By Regina Jackson with Phylicia King
President and CEO Regina G. Jackson set the strategic direction for the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) for 27 years. With a platform focused on character-based leadership development, its youth-led initiatives have empowered thousands of young people to achieve success in education and careers.
Now, as she prepares to transition from her leadership role at EOYDC this month, Regina shares leadership lessons from her lifelong journey to achieving her life goal. She speaks in her own words below.
For nearly three decades, I have focused my efforts on investing and developing the potential of Oakland’s youth. Like so many areas across the country, East Oakland is a vibrant community teeming with opportunity that is often overshadowed by the very real impact of higher poverty and crime rates.
In a community where many families struggle to meet basic needs, the types of enrichment activities that can inspire children to explore, discover, and develop their gifts and talents are often financially out of reach.
And that is why, now more than ever, the efforts of community organizations are so important. They are not only a way to develop the social and leadership capacities of our young people, but they also provide safe spaces that uplift them as they navigate life circumstances that can be overwhelming to face without meaningful support. .
As I near the end of my term as head of EOYDC, I wanted to share some important lessons that can benefit almost any organization looking to improve their community. Considering the challenges we face, there is no time more important to understand how we can act in the lives of young people and prepare them to thrive.
Know who you are and what makes you tick
Leadership is not just a position or a title, it is an action and an example. To lead effectively and have a lasting impact in our communities, we must tap into our passion for service in a way that creates value in the lives of others. This charge begins with a specific attribute of emotional intelligence: self-reflection. As leaders, it is extremely important that we know each other. We must ask: who am I and what do I represent?
Come to think of it, my passion for service started in my early years as a Brownie in the Girl Scouts. Obtaining my first Merit Badge kindled a fire in me to continue to serve, and in doing so, I developed a strong sense of responsibility and accountability that remains at the core of who I am today. As a spiritual and motivated leader, knowing who I am and what I stand for sustains me on this path that I have been called to travel. I accepted my position at EOYDC because I felt aligned with the mission of the center, fueled by passion and supported by a work ethic that allowed me to meet challenges with determination, lead with integrity, and lead with integrity. ‘inspire others to join me along the way.
As leaders, what we discover about ourselves creates the foundation of our character, purpose, and authenticity, all of which are essential keys to our success as a leader. We need to take the time to reflect and assess who we are, what we value and how we present ourselves in the world in order to truly make a difference. When we have done this important internal work, we can effectively guide others towards a common vision or goal.
Challenging the notion of what is possible
There is power in possibility. Leaders who aspire to break down barriers look at their environment, circumstances and the people they lead through the lens of possibility and set expectations based on that perspective in order to shape the future.
I meet all of the students I mentor where they are mentally, physically and emotionally – and walk alongside them on the path of endless possibilities. Through EOYDC’s summer program, we place young people in leadership positions through exposure and opportunity.
Young people as young as 13 are designing curricula, teaching and managing people. We put the power in their hands and offer positive reinforcement to guide them through the process. As a result, students gain independence and self-confidence – and that’s exactly what a successful leader should aim to influence.
As leaders, when we set expectations for the people we lead and challenge them to stretch and grow to reach them, we are helping to unleash their potential and change their perception of themselves. This process is not without discomfort, but we must encourage those we lead to accept discomfort as a byproduct of growth and to stay focused on the goal at hand.
Leave a legacy
The legacy of a leader is as strong as the foundation he leaves behind and which enables others to continue to grow. True leadership is not about role, it’s about purpose – and with service as the goal, our job is never done.
At EOYDC, we guide young people to new opportunities by exposing them to new concepts and areas of practice and helping them develop the skills they need to be successful. Many students I have mentored who have held senior positions in the public and private sectors stress that the supervisory experience they received at EOYDC is critical to their subsequent success as professionals. I have seen children sit up straighter, enter rooms with more confidence, and continue to serve because we have helped them realize possibilities.
When all is said and done, leaders elevate other leaders. This is our heritage. One of the things I am most proud of is the fact that the majority of current EOYDC leaders are EOYDC alumni. leaders who will advance the mission.
** Phylicia King is associated with SMJ Communications.