The term “servant-leader” was coined in the 1970s, but the concept is as old as history, George K. Martin, rector of the University of Virginia, said Thursday night. Martin, the first African-American to be elected to lead the Board of Visitors, gave the keynote address at the seventh annual Image Awards on Grounds.
Three student groups – the Black Leadership Institute, Black Student Alliance and U.Va. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – with the assistance of Dion Lewis, assistant dean in the Office of African-American Affairs, sponsored the ceremony to honor students and others “who create a positive impact and sustainable change” for the University’s black community, said Chelsea Stokes, chair of the awards committee and a member of the Black Student Alliance.
The event, which drew more than 100 guests to an elegant dinner in Newcomb Hall Ballroom, is modeled after the national NAACP’s awards. The winners included seven students, a student organization, an administrator, an employee and Martin, who was recognized as an outstanding alumnus (he graduated from the College of Arts & Sciences in 1975).
“I believe the most effective leaders are those who are able to guide and inspire others through gentle persuasion, commitment to the greater good, and, perhaps most importantly, compassion,” Martin told the audience during his talk, “Leaders as Servants: Guiding the Next Generation.”
“Servant-leaders achieve results, not through intimidation or top-down authoritarian management, but by serving the needs of their constituents.
“In our culture, compassion or empathy, is an undervalued quality – among other things compassion means we strive to understand the concerns of others,” he said.
From the remarks made about each of the winners, the awardees exemplify these qualities.
Valerie Gregory, associate dean of Undergraduate Admission, received the Faculty Award for her work “to ensure that the University community remains diverse in regard to ethnicity and socio-economic status,” Stokes said in presenting the award to her.
Gregory’s commitment goes beyond convincing students to apply; she’s also a mentor and “surrogate mother” who continues to assist students in their transition to the University, Stokes said. “Many of the undergraduates in the room today are here because of Dean Gregory’s efforts.”
The National Society for Black Engineers was awarded for “Excellence in Cultural Programming.”
“The organization enhances the University community through its programs by encouraging active student participation, educating the student body of diverse issues and cultivating the black community as a whole,” said Martese Johnson, a member of the event planning committee.
In introducing the award to the “Stand-Out First-Year,” Chadia King, Johnson said, “Despite having to adjust to University life, this individual has taken an initiative to actively participate in University activities and programs, specifically ones geared toward the black community.” King has participated in Black Voices, the Sil’hooettes, the Organization of Young Filipino Americans, the Emerging Leaders retreat and the Hancock Hall Association Council.
Jordan Fowler won the Outstanding Mentor award for her willingness to become a source of inspiration for anyone in her path, “with a selfless heart and an embedded desire to see her peers succeed,” said O’Tillia Roberts, another member of both the planning committee and the U.Va. NAACP chapter.
Roberts presented the “Silent Inspiration” award to student Saron Fantahun, recognizing her for furthering progress in the black community, providing opportunities for various groups, creating connections and promoting activities outside of U.Va. Fantahun remains “humble with no regard to acknowledgement for all of her efforts,” Roberts said.
Similarly, Alazar Haregu, who received the “Student Humanitarian” award, “has selflessly dedicated himself to aiding the advancement of others both within and outside of the University community,” said Fritz Bondoa of the Black Leadership Institute.
Along with being an Office of African-American Affairs Peer Adviser whose advisees “rave about his truly caring nature in regard to their academic success,” Haregu participated in the Harvard School of Public Health International Research program last summer to work on health issues in his native Ethiopia and through Global Med, where he participated in organizing child nutrition programs in Cambodia, Bondoa said.
For being an “Outstanding Student Leader,” Byron Nicholas was recognized for his efforts as president of the Black Commerce Student Network in advocating an increase of African-American students in the McIntire School of Commerce. Also a senior peer adviser in the Office of African-American Affairs program, he works closely with assistant dean Kimberley Bassett to ensure the program’s goals are fulfilled, Bondoa said.
Fourth-year student Daniel Artin received the “College Career” award for his community service throughout his years at U.Va. Artin designed a mentorship curriculum for Monticello High School students and coordinated an annual college tour for the mentees. He helped form a similar program for Albemarle High School students and students at Jackson-Via Elementary School. Artin’s service has extended to the elderly residents of the Golden Living Center Nursing Home and many other projects.
Riana Anderson, a doctoral student in clinical psychology, received a new award for a graduate student’s impact on undergraduates.
“She has always found time to support undergraduate students, as a member and president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Organization and serving as a mentor to several undergraduate students via the Leaders Guiding Leaders program,” said Stokes in presenting the award to Anderson.
One of Anderson’s former mentees said, “It doesn’t take long to realize that giving back is just a part of her very core. She lifts while she climbs. She is the type of person that betters you personally, professionally and spiritually.”
Last but not least, Kathy McGruder, who greets students daily as the card-swiper/cashier in the Newcomb Dining Hall, was recognized with the “Unsung Hero” award for continuing to inspire and lift up several generations of U.Va. students with the kindness she shows them every day.
As if previewing that award, Martin said earlier, “We are not all destined to be heroic and historic leaders, at least at the level of Nelson Mandela, but we can and should live with a sense of purpose and act in accordance with our values.”
Martin talked about meeting Mandela through a colleague from South Africa who called the anti-apartheid leader and first black president of the country “his spiritual father.”
Martin said when he met Mandela, “I was truly in awe and impressed, because he was humble, gracious and engaging.”
Martin also mentioned several U.Va. alumni he considers “fine examples of servant-leaders,” among them the late Leroy R. Hassell, the first African-American and youngest to serve as Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice, calling him “a tireless advocate for mental health reform and a champion for the poor in terms of adequate access to the judicial system”; the late Clarence Cain – “a brilliant lawyer who fought against discrimination and whose life inspired the film “Philadelphia”; and Susan “Syd” Dorsey, a former Board of Visitors member “who has been a surrogate parent to many U.Va. students.”
Martin added to his list Leonard W. Sandridge, who worked for the University for more than 40 years, lastly as the executive vice president and chief operating officer, and who serves today as a special adviser to the Board of Visitors. “He did not seek the limelight. He led from behind and promoted the accomplishments of others,” Martin said.
“Leadership opportunities abound. The question, however, is, will you become a leader and adopt Mandela’s style of servant leadership?”