Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
He will enter his freshman year this fall at the Milwaukee Academy of Science. But prior to joining his classmates at the school address on 2000 West Kilbourn Avenue, this 14-year-old will join an elite selection of high-achieving students at this year’s Junior National Young Leaders Conference (JrNYLC) in Washington, D.C.
He is Young. He is Gifted, and he is Black. Marsalas G. Davis is preparing to attend the nineteenth weekly session of the JrNYLC from August 4 through the 9th. Marsalas will be among the 255 students from around the country who have demonstrated both academic achievement and leadership potential.
Now in its twenty-seventh year, the JrNYLC offers both middle and high school students the opportunity in Washington to learn the qualities of leadership by studying leaders of the past and by the investigation of social advocacy and policy. The goal is to provide the orientation and skills for participants upon their return to their respective cities to make a positive impact in their homes and communities.
According to a program descriptor, the JrNYLC is designed to educate, inspire and motivate students by giving them the confidence and leadership skills that will take them through high school, college and well into their career arenas.
Each of the six-day activities and instruction follows a specific theme. Day One, “Voices of Leadership,” will focus on leadership traits and skills. Tours of the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans’ memorials and the National Museum of America History will highlight the Day Two “Voices of Freedom” schedule. Themes of slavery, resistance to forced bondage and the American Civil War will be featured in “Voices of Struggle” on Day Three.
Leadership and change in United States history and tributes to courage and commitment will be included in the Day Four “Voices of Courage” as students visit the Martin Luther King and Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials. A Student Advocacy Project, leadership activities and a sleepover at the Maryland Science Center spotlights the Day Five “Voices of Change” agenda and “We, the Future: Continuing the Voice of Leadership” titles the closing commencement ceremony as “Voices of the Future” climaxes Day Six.
Noted sessions also include Leadership Focus Groups exploring such topics as social activism, the impact of freedom of speech, and expression of opinions.
Each participating student was nominated for the JrNYLC by a teacher at their school. Marsalas was selected by Ms. Gloria Roschke to represent Milwaukee Academy of Science for his scholastic merit, maturity and strength of character.
“I am honored that Ms. Roschke recognized the talents of my son and to nominate him,” says Cara L. Davis, mother of Marsalas. “I am grateful that he will have this opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. and attend such a prestigious event as the Junior National Young Leaders Conference. We are all very proud of him,” she adds.
In his letter to the JrNYLC student selection committee, young Marsalas writes in his description of a leader that this is a person “who can demonstrate positive examples which others strive to acquire” and one who is “able to handle the responsibility to make the right decision in any situation.” He also states that a leader must be “a good role model for people to look up to.”
“I use these leadership qualities in my daily life,” he reveals in his letter. Marsalas further explains that he is able “to take action in any given situation so that I can help others in need. I can be a good role model by explaining to my classmates that having good grades can get you the job of your choice and help you to achieve a successful life. I am not afraid to be looked upon as a leader by being a responsible person.”
This JrNYLC selectee is blessed to have a host of strong leaders in his family.
He lost his father, Harold P. Davis, when he was 6. Davis was a retired sergeant in the Milwaukee Police Department. His uncle Tim Lea is with the Secret Service Agency for the United States Government. “He can take control in any situation a person may put him in,” says our young leader-to-be of his Uncle Lea. “My uncle can take charge when he needs to and he knows how to respond in challenging situations. He is not afraid to be a leader and he is a take-charge person who had the responsibility to protect two of our Presidents of the United States – Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Jr. He also led the Secret Service Leadership team in preparing for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.”
Marsalas also speaks in his letter of his Uncle Eddie Davis, retired Superintendent of Schools in Hartford, Connecticut who stepped in with the family after his father passed in 2004.
“Uncle Eddie believes in the quality of education. My Uncle Eddie has instilled in me the importance of reading and in understanding of how a good education would benefit me in life. He is a man who stands by his word and has always reached out to those who were in need.”
The teen adds that he remembers how Davis always encouraged others to continue their education and how he himself modeled this example as a schoolteacher, a school principal and later becoming the Hartford Connecticut Superintendent of Schools.
A second uncle, Torrey Lea, is currently a member of the SWAT Tactical Unit of the Milwaukee Police Department.
It is no surprise that with such models as his father Harold Davis, his Uncles Tim and Torrey Lea, that Marsalas wants to become a police officer.
“I have come to understand in my short years of life that nothing is ever free in this world. And if you want something, you have to work hard for it. My goal is to become a police officer for I believe that I could be of great service to my family and to my community by making a difference in the world by protecting and being of service to others,” he says.
Reflecting the influence of Uncle Davis, Marsalas strongly believes that it is important for him to do well in school and attend college to study towards a degree in Criminal Science. He already has his sights on Howard University in Washington, D.C.
The last time known to this writer that a student from Milwaukee was chosen to attend the National Young Leaders Conference was eight years ago when Tamara Horton, during her freshman year, was selected out of North Division High School in 2004. According to a July 28 published article on Tamara, she was nominated at that time by North’s Allied Health Instructor Lamont Walker.
A graduate then of Blyden Delany Academy, an African Centered elementary school in Milwaukee, Tamara, also like Marsalas, was described by Walker as an “outstanding student who has achieved academic excellence, possesses strong leadership potential and a positive work ethic and has the drive to accomplish her goals. She takes ownership of her intent to achieve.”
The JrNYLC curriculum was developed in 1985 by former high school teacher and social science department chairperson, Dr. Marguerite Regan in 1985. Having received a doctorate in political science from Purdue University, Dr. Regan has been involved in the creation and development of innovative educational curricula and instructional programming for over 30 years.
The JrNYLC in Washington is a shining example of such a unique approach to leadership training for our nation’s youth.
“I feel very good about going to the nation’s capital to learn about our country and the workings of our government,” says Marsalas. “I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to learn new and creative ways of not only furthering my knowledge of history, but more importantly, the privilege of learning how to become an effective and positive leader.”