UConn students attended the Collegiate Leadership Assembly Conference on Saturday to build character and strengthen their individual concepts of what it means to be a leader.
The event, “Strategies for Leading in Difficult Times,” was organized by the African American Cultural Center and the Student Union Board of Directors. The conference featured guest speakers Robin Cloud and Elizabeth Murray at the African American Cultural Center.
“It can be fairly easy to lead when things are going great but when life happens and obstacles are in the way, it takes perseverance and a higher order of leadership to overcome those obstacles,” Quian Calender, a 6th-semester healthcare management major, said. “ We hope to convey this through the conference”
Author Elizabeth Murray, whose life is chronicled in the film “Homeless to Harvard”, was among the primary speakers at the event. Her story is a testament to the conference’s title, and shows the power of perseverance, hard work and dedication.
Murray described the challenges she overcame with living in poverty in the Bronx with drug dependent parents. Growing up, her family was dependent on welfare checks which would always be received on the first day of each month.
“On day nine of every month they would run out of drugs, we would run out of money, and we would definitely would run out of food,” Murray said. “My sister and I would eat a chapstick- it was cherry flavored- just to make it to the next first of the month”
Murray describes how she later would become homeless due to her father losing their apartment in order to continue his drug addiction. As a result of this, she was forced into foster care and later reliant on her friend’s generosity in order to have a place to stay.
“I went off to group homes and foster care and unfortunately had a negative experience which made me never want to return to the system,” Murray said.
Shortly after her mother’s death due to AIDS, she had a sudden realization that she had to find a way to better herself. Following this tragic event in her life, she began to take a serious interest in doing well in school.
“There are blessings in the path you walk and I consider it a blessing that I realized I was going to be responsible for my life before anyone else was going to be,” Murray said
Although she was behind by four years initially, she was able to complete her secondary school in only two years, while earning straight A’s and being involved in various school organizations. After completing high school, Murray was accepted at Harvard University and received a $12,000 scholarship a year from the New York Times.
“Don’t let the things you can not do get in the way of the things that you can do,” Murray said. “The question is, am I willing.”
The event also touched upon other issues as well such as etiquette in the digital age and what is the definition of a good leader.
Comedian Robin Cloud talked about the importance of potential employees being careful about what they publish online. She described a particular incident in which she was choosing an intern to work for her in the summer
“This one kid was great and he was really interested in comedy writing, but when I looked at his twitter account his jokes were so sexist that I just tore up his resume, ” Cloud said.
Other digital etiquette described at the conference included an explanation of mobile manners, and a discussion on the crude nature of anonymous messaging apps such as Yik Yak.
The conference was partially inspired by an event held at Yale University which also focused on similar themes.
“Myself, Quian and another individual attended a conference at Yale, the Black solidarity conference, and we thought it was important to have an event like that at UConn,” Nordia Meggie, an 8th semester psychology major, said.
Students were also able to voice their own perspective on leadership. Specifically, the breakout sessions in between speakers allowed for elaborate discussions on these concepts.
“It’s kinda a stereotypical saying but I leader is the change that they want to see, and they show others how to do it and what they can become,” Tashmia Bryant, a 6th semester psychology major, said.