AALA helping create business, community leaders

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For the last two years Bernadette Turner and Darcel Madkins, co-founders of the African American Leadership Association, have been striving to develop potential leaders by utilizing the expertise and resources of the area’s existing seasoned leadership. After much discussion, research and pulling together their connections the organization was created.

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LEADER TO LEADER—Bernadette Turner and Darcel Madkins, co-founders of the African American Leadership Association share a moment with Mayor Jay Williams of Youngstown, Ohio.

Since its existence, the group has sponsored Streets n’ Suits, an open dialogue to discuss the perceptions of community and business leaders from the streets to suits, and the African American Leadership Development Series. The sessions, varying in topics, assist emerging leaders in understanding and preparing for leadership roles. Also, the AALA recently hosted their second annual African American Leadership Summit. More than 120 people were on hand to hear keynote speaker Jay Williams, mayor of Youngtown, Ohio, to witness the Success in Leadership panel discussion and to participate in the afternoon breakout sessions. The event also featured an awards ceremony.

“Already we have received positive feedback about the keynote speaker and the panel,” Madkins indicated, flipping through surveys at the end of the luncheon discussion. “This is wonderful; we appreciate the presenters and the people coming out during a holiday weekend just to learn about leadership. It indicates that there is a need for the project,” said Turner. Adding to her comment, Madkins said, “People need to have dialogue and want next steps.”

A history buff, Williams, at the age of 33 was elected the first African-American mayor of Youngstown and the youngest. Now 38, serving his second term, it’s said that he is leading efforts that have a direct impact on improving the quality of life for his constituents through promoting community and business leadership.

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INFLUENTIAL LEADERS—Brenda Moye, De’netta Benjamin, Rev. Eugene J. Blackwell, Errika Fearby-Jones, Elwin Green, Shirley Muhammad (sitting in for son Dewayne Muhammad), Jada Grandy and James Ferguson are pleased to be award recipients.

Williams acknowledged that organizations like the AALA are necessary and important as a way to produce and develop future leaders. “It is time we demand more from ourselves and remember that the fruits of the labor of our ancestor are not worth losing. While standing on the shoulders of others we’ve gotten too comfortable,” he said. He mentioned the school dropout rate, Black-on-Black violence and political apathy as three indicators.

As a leader he pointed out that we have to know our history to get where we are going. He said many of our accomplishments as a race of people have often occurred from a hostile environment. “To move forward we have to go back.” He suggested going back to the day when authority ruled, authority for parents and teachers. “Respect for authority has led us to success back in the day,” he said, pointing out that while growing up his mentors were his parents and pastor. “To the welcoming committee into heaven, what will we be able to show our ancestors for their sacrifices?” questioned Williams. “The well- being of the African-American community is the well-being of America. We must return to the success of our past.”

Addressing the political issue, Williams said because we are not engaged in governmental issues that we are allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of by the system. “As leaders we need to vote. Our success is up to the African-American community, not the President.”

Williams also mentioned taking responsibility for our health, public education, our neighborhoods, business growth and closing the racial digital divide as key matters within the African-American community that need to be addressed. He also pointed out that if we boycott the criminal justice system that we would not be put into unfair situations. “Self-respect and how we carry ourselves is important. As African-Americans we play a valuable role in the success of America.”

Moderated by Rev. Dr. John Wallace, University of Pittsburgh and Bible Center Church, a panel discussion took place addressing pertinent issues including business leadership, the summit topic, success in leadership, what it means to be a leader, the emerging talent pool and shadow mentorship. Panelists were Marcia Sturdivant, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, CYF; Oliver Byrd, vice president of BNY Mellon; Doris Carson Williams, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western PA and Bill Robinson, Allegheny County Council.

Facilitators and afternoon breakout sessions included Rick Adams, “Standing on the Shoulders”; Karris Jackson, Poise Foundation; Kenya Boswell of BNY Mellon; Donna Baxter of The Soul Pitt, “Influential Leadership”; Peggy Harris of Three Rivers Youth and Bentley Hicks of Larrimors Fashion, conducted “Brand and Image in Leadership.”

The African American Leadership Association awardees of the day were Fifth Third Bank for Innovative Inclusion. Blazing Leader Awardees were Errika Fearbry Jones, Pittsburgh Board of Education; De’netta Benjamin, Family Links; Dwayne Muhammad, Pittsburgh Hip Hop Awards; and Pastor Eugene Blackwell, House of Manna. Influential Leader Awardees were Elwin Green, Pittsburgh Post- Gazette and Brenda Moye, Northside Community Activist.

Leadership Development-Alpha Class Recognition went to Josh Colbert, Fred Massey, Kadesha Coleman, Nneka Hawthorne, Dianne Dennison, Janice Leach and Lisa Walker.

Ryan Patrick Parker, a local actor and entertainer and director of diversity at UPMC Center for Health Education served as master of ceremonies and entrepreneur and noted photographer Ahmad Sandidge of Sandidge Photography Studios provided professional head shots of attendees.

With more than 200 members, AALA’s mission is to promote leadership that fosters long-term results for African-American and minority leaders. Its vision is inclusion and opportunities.

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