Breakfast program aims to inspire youth

Published 7:44 am Saturday, February 14, 2009

FRANKLIN— Retired Army Brig. Gen. and Franklin native Shelia R. Baxter will be the keynote speaker at the 13th annual Franklin Community Leaders breakfast next Saturday.

The breakfast is held every year as a part of the Black History Month series sponsored by the Franklin Department of Parks and Recreation.

The breakfast usually has more than 200 attendees who represent a large cross-section of the community, said Frank Davis, department director.

“Everybody comes out,” he said. “It seems that the whole city likes to show their face.”

So far, more than 150 people have purchased tickets.

Tickets for the event are $7. In the past, the breakfast has been free but because of citywide budget cuts, a small fee was needed to cover event expenses, Davis said.

Davis said this year several members from different parts of the community are slated to participate in the breakfast, but the main focus will be Franklin’s youth.

Davis said several local youth groups and a representative from the Franklin High School Student Government Association will have parts on the program.

“We have also invited every student from all three schools to come out, and I have personally invited two students from each school as my special guests,” he said.

Davis said this makes him especially excited about having a successful Franklin native as keynote speaker. “I want the youth to come so they can meet and see Gen. Baxter for themselves. She is top-notch and she grew up right here in this city,” Davis said.

“When anyone has the opportunity to hear from a person who has achieved as much as General Baxter, they should take it. I think the kids here can benefit from her story.”

Baxter is a 1973 graduate of Franklin High School. While there, she played basketball and was the first African-American homecoming queen.

After graduation, Baxter enrolled at Virginia State College as a health and physical education major. She also joined the Army ROTC program where she was one of only a few women.

Baxter was also considered a force in basketball on the collegiate level where she was named an “all-conference” player of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association each year she played. She was the first Virginia State player to ever accumulate 1,000 points in four years and was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame in 2007.

After graduation, Baxter accepted her commission in the US Army as a Medical Service Corps officer where she had an extremely successful and decorated career that spanned 30 years.

In 2003, Baxter was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and became the first female general officer in the US Army Medical Service Corps. Newsweek named her one of “20 of America’s Most Powerful Women.”

Now retired, Baxter is working on a master of divinity degree at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

Baxter, who still has several relatives including some brothers and sisters in the area, said on Friday that she was eagerly preparing for her trip to Franklin.

“I enjoy coming home to see my family and friends who have always been instrumental in my life accomplishments,” she said.

Baxter said this trip home would be even more special because of the opportunity to take part in the breakfast.

“I was honored that Mr. Davis asked me to participate in this year’s event,” Baxter said.

“I believe it’s important that we talk about black history as a part of American history because we have to continue to tell our story. That story helps us understand why things are they way they are today,” she said.

Baxter said the theme of her talk will be “From Slavery to the White House.”

“President (Barack) Obama’s election was a great stride in breaking down barriers in this country, but there is still more that we all need to do in the community, whether we are black, white or purple, to ensure justice for all,” she said.

Baxter said she is especially pleased at the opportunity to address the youth.

“I will tell them that even if you come from a small town like Franklin, you can be anything you want to be,” she said. “Anything is possible when you don’t underestimate yourself or your ability to succeed.

“It takes a village. We should all be concerned that our children understand that message. They must hear from us that they do have a great potential to be the best they can, no matter where they come from.”

The breakfast will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday and is being held at the Paul D. Camp Workforce Development Center. Tickets are still on sale for $7. Call Frank Davis at (757) 562-2475.