GREAT CONFERENCE! “I HAVE A SAY” was the theme of the Conference and it was designed to offer kids the same experience as an adult conference. What a Success! A project team from the 2012 Leadership Knoxville Class selected Project GRAD as their focus organization and designed a fantastic mini-conference that was offered to 4th grade students at Spring Hill Elementary School on May 3rd. Objectives of the conference were to (1) empower students with tools to take more responsibility for their personal work habits, (2) uplift and inspire the students and (3) encourage the 4th graders to begin to see themselves as rising student leaders in the school. A song was designed specifically for the conference titled “I Have A Say” which is an original song composed by a local song writer. Each of the 4th graders registered for the conference, received a name tag and brochure. Two sessions were offered to students (1) “Speakers’ Road To Success” and (2) Navigate Your OWN Road To Success.”
The conference began at 9:00 a.m. with a welcome from the school’s principal, Ms. Judy Pickering and Assistant Principal, Arrin Alaniz. The conference opening featured 4th grade teachers who performed the conference theme song “I Have A Say.”
Following the opening, Ms. Pickering introduced guest speakers Brianna Bass, Lady Vol basketball player with the University of Tennessee and Inky Johnson, former football player with the University of Tennessee.
Inky was the first to speak and began by telling students that “the greatest thing about life is that every day you have a choice. Your attitude and belief in yourself are in your control. The key question is – what are you doing to help others?” Inky shared about his life as he grew up in Atlanta, GA with 14 brothers and sisters in a two bedroom, 1 bath home. He chose his career goal at the early age of 7 when he decided that he wanted to play in the NFL. He told the students how his mother would take him to the park after dark to practice and shine her car lights on the field so that he would have enough light to run agility drills and practice running. He continued to practice hard and excelled at football by putting his heart, soul, sweat, spirit and tears into it because he wanted his family to have a better life.
Inky attended Crim High School in Atlanta which was considered to be so “rough” that it was nicknamed “Crime High School. “ After his freshman year, his parents decided to transfer him to a school across town called Tucker High School where he would be guaranteed a scholarship to attend the University of Georgia. He went but begged his parents to let him return to Crim to complete high school. When they asked him why he wanted to return and give up the chance to attend the University of Georgia, he responded that he knew “ there were people in his neighborhood who were looking to him for a dose of inspiration and hope.” He suffered several injuries in high school but advised students not to “let the potholes and roadblocks in life stop them.”
After graduating high school, Inky attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he continued to work hard and was on track to achieve his dream of going into the NFL. However, during a game against Air Force,with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Inky made a tackle that ended his career. He vividly recalled the moment he went down and experiencing sensations he had never felt before. Teammates were urging him to “get up” but he couldn’t and he described how that felt. He underwent emergency surgery at UT Medical Center and lost the use of his right arm that remains paralyzed. He has had to re-learn how to do everything with his left arm because his right arm was dominant. Coach Phil Fulmer, along with friends and family, encouraged Inky to return to UT to complete his degree which he did and even went on to earn his Master’s Degree.
Inky told the audience that, “the work you put into life will follow you everywhere. With hard work, perseverance and faith you can do anything!”
Brianna Bass is a senior at UT Knoxville and member of the Lady Vols basketball team. Brianna was expecting to graduate the following week and would be a first generation college graduate in her family. She plans to return home to Indiana where she will attend grad school to work on her Master’s.
Brianna began with telling the students how tall she was (5’2”) and that most people discourage someone of her height from playing basketball, however she beat the odds. In second grade, she began playing basketball and her father would wake her up every morning at 6:00 a.m. to run and do basketball drills. Her message to students was “don’t let anything keep you down or hold you back from achieving your mission.” She suffered several injuries throughout her career (torn ACL twice, broken nose, and numerous other injuries) and encouraged students not to “take anything for granted and to take academics very seriously!” Brianna has been a star student at UT both on and off the basketball court. She has volunteered her time with numerous charities throughout her tenure as a Lady Vol.
Both Inky and Brianna were dynamic as they spoke to the students and shared life stories so compelling that the kids were mesmerized and hanging on every word.
Following the speakers, students moved into breakout sessions. The first session was: “Speakers’ Road to Success” where discussion centered on what they learned from the speakers about the success they have experienced. The second session was: “Navigate your OWN Road to Success.” To say students enjoyed this mini-conference is an understatement. They were very involved and became so engrossed in the discussion that time slipped away. After the last session students returned to the gym where they participated in singing the theme song and received a conference goody bag when dismissed.
Thank you Leadership Knoxville for all that you did to provide such a wonderful conference experience to the 4th grade students at Spring Hill elementary.
Contributions were made to this story by Angie Hamstead.