan Snipes and Nakel Pinckney.

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When Alex Blocker arrived at Camp Bob Cooper in 2018 and was told to hand over his phone for the week — “you won’t need it,” staff said — he wondered what he was into. was on board.

“When someone takes a teenager’s phone, it feels like the end of the world,” Blocker said. “My heart sank knowing that I would lose all my Snapchat streaks and no longer have contact with my friends.”

Instead, Blocker found out exactly why he came to camp on Lake Marion to begin with.

“It was the first time I was surrounded by other people my age who wanted to improve as leaders,” he said. “Just being around other budding leaders has strengthened my leadership skills.”

Now, 4 years later, Blocker is a freshman at Howard University after becoming the first student to graduate from South Carolina’s Pinckney 4-H Leadership Program after completing every program since he began. his trip back to Camp Bob Cooper.

“Seeing Alex’s success and knowing that we can continue on this trajectory of helping students not only become better leaders in their communities, but also better servants of their communities, better friends to their peers and role models,” Rushawnda Olden, director of the 4-H Pinckney leadership program said. “Going back to Senator (Clementa) Pinckney’s legacy, that’s who he was – that’s what he embodied.”

4-H Pinckney Leaders, from left, Jada McConnell, Zion Williams, Micah Kennedy, Julian Martinez and Gavin Lewis hear from Clemson University call my name tourist guides on the history of the University.

Since 2016, the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program has been dedicated to equipping middle and high school students to influence the state of South Carolina as better leaders, positive role models, and engaged citizens.

The late Senator Pinckney, of course, was among nine African Americans killed by white supremacist Dylan Roof during a Bible study at AME Church in Charleston where he was senior pastor. While his life came to an end on June 17, 2015, Pinckney’s passion for leadership lives on through the namesake program.

And although it was unable to officially celebrate its fifth anniversary last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pinckney program hosted three events this summer – two at the University’s Hendrix Center. Clemson and another to Aiken – to recognize his success.

And program success isn’t just a buzzword. He has served more than 2,000 young people in South Carolina and this year had four valedictorians at high schools in the state.

One such major, Na’Kia Hannah of Marion High School, described her 4-H Pinckney leadership experience as “fun, positive and very encouraging” and said it influenced her high school career. many ways.

“It enlightened me to get more involved with the different clubs and aim for greatness at all times,” Hannah said. “This program has also helped influence my future plans by preparing me for certain circumstances. I feel more able to cooperate in a group and able to step out of my comfort zone a lot more.

These days, Hannah is a freshman at Clemson University and points to the Pinckney program as a major factor in her trajectory.

“The 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program was very eye-opening,” she added, “and I’m glad I had the chance to be a part of it. I give it a 10/10 and recommend it.”

Brianna Smalls enjoys a celebratory moment with middle school campers during Pinckney 4-H Leadership Camp.

In her early days at Whale Branch Early College, Kairington Franklin admits she didn’t have much direction or ambition.

“Before I became a 4-H Pinckney leader, I was lost – so malleable and adaptable to other people’s perceptions of me that I began to think it was the culmination of Kairington Franklin,” said- she declared.

But that was not the case. Franklin said she began her leadership journey in February 2022 with the help of a mentor who offered a select group of her peers to attend a 4-H Pinckney Leadership Roundup in Florence. . The only thing standing in the way of Franklin was the $20 fee.

“You may be wondering, ‘How is this essential to leadership?’ Well, that $20 revolutionized my life, and I’ll tell you how,” Franklin said. “When I came to the Leadership Roundup, I set myself the goal of standing out from the crowd: asking questions, listening, and networking. The whole experience was exhilarating, with so many educated speakers with an assortment of backgrounds.

This experience led Franklin to apply for the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program and attend the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Conference at Clemson University.

But she is quick to note that the conference “was not a summer camp.”

“Instead of making s’mores and telling stories around a campfire, we learned what it meant to be a leader; to be something tangible with the use of our voice, to use our voice for those who have lost theirs,” Franklin said. “In just one week at the conference, I felt like I was living a millennium. Years of corrosive and toxic patterns washed away with the voices of powerful and wise speakers.

De’Quae Craft, a student at Dreher High School, joined the Pinckney program in 2019 and says he expected it “to be like any other program I’ve been in.”

He now admits that was a bad prediction.

Speaker Chris Singleton, center, stands with State Senator Thomas Alexander, left, and the Honorable Justice Gary Clary. Singleton became a nationally recognized public speaker after the tragic loss of his mother in the 2015 Mother Emanuel Church shooting.

“The program taught me that leadership simply starts with you, and to get there you need to have a desire to lead and a purpose behind it,” Craft said. “Coming into 4-H, I wanted to lead, but my purpose for me remained a mystery. 4-H of South Carolina helped me find my purpose, which was best for my community of people. The impact of the 4-H Pinckney program on me goes far beyond just teaching me how to be a better leader.

But Craft said the program also affected him on a personal level. He was shy and soft-spoken and engaging with others was unnatural.

“After joining the program, I immediately saw a difference,” he said. “I became very outspoken. I started interacting with others on a more social level and started speaking publicly about issues that directly affected my community. After realizing this change in my social life, it motivated me to do even more.

Since joining the Pinckney program, Craft has joined his school’s student council and was elected president of the junior class, as well as the superintendent’s council, where he is serving his fourth term this year.

“This program isn’t just a program for me,” Craft said. “Ms. Rushawnda, the counselors and the participants all form a culture where you are considered family,” he said. “That’s what I see in this program – my family.”

“Like Senator Pinckney, this program motivated me to do exactly what he did and was known to do, like fight and be a strong advocate for the unheard of, be a true, passionate leader, and make the world a better place. “, he added. .

The Pinckney Leadership Program began in 2016 when it had just one leadership opportunity and has already expanded to offer three week-long on-campus leadership programs, as well as wrap-up events on leadership and the camp that started in 2018.

“Middle school is a time of rapid brain development, and we’ve had tremendous success being able to work with young people at a younger age, helping them define what their personal leadership journey will look like, and tracking their accomplishments.” , Olden said.

Pictured at 2022 Citizenship Washington Focus are, front row from left, Aniyah Hodges, Salena Robinson, Aliza Allison, Kalise Truss, Rori Mae Condon and, back row, De’Quae Craft, Favor Ford, Alex Blocker and Zaire Croker.

Future plans for the Pinckney Leadership Program include additional programming working closely with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute and building on the connections across campus that were created during the early years of the program, including including what Olden calls “outdoor leadership.”

“Our outdoor leadership initiative will allow us to expose more young people to outdoor activities while building their leadership capacity,” she said.

The Pinckney Leadership Program also held two leadership workshops for the first time this year in partnership with Clemson College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Julian Nixon.

“I believe that education, exposure and experience are at the heart of an effective leadership program and the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program provides these to their participants every year,” Nixon said. “CAFLS is exceptionally stronger when it receives leaders who are both self-aware and aware of the cultural needs around them. Participants in the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program have intentional experiences that prepare them to become those leaders.

To learn more about the South Carolina 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program and get involved, visit www.clemson.edu/pinckney.

“I’m excited about the future of this program and where we’re headed,” Olden said.

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Kevin E. Boling