A focus on youth, education

Published 8:01 am Saturday, February 28, 2009

FRANKLIN—Helping the youth of today become great leaders tomorrow through education was the focus of this year’s Community Leader’s Breakfast held recently at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Workforce Development Center.

This is the 13th year that the Franklin Parks and Recreation Department has held this event as part of Black History Month.

Parks and Recreation Director Frank Davis said he wanted this year’s breakfast to focus on Franklin’s youth and those in the community who were doing their part to help give the youth direction.

Davis invited several students from Franklin public schools to participate in the breakfast and sit at one of the head tables as his special guests.

Davis honored the students during the breakfast by acknowledging their presence and encouraging all in attendance to visit with them during the breakfast.

Franklin High Football Coach Darrin Parker was among those who were given special commendation for his contributions to the youth of the community.

“I’ve had the opportunity to watch him on the sidelines with those kids and it’s amazing,” Davis said. “His relationship with the young boys on his team goes beyond just pushing them to win football games. He is someone that they can truly look up to as an example.”

The highlight of the breakfast was the keynote address given by Franklin native Sheila Baxter, a retired Army brigadier general.

Davis read off a long list of Baxter’s accomplishments, including being named one of Newsweek’s “20 Most Powerful Women in America” and becoming the first female Army general in her field.

“This shows where you can go in life from the education you receive right here in Franklin and colleges in Virginia,” Davis said.

Baxter’s speech titled “From Slavery to the White House” highlighted the role education has played in the progression of blacks in America.

She talked about the slaves who were kidnapped and brought to America, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Board of Education that began the integration of schools and other key events that paved the way for the election of President Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president.

“Today we stand on the shoulders of all those who gave of themselves for equality and freedom,” Baxter said. “They had the commitment to overcome the chains of injustice. Their tenacity and courage taught us some valuable lessons.”

Baxter warned that there was still much work to do for minorities in America to gain equal footing.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Where do we go from here?’” she asked.

“We must first continue to encourage our youth to get an education,” Baxter continued, highlighting the high numbers of black and Latino students who drop out of high school.

Baxter asserted that regardless of one’s skin color or which side of town they live on, everyone’s future is dependent upon helping children succeed.

“What happens to one happens to the next,” she said. “We all must be willing to mentor, coach and teach our children because education is what produces healthy families, better opportunities and, ultimately, healthy and successful communities.”

S.P. Morton student Alexis Rogers, 10, who wants to become a pediatrician, said she really enjoyed the breakfast and was taking home a message.

“What I heard said today was that all you have to do is try, stay focused in school and you will be successful,” she said.

S.P. Morton fourth-grader Tamera Williams is an aspiring university math professor. Williams said Baxter’s speech was very encouraging to her.

“She let us know we can be anything we want to be as long as we work hard at our education and remember to keep God first in everything we do,” Tamera said.