Opinion: Big problems require bold leaders

Georgia is what the South is becoming: a dynamic and evolving region. It is characterized by rapidly shifting racial and ethnic demographics, a population getting younger by the year, high migration rates both from the North and from countries south of our borders. Georgia is also home to some of the largest variations in income in the country. Many of these changes are what give Georgia character and allure. But these broad patterns also give rise to challenges across a wide range of areas, including health, education, economic development and transportation.

Big challenges like these require bold leaders who are equipped with the perspective, understanding, and skills necessary to navigate the complex landscape of our state. To help cultivate visionary leadership, GeorgiaForward strives to build programs to strengthen new, as well as longstanding, leaders across sectors and in communities throughout the entire state.

One such program, the GeorgiaForward Forum, is a vehicle to do just that. Continuing its tradition of being a catalyst for change and a connector of ideas and people, GeorgiaForward held its 2018 forum on October 10 in Macon. This year’s theme was “Engaging Georgia’s Next Generation of Leaders,” and convened a cross-section of stakeholders from across the state to wrestle with these issues, generate examples of practices needed for the collective betterment, and identify the systems and supports required to poise the next generation of bold leaders to take the reins.

From the poignant keynote address by Cathy Cox, dean of the Mercer University Law School, about the importance of mentorship; to advice from Amy Carter, deputy commissioner of Rural Georgia Initiatives at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, that established leaders need to change their attitudes about young leadership; and thoughts from Kasey Carpenter, state representative and restaurateur, about uniting our state and thinking regionally; the forum featured empowering messages and robust interactive sessions interspersed with thought-provoking panels.

By the close of the day, the charge was issued: we diminish our collective future if we do not unite across both ideology and geography, we must create a pipeline for rising leaders, and young people need to listen to seasoned leaders to gain wisdom and perspective.

Through its board, staff, and over 300 Young Gamechangers Alumni, GeorgiaForward continues to stress the significance of tearing down silos, creating meaningful partnerships, supporting young leadership, and having a shared vision across our great state. The 2018 forum was an embodiment of what GeorgiaForward ascribes to be, a nonpartisan platform that places a variety of people at the nexus of state pride, innovation, and collaboration. This year’s focus on engaging our next generation of leadership was inspiring and informative.

Though as a state we have many challenges ahead of us, I left the forum optimistic about the legacy our current leaders are building and hopeful that our emerging leaders will rise to the challenge.

At the end of the day, Georgians we are all in this together. We must become more involved and work together in our communities, try to see beyond our differences and unite over our common goals, and we must demand accountable, bold leadership.

Kenita Williams is director of leadership development at the Southern Education Foundation. She is a GeorgiaForward board member and an alumnus of its Young Gamechanger program. She has a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University and Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan. Originally from Oakland, California, she lives in Peachtree City with her husband and daughter.