Thursday, October 28, 2010

Regent Greg Duckett ducks questions and shows signs of early dementia at TBR Hearings


Tennessee Board of Regents(TBR) Greg Duckett from Memphis comments about Tennessee State University (TSU) in the highly promoted July 12th issue of the Tennessean were front and center this past summer. Duckett’s words seemed to heap coals on my sons’ beloved Big Blue that is in the middle of strife with some faculty members while searching for a new president and trying to maintain steadfast to its mission and vision to educate its students.

TSU’s internal conflicts spilled over into a two-part series devoted to “exposing” the school as the worst college in Tennessee. My grandfather always said, “Be careful when wishing evil on others, karma can be a mother for you.” Six months have not passed since Duckett’s quotes about TSU can be applied to events that lead to TBR’s hiring of John Morgan, TN Deputy Governor, that has left many skeptical of his hiring. The lack of transparency is being alleged by Republicans and Democrats. In the court of public opinion, Morgan’s hiring appears to be good ole boy politics as usual. Let’s review Duckett’s comments about TSU from the Tennessean and see how they are applicable to the hiring debacle of John Morgan for Chancellor.

Regents member Greg Duckett said complaints he receives about TSU, which started almost from the day he joined the board in 2006, are a "hodgepodge of issues." Some people complain about stewardship of public resources, he said, while others comment either directly or indirectly on the campus leadership. (Tennessean)

There seem to be a “hodgepodge of issues” about the process of Morgan’s hiring. From the downgrading of educational requirements, why only six applicants applied for nationally advertised job, the advertising time-line, and Morgan’s huge bump in salary to name a few are being questioned. In the two-day hearings held last month, Regent Greg Duckett ducked more questions than he answered. Within the first few hours of the questioning of TBR members, it was painfully obvious the hiring process was flawed even if Morgan was the best candidate. An above-board search with mandated guidelines was as important as finding the right Chancellor. Duckett, a lawyer, admitted with no shame, he did not know the legal requirements regarding board makeup for TBR that must have1/3 minority party members.(You can literally hear folks gasping on Twitter as I tweeted his admission.) An old saying came to mind immediately, “be careful not to think too highly of self” as Duckett’s dismissive attitude of TSU over the years came to mind. When Regent Barry Gibcomb who is the faculty representative on the TBR stated that faculty members voiced opposition to not having faculty representation on the search committee, the tenor of the hearings changed dramatically. At that point, Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dolores Gresham’s white diamonds turned pink as she expressed dismay at Duckett’s reassurance that even though rules were not followed regarding the process of hiring Morgan, the board still made the right decision to hire Morgan. Regent Gibcomb was the only “no” vote against Morgan and expressed “concern” about the hiring process in the early stages.

Sen. Gresham was cordial and respectful for the most part but she showed out at times and did not back down in questioning how the board members came to the conclusion that John Morgan, without a terminal degree, was the best candidate for the job. She repeatedly stated that Tennessee’s reputation was at stake especially since the state won millions from the Race to the Top education funding and the eyes of the world was on Tennessee’s education system. I hope they are blind when they are looking at us; that hearing was painful to watch. In the hearing, Sen. Jim Tracey shared that many wanted to apply for the Chancellor’s position but was told not to apply behind closed doors or in private conversations because Morgan was already “picked”. Hmm. At one point Sen. Bill Keton mentioned that Morgan’s hiring process was some type of “affirmative action” hiring. Yikes. I am still trying to get clarity on the meaning behind that comment. Although Duckett dodged many direct questions and showed signs of early stages of dementia with words like, “not quite sure, I don’t know, umm I need to check, wasn’t aware” and other various mind numbing noncommittal words, he perked up as he fondly recollected receiving a call from the Governor at his son’s basketball game asking him to serve on the board. Ducking Duckett revealed he did not know the governor personally but was honored to serve under his leadership. This appointment should have been tagged with a “stranger danger” warning attached to it!

He said the criticism, whether true or untrue, presents problems for TSU and can't be ignored. (Tennessean)

Using Ducking Duckett’s above logic, the problems that have been brought to light regarding the hiring of John Morgan can’t be ignored. Duckett said he did not know the governor directly prior to his TBR’s appointment. Ducking Duckett was recommended to hold such a coveted role because somewhere somebody knew something about him. TBR is responsible for a 2 billion dollar budget. No sit down dinner to get to know you, no conversation about education, no heart or gut check to make sure Duckett was the right fit for the thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands trying to seek a higher education degree. With so much at stake, the right person with a heart for education and the schools should have been TBR's criteria for board leadership. Duckett’s other repetitive statements at the hearing were the constant reference to the “Chairwoman of the search committee”. When his dementia stance didn’t work with Sen. Gresham questioning, he reverted to throwing the chairwoman under the bus. He did this so often; I caught myself humming the tune wheels-on-the-bus-go-round-and-round several times. At the end of the second day, the number of references to the chairwoman from Ducking Duckett drew the ire of the Sen. Gresham who demanded the education committee reconvene to address the inconsistencies that dementia acting Duckett seemed unable to address. Never heard a lawyer so tongue tied in all my life.

John Morgan is probably a good man and maybe the best person for the job but as Duckett said, “…present problems cannot be ignored".

The TBR is part of Tennessee Higher Education Committee (THEC). When we look closer at Tennessee’s higher education system, one has a better understanding why TSU comes up short often in this system. According to Dr. Rhoda, TBR controls the comings and goings of Tennessee higher institutions it oversees, where funds are directed, how students are recruited, and the day to day operations of the school. Many have lodged complaints against previous TSU administrations but what was clear from the hearings, no matter how good or bad a CEO of a higher learning institution is in Tennessee, he or she must juggle the internal persona of TBR that oversees the governance of the schools. God help you if the board dislikes your president or your school. This same board and with its fractured rules will be the starting and ending point for TSU’s new president. God be with my boys!

If the president of a TBR school raises a million dollars a day, TBR determines how the funds are dispersed. He/she can raise the money but they must fight with the Ducketts of the worlds to get anything done at the school, unless you are the University of Tennessee (UT). UT is special; it’s uniquely and wonderfully made. Many are not aware that Tennessee Higher Education Committee (THEC) maintains TWO boards. THEC formed in 1967 spun a separate board to govern the other schools in Tennessee’s higher education system. UT’s Board of Trustees governs the great school and is considered the orange Holy Grail in the THEC two-board system. UT has board members who are devoted alumni that work for the best interest of UT while fiercely protecting the mission and reputation of the school at all times. When UT has internal issues, the UT community brings the issues to UT board members directly; there is no need for email campaigns to government officials and the media to get issues addressed. Many of UT’s board members are prominent graduates of the school who are invested in their school (give money) and love UT when it is doing well and when it is in the media’s crossfire. The other colleges and universities in Tennessee are governed by the same board that governs TSU. TSU has no TBR member whose blood runs true blue. Not one. When you look at the lack of support for TSU in the TBR’s system you cannot overlook the absence of TSU alumni involved in leadership at TBR or with THEC. On another note, can you imagine Anne Holt, a notable alumnus of UT, giving an interview saying anything negative about her school? Wal-Mart would run out of TVs before that happen. Wonder if she could come give a pep talk on how to show devotion to one’s school across town? Just a thought.


“When you continually hear things, either there's false expectations or there are problems within the institution," said Duckett, a senior vice president at Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. in Memphis. "Either way, it needs to be addressed. The worst thing we could do is ignore something and let the talk persist without looking at it.”
(Tennessean)

One of the worse things our outgoing Governor who is on an accomplishment tour can do is ignore the persistent talk about Morgan. Replacing three recently resigned members with three Republicans does not solve the issues that years of political appointed activists have added to a system that needs an overhaul from its origins. Often, political appointments serve the appointee first and serve the board position second (or third with some folks). This appointment over commitment-connection-character culture has hurt Tennessee’s higher education schools tremendously, especially TSU. No, I am not ignoring the internal problems at TSU, by no means. But for the overall health of all colleges and universities in the two-board governing system, systemic issues like the absence of board members who are invested in the schools they give oversight too must be addressed. An overhaul of TBR must be one of the first jobs of the new governor. Hopefully , the new governor will not use appointments as a means to reward political relationships and disband appointing absent minded color folks for the sake of filling a slot or checking the diversity box. A board must be created that can help the various school administrations address and be held accountable for student retention and graduation rates. Alumni need to do what alumni do around the world, love their schools. What many have seen for the last several years from the current Regents leadership is a cookie cutter mentality in dealing with the schools in its system. All schools are unique and wonderfully made. Until the culture of TBR change, no school except UT will truly prosper under the separate but equal system. If rules can be changed to help aide the “most qualified candidate” get the Chancellor’s job, why can’t rules be altered to require schools to have representation on the board that can bring the perspective and passion for their school to TBR? In many minds, TSU’s mired history with TBR will continue to be adversarial and TSU will continued be viewed as the ugly blue step child in Tennessee’s higher educational structure.

Photo Credit: The Tennessean (boogie man?)
The Boogie Man Stalks TSU
The Boogie Man spotted on TSU campus
Senate Education Hearing on Video September 28, 2010
Senate Education Hearing on Video September 29, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Carol Creswell-Betsch: A guardian angel comes forward quietly




Ellen Pryor making sure her dear friend is flawless on the day of the shoot!

Now that the world knows what I knew back then, I can blog about it! Tennessee’s attorney general, Bob Cooper, announced on Friday, October 22, 2010 that Fisk Alumna, Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch, stepped forward with funds to keep the Stieglitz collection at Fisk University. To the shouts of many on the outside of the Fisk bubble, a Fisk alumnus was doing what alumni around the country do daily, support their school.

Let me give you a few behind the scenes snippet of what I have permission to share. On Monday I discovered, after much thought and prayer, Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch decided to establish a fund at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to help maintain the collection on the campus at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery. She did not announce it with a ticker tape parade or send press releases to shout it to mountain top. She did it Carol’s way that I have come to admire so deeply, with quiet elegance. After seeking counsel from others, she informed the Attorney General of her plans. I got a call from her to share with me her decision to establish the fund that would provide for the upkeep of the art at no cost to the school. She asked for my support which I gave immediately. I was flabbergasted that I was entrusted with such precious information. She was seeking input from others about her decision and building a pool of donors who believed in her mission. I thought the idea was extremely bold and courageous.

Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch had thought long and hard about her convictions. She is deeply connected to the collection. Her mother, Pearl Creswell, was the first curator of the Stieglitz collection at Fisk University. Pear Creswell met and corresponded with Georgia O’Keeffe for many years. “This art has been a part of my life since I was young girl,” she told me once. Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch is a 1955 graduate of Fisk University and she cares profoundly about the future of the school. Visit her home and it is evident that she has been raised around Fisk’s Art Collection which includes works by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Marsden Hartley and Diego Rivera as well as O'Keeffe and her husband Alfred Stieglitz all her life. The influences are in every nook and cranny. As she points to what knots here and there, her sentences usually start with two enduring words, “My mother”. Her love for her mother and art is everywhere. Whenever I have come to “sit for spell”, I have been taken aback about the lessons in culture and life I have received on each visit. Her love of family and art is matched by her love of teaching even though she cries,” I am in retirement” often. My visits are lead by a teacher with much compassion and I am not allowed to leave until my teacher-friend has finished my life lessons for that day.

Our paths crossed through mutual groups, organizations and our passion for art. I am learning to temper my spirit as I read from her quiet grace filled book on diplomacy. When she senses I am ready to give a quick witted response to mayhem, I am given a stern look to behave or a reminder to keep my words to a minimal. This past summer, I asked her to be part of My Very Special Frist Center Adventures. She allowed me to pull her in various directions as I stumped the hallways of the Frist Center. We share a mutual love for the museum as well as volunteer at the Frist. She has volunteered for many years while I am still in my infancy stages by comparison. She graciously modeled for The Golden Age of Couture brochure that depicted clothing styles inspired by widely popular exhibit. She was excited to volunteer for the project,an idea I wanted to create for visitors and several media outlets. Her response when I asked her to be one of my "role" models was a simple, “Just tell me my time, I don’t need all the details,” was said with a smile. How refreshing! At one point during the day long shoot, she was surrounded by young women who also participated in the photo shoot along Joyce Searcy and Gloria McKissack. They were in awe as the camera captured the inner beauty of a woman who was made to be in front of the camera.

The time I have spent with her is always positive and encouraging. Our conversations stay with me long after we have departed. We have gone on quiet outings to hear Nashville's Symphony together and we spent a day at Lipscomb last week soaking up the vision and wisdom of Dr. Norma Burgess long awaited Women’s Conference.

Her quite strength and determination to do what is right is at the heart of trying to keep the Georgia O’Keefe’s Gift, the Stieglitz Collection, to Fisk, Nashville and the South on Fisk’s campus. She lives a quite life enjoying her grandchildren and volunteering where she sees various needs in the community. Her only public statement regarding the collection is:

In an effort to support my belief that the Alfred Stieglitz Collection should remain on the campus at Fisk University continuing to be housed at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery I have formed the Pearl Creswell Fund for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. This fund will provide for the care, upkeep and display for the gift of Georgia O'Keeffe as directed by the donor. The fund will allow Fisk University financial relief.

I am asking those who share my concerns, regarding this unique treasure and who respect its historic value to Fisk University, to join with me and others who have generously agreed to step forward and underwrite this endeavor. If and when you are able please join with us to preserve our heritage and make a contribution at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to the Pearl Creswell Fund for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University.

To my classmates, to Fiskites everywhere, and to friends of Fisk University thank you for your help and consideration. Thank you for listening to me and for your support in this heartfelt effort.

Don't you love it when a guardian angel steps forward quietly? Knowing her personally has me cheering for her endeavors very loudly!

Photo credits www.aaroncrisler.com for the Frist Center For the Visual Arts
Makeup Skot Williams
Stylist Genma Holmes

Friday, October 22, 2010

Not Just Bed Bugs: Pests Plague the Homeless Community


I am frequently asked about pest control by various members of my community. In church, at restaurants while eating, even at weddings, I have been asked bug questions without hesitation. Often, I nod and smile and give answers as if we are talking about the weather. Because I earn a living as a pest management professional, it comes with the job title. No one wants to live with bugs so I am not surprised by the urgency behind the inquiries. Recently, I had an encounter that caught me off guard.

One evening after stopping to pick up a few items for dinner, I noticed a woman standing by my truck as I was leaving the grocery store. She seemed a little nervous as I approached her and my vehicle. As I slowed my step to better sum up the situation, she looked up and asked hurriedly, “Hello, are you Mrs. Holmes?” I nodded slowly, wondering what was next. The young woman began to tell me she had seen me around town and wanted to know what do about the bug bites on her children, whom she pointed to in the car next to my truck.

Putting my bags away, I turned my attention to the beautiful girls staring back at me. As I started examining her babies very obvious bites, the mom began to tell me her story. She had been displaced by Nashville’s May floods and had to move into temporary housing several times in the last few months. “I am practically homeless,” she blurted out in despair. “I am living in a shelter that is running over with bugs. My kids are being eaten alive.” As a mother of three, my heart went out to her immediately. This mom was homeless because of circumstances beyond her control and she was facing a situation that happens in the homeless community often: infested living quarters.

Pest control issues plague the homeless. Bedbugs are all the rage on the nightly news of late, but contact any advocate for the homeless and pest control issues are discussed often. How do you battle pests like roaches, rodents, lice, spiders and mosquitoes in crowded conditions with limited resources? Often the pest control budget is limited by a “What can we get for the cheapest price?” mindset. That line of thinking plus a lack of education on preventive measures equals trouble for all parties involved.

I took the young mom aside and gave her an impromptu pest control lesson right on the spot. I had a few pest identification books on hand and let her browse through them to see if she recognized any of the bugs that were traumatizing her living space. She pointed out several. As I continued looking at her daughter legs riddled with bumps, my mommy genes took over. I took her and her crew inside the store to buy some anti-itch cream, several plastic storage bins, and a plastic encasement cover for her mattress, as well as large Ziploc bags and retail line of the EcoSmart pesticide products that I use in my business every day.

She left armed with a plan, safe chemicals, and a peace of mind. I must say no one had ever camped out at my truck to try to get pest control problems solved before, but my conversation the next day with the shelter manager where she was living was typical. “We are under contract and we’re trying to deal with it,” she said defensively. I was not asking about a contract; I was asking management: were they being proactive by educating the residents about steps to keep pests at a minimum? Using a pest control company is one step in addressing pests in the homeless community. But engaging members of the homeless community is the key component to controlling the problems. Education on preventive measures must be part their everyday routine at shelters.

The young mom and I stayed in contact for several weeks while she continued to look for bug-free housing for her family. The mom did not want anything other than a safe place to lay her head without bugs until she could find a permanent place to live.

Last month, she called me to share the good news that she found an apartment near her workplace. I could not miss the joy in her voice and told her I would stop by to see her new place. I bought her the best housewarming present I could give her: a year of pest control service. Her smiling face told me I picked the perfect gift!

To purchase EcoSmart Products go to www.ecosmart.com

Article first published as Not Just Bedbugs: Pests Plague the Homeless Community on Blogcritics.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Ironman With A Soft Heart; Chuck Beard



October is officially National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink ribbon themed events are in plentiful supply. I participate with many groups and organizations like most do during the month. But in the cancer community, cancer does not come once a year. It is a twenty-four hour, 365 day a year fight to strike down the dreaded disease. I chose to partner with individuals who understand that in order to beat cancer we must make cancer awareness and survivorship a part of mainstream conversation and not the color of a ribbon one month out of the year.

This past summer, I met Chuck Beard who is a huge advocate for the cancer community. I don’t think I have ever seen him with a pink ribbon. But he can usually be found wearing a red track suit with the name of someone who is fighting cancer on the suit. Chuck is an athlete who competes in races to raise money for cancer patients and their families. He also organizes concerts and art related events to raise money as well.

I was so intrigued with his brand of advocacy that I had to meet with him to learn more about his ambitious drive behind his passion to help others.

When we met, I found myself staring up at Chuck, “he shops in the big and tall shop” I silently thought to myself. Out of curiosity, I touched his arm and realized right away why he was perfect for competing in the 2010 Louisville Ironman event; his arm was flesh over steel. Chuck’s physical appearance embodied the Ironman persona but once he starting sharing with me about why he is involved in the cancer community, I heard right away the heart of a gentle giant and someone who has as much compassion for others as he has strength. Chuck, like millions, lost a loved one to cancer. Chuck’s best friend from childhood fought a long hard battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. To honor that friendship that shaped him at a young age, Chuck started an organization to address the needs in the cancer community. Chuck’s nonprofit has assisted families to help with everyday expenses while caring for a loved one that is hospitalized or undergoing treatment.

This approach to helping others in need is different from many organizations that raise money for cancer causes. Rarely do organizations give monies to individuals who are fighting cancer and usually untold financial stress at the same time directly.

Chuck’s foundation, Adventures Inside of Campus for A Cure, is a 501©3. Chuck and a few friends decided to fight cancer by pulling on a few of their favorite things: education, art, music, and good people. They use their collective resources to bring people together to have a ton of fun while making cancer awareness their top priority. Chuck and company do not see their group as an organization but a movement. “Our goals are to entertain through art and music, educate about the effects of cancer, and enlighten lives with the experiences we leave behind from city to city on our journey”, he said with a big grin. Adventures Inside a Campus For A Cure started in Kentucky in Chuck’s hometown but has found a huge following in Nashville and individuals from around the world.

At the time of our meeting, Chuck was training for an Ironman competition that was held on August 29, in Louisville, Kentucky. He was being trained by Centre College Football Coach Patrick Carter Conley and had been since mid-December of 2009. Chuck shared with me his weekly training which included 6 days a week of swimming, biking, and running. When I asked about his strenuous workouts, he said it was brutal but it would be worth it for a deserving family. Many donated money while Chuck was training and on the day of the event. 100% of the proceeds from the event went to two unknowing and deserving families in Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY that have someone in their families currently battling cancer. Chuck recruited two dear friends who worked in the medical fields from both cities to give him names of families who were in dire circumstances to be recipients of the donations.

If that was not enough, Adventures Inside a Campus for A Cure donations to the family remained anonymous. After hearing him share this bit of information with a big grin, it was hard to fight back tears. He said he wanted the families to know that they were not alone in their courageous fight against cancer, and that many people out there want them to feel inspired by the power of love. Doesn’t every person fighting cancer need an Ironman fighting their battle for them?

Chuck’s advocacy does not stop at triathlon meets or music and art events. He wrote a book titled Adventures Inside A Bright Eyed Sky. ALL money from the book sales goes to families in need. Every cent. Chuck gave me an autographed copy that I rushed home to read right away. I read a story about a boy named Jay who was about to turn thirteen and going through the challenges of life at such a young age. Chuck uses the humor of middle school minds to address grown up problems. The book is appropriate for all ages. As I read it, I found myself imaging Chuck as the young Jay. Since receiving my copy, I have given the book to three families who have young children battling cancer. Their responses have all been the same, “Thank you for the book, I would love to meet the author someday.” With quiet giggles, I said to myself, “You will, you will”, as I took the families names to pass on to Chuck.

Photo credit: Emily Beard

Article first published as An Ironman with a Soft Heart: Chuck Beard Trains for Families with Cancer on Blogcritics.


(Want to support chuck's efforts? Meet Chuck and others:

Local grassroots nonprofit Adventures Inside a Campus for a Cure will host an evening of art, music and conversation about cancer at The Rutledge Fri., Nov. 12, with doors opening at 8 p.m. The evening will feature works from local visual artist Jeff Bertrand and performances by Starlume, Venus Hum and Trenton, with all proceeds from the door benefiting Gilda’s Club of Nashville.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lipscomb's Women Conference Is A Huge Success


Gloria Mayfield Banks Genma Holmes Dr. Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet






















Several months ago, I met with the founding dean of the college of arts and sciences at Lipscomb University, Dr. Norma Burgess. She wanted to discuss an upcoming women’s conference. As she talked excitedly about topics of leadership and faith, I wanted to scream, “Noooo!” Every organ in my body begged to yell out, not another church folk conference with a bunch of women spouting yaky, yaky. Sensing my dismay, Dr. Burgess said, “This is going to be different, you will see.” She was extremely confident while I had flashbacks of several recent encounters dancing in my head. I told Dr. Burgess I am was sick of folks planning and meeting but not accomplishing anything while leaving an awful taste in my mouth at the same time wasting time and energy. Was I negative or what?

She gave me the look of a mother who loves her child, flaws and all, and continued to talk about her big bodacious plans for an event as if I never said a word. Gloria Mayfield Banks, Mary Kay’s 24 million dollar pint size tornado selling machine would be the headliner. What? I was intrigued right away. As if that was not enough, she said the luncheon keynote would be the great, great granddaughter of the signer of the Navajo Treaty of 1868. Wait a minute, a black woman multi-millionaire and a Navajo Indian Chief’s great, great granddaughter speaking at a conference in Nashville on leadership and faith? This I got to see! “I am in,” I said. She also gave me my assignment to spread the news. That was it. No selling tables, chasing down sponsors or media hype needed.“Share this with anyone you would want to be there”, she said smiling. Hmm. That was not what I was expecting her to say. Don’t get too excited I told myself, you are going to be thoroughly disappointed if you do. Have I been burned or what? But Dr. Burgess gentleness and surprised list of speakers left me speechless and I promised her I would tell everyone. That I did.

Why was I surprised? This was the Dr. Burgess’s style that I have come to know and love; quiet class that leave one yearning for more of her sensibility, knowledge, and devotion to others. For those of you who do not know her, Dr. Burgess was born and raised in West Tennessee. She is known for her research and teaching focused on the sociology of the family, sex roles, and gender and cross-cultural families. She has taught at several colleges and universities including Mississippi State and Syracuse. She conducted research on women at the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis (then Memphis State). She has led study abroad classes in Costa Rica and presented her work in Africa, Greece, United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany and was the founding dean of the college of graduate studies at Chatham University in Pennsylvania. Her decision to accept the position at Lipscomb was a homecoming of sorts. After years of traveling the world while teaching and lecturing to thousands, she was back on Tennessee soil. Dr. Burgess began her servant leadership role at Lipscomb over a year ago with a goal for the conference to become an annual event at the heart of her mission. Dr. Burgess stated, “Faith and its role in leadership and self management are rarely discussed in professional development seminars and retreats”. The long awaited conference rightly titled, Women. Leadership. Faith, arrived Friday with much anticipation. Moms, wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and students from various backgrounds, careers and professions, denominations and faiths arrived on campus ready to soak up the carefully planned event like sponges.

Gloria Mayfield Banks kicked off the morning with her fiery brand of getting a group excited about God, family, and career. But she did not leave out her struggles. Her transparency about being a battered wife gave the audience a peek into a world that many would never share in church let alone at professional conference about empowering women. There was nothing superficial about Gloria. Her faith in God and her belief in herself pulled her through the darkest period of her life. After leaving an abusive marriage and a six figure income with IBM, twenty years later she currently holds the number four Mary Kay unit in the world!

The luncheon keynote, Dr. Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet, President of Antioch University, is the first Native American woman to become the president of an accredited university outside the tribal college system. She greeted us in her Navajo language and said a prayer to her ancestors before she began her message about, “Grounded and Centered: Generational Power of Family Wisdom in the Workplace”. Her soft spoken voice did not hide her strength and courage as a tribal leader in her culture but a leader by mainstream society’s measurements. She said that when her great, great grandfather, Navjo Chief Manuelito signed the treaty, he knew that education was the next frontier for his people’s survival. She has held strongly to that belief and works endlessly to address the despairing statistics among Native Americans in areas of education and poverty. Her conviction about families and communities coming together was repeated as she gave us personal reflections about being the only Native American family in a redneck town in Wyoming that was subjected to abuse and mistreatment by the townspeople. Her message was not one of despair but of inspiration that left many of us looking at our lack faith in our lives daily. Many attendees stated that “Dr. Cassandra” words left us with no excuses for making changes immediately.

Local women leaders spoke during breakout sessions and the conference was followed by thousands on Twitter, Facebook, and in chat rooms on colleges and universities campuses, and women’s magazine forums around the country.

“Women.Leadership.Faith” concluded with thunderous applause by all in attendance. Whispers about the 2011 conference could be overheard as the women left Ezell Center. I left with a new found appreciation for “your past experiences should not dictate your present state of being”. Had I allowed previous interactions to cloud my thinking, I would have missed a conference that was more than different, it was life changing!

Photo Credits: Kristi Jones/Lipscomb University
Article first published as A Report from the First "Women, Leadership, Faith” Conference on Blogcritics.

Lipscomb's Conference Lineup