WASHINGTON, D.C. — MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee joined civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis for a panel discussion at the nation’s capital Wednesday, Sept. 20, sponsored by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity on intentional leadership and calling youth to community service.
The discussion, held during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Legislative Conference, included business, media and fraternity leaders.
Other panelists included Micheal Cristal, the fraternity’s international president; R. Donahue Peebles, chairman and CEO of the Peebles Corp.; Chris V. Rey, the fraternity’s international director for social action; Joseph Madison, Sirius XM radio host; and Rod Carter, an anchor on WFLA-TV in Tampa, Florida.
Lewis was honored by Phi Beta Sigma with its highest award, induction into its Distinguished Service Chapter. The Georgia congressman “has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls ‘the Beloved Community’ in America,” said Carter, the panel’s moderator.
Both Lewis and McPhee talked about the importance of higher education, and how such institutions can be a source for mentors who can both connect with and inspire youth.
Lewis reflected also upon his days as a student at Fisk University, when he organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, and how a professor-mentor gave him inspiration and confidence he needed. Lewis became known as an advocate of nonviolence, despite numerous arrests and serious injuries, and at age 23, was an architect of the August 1963 March on Washington.
“You have to be persistent and consistent,” Lewis said. “Today, our young people are much better educated, with all this information and all these resources. And we need them out, to get out there and push.”
“If not,” he warned, “people will try to take us back.”
McPhee, drawing upon his decades in higher education, including 17 years as MTSU’s chief executive, added that in order to inspire change in today’s youth, it is important for mentors to be “intentional and that we show up every time as it relates to young people.”
“To be an effective change agent, you really have to know yourself. You also need to be transparent,” McPhee said. “The one thing that young people can pick up on is when you are faking it, when you are not really into what you said.”
Cristal said the fraternity was “honored to be hosting this important panel discussion on conscious men serving our communities.”
“My overall goal is to lead our organization to be intentional in providing our members the tools and insights they will need to become better servants in our global community,” he said.
— Andrew Oppmann (firstname.lastname@example.org)