"It’s always good to have a Plan B, but you’ve got to have a Plan E — for education," Thurbert Baker told the Newton Youth Leadership Institute students.
Pointing to the adult Leadership Newton program participants around the room, the state attorney general said, "You can’t get to where they are without education."
He reminded students this means not just their 8:30 to 3:30 school education, but also opportunities like this leadership program by Newton County cooperative extension and the Chamber of Commerce.
Last week youth leadership students headed to the State Capitol with the Leadership Newton program to visit with state leaders and see government in action.
They heard speakers, they asked questions and they observed the Senate and House at work.
Each student hopefully gained something more than just the words they heard, however. Maybe they learned from what they observed and what they felt — some of that indefinable part of leadership.
On the way to the Capitol, students were paired up with adult leadership participants.
At lunch one student showed off a metal token given to him by his bus seat partner, which serves as a pocket reference for the Rotary Club’s 4-Way Test.
The coin asks, "Of the things we think, say, or do: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"
While the coin was passed around the group as a bit of a novelty, it seemed to make an impression on this young man, a high school student just learning the ropes of being a good leader.
"There is no hard and fast definition I’ve seen [for leadership]," Baker said to the students. "There are two things we know: we know it when we see it, and we know we gotta have it."
Wes Taylor from the Secretary of State’s office answered a student’s question about his boss’s leadership style by commenting that Karen Handel is an exemplary leader because she doesn’t just do things they way they’ve always been done.
While this can be a tough sell to employees who have always done it one way, he said that Handel leads by saying, "Well here’s how we’re doing it now, here’s how we can do it better and here are some other alternatives."
Throughout the day students met other officials including Senator John Douglas, Representatives Doug Holt and Toney Collins, Commissioner Greg Dozier and Rick Miller from the Dept. of Driver Services, Jerry Watson from the Georgia Department of Corrections, and Natalie Adan from the Department of Agriculture.
Dozier and Miller grew up in Newton County, and both talked about they way their jobs impact not just the state as a whole — but also their own children’s futures.
Others talked about moving to this community or state and finding a way to serve the public.
As the students in youth leadership represent not just Newton County but six countries as first or second generation immigrants, the idea of finding a place one feels needs his or her service was important.
Rep. Collins explained his dad was a migrant worker, and his parents provided the foundation necessary for him to become a successful businessman and leader in our community by giving him an education and always telling him the truth.
"We’re not out to run you; you should be running us," said the freshman representative. "Politics is about policies and helping people, not politicians."
He told the group that to win political office, one needs to "go out and touch as many people’s needs as possible… you don’t just shake hands and say hey, you have to say hello and ask what they really need."
The topic of the day, however, seemed to be the peanut paste controversy.
Adan of the Dept. of Agriculture explained how the company reportedly ignored positive test results in favor of later negative results, but after a comment by Baker it seemed this again related right back to leadership.
Baker explained that a leader is not any one person, but anyone who will stand up with the courage to speak out.
If only someone at the Peanut Corporation of America had stood up as a leader earlier, perhaps they’d have saved nine lives, innocent lives.
Terri Kimble is the Newton County 4-H Educator. She can be reached at 770-784-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org