The U.S. Military Academy is the pre-eminent leadership development institution in the world and its mission of developing the next generation of leaders doesn't start and finish at the gates of the academy.
Through its office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity, West Point hosts Leadership, Ethics, Diversity and STEM workshops throughout the country to teach leadership, ethics and morality to students and educators in underserved areas.
The office hosted its fourth annual LEADS event at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi March 1.
The daylong event brought together JROTC cadets from throughout the Jackson Public School System and surrounding areas to learn about what it means to be a leader. There were STEM demonstrations where students could try out virtual reality headsets and participate in small experiments.
"We hold (LEADS) to go outside and outreach to areas that don't get exposed to how to go about leadership, ethics and morality," Class of 2019 Cadet Juwan Griffith, vice president of the LEADS program, said. "We expose them to STEM programs that some people don't know about like aeronautics engineering and systems engineering. We reach out to them to show them there are different avenues for their education later on in their lives."
The workshop included small groups where West Point cadets and leaders from local colleges such as JSU, Mississippi College and Tougaloo College facilitated discussions about making ethical and moral decisions while serving as a leader.
The day also included workshops for local educators to learn about leadership and the admissions process to service academies so they can help their students through the application.
"I attended last year and the previous year," Brandie Wigley, a junior at Provine High School, said. "It is bettering my leadership skills. It helps me by being able to work with a different variety of people and getting to know what they think and how we can find solutions. You build friendships with people you never thought you would meet with different backgrounds and get their perspectives on how things should work and how we can be better as a whole."
In the morning, students took part in the small groups where they talked through prepared scenarios which forced them to make tough ethical and moral decisions such as whether it is OK to steal if you are hungry and what to do when you have to decide between being truthful and being loyal to a friend.
Each student also had to write a short personal essay about a time he or she faced a tough moral decision in his or her life.
In the afternoon, each small group worked to prepare a skit to show what they had learned about being a leader and making correct choices. The skits included scenarios such as deciding whether to go to a party or do community service needed to graduate and making the right decisions in relationships.
"Every year I improve my leadership skills," Wigley said. "It has tremendously increased my leadership skills by being able to work with people, getting their perspective and not just thinking about what I need to do. You have to listen to everyone's point of view, hear what they are saying and think how it can all go into one."
The closing of the day also featured a talk by retired Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, a graduate of Jackson State University, who encouraged the students to live out the simple motto, "Do the right thing," in every aspect of their lives.
"Today was a great day," Griffith said. "These students are very motivating for me personally. I heard some stories I have never heard before about what these students are going through. For me, I think they got from not only the West Point cadets, but also Mississippi College and Jackson State University leaders, a very broad sense of how to go about things when times are tough and how to be stronger as a person in their values and ethics."
As part of the visit to Jackson, the West Point cadets also took time to visit and play cards and bingo with veterans living at G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center.
"It is a chance for us to give and show that we serve the people while coming and visiting them and taking care of them," Class of 2021 Cadet Juliana Galvan said of why they visited the hospital. "I feel connected to them when they tell their stories knowing I am their next generation."
The next LEADS event will take place in Baltimore April 4.