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'Lead Well Summit' cultivates next wave of Dinwiddie leaders

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DINWIDDIE – Did you know nearly 17 percent of Dinwiddie County Public Schools students miss 18 or more days during a given school year – over 700 of the district’s 4,347 student body?

How about that nearly a quarter of the county’s students have reported they, at one point, had thought about harming themselves? Or that the county averages two overdoses per week, which equates to over 100 annually?

Those and other statistics, while sobering for the hundreds on hand for Saturday’s Lead Well Summit also served to enlighten attendees and spark a conversation about how the community can collectively unite and lead across a number of sectors all for the betterment of Dinwiddie County and those who call the county home.

Last weekend’s summit, a first for Dinwiddie County and one of three events born from the county’s faith-based initiative, the others being the annual health-oriented Live Well Expo and the Learn Well Initiative, which provides school supplies to the county’s Pre-K and kindergarten students, drew over 300 people to Dinwiddie High School for a morning of knowledge and insight centered on inspiring people from all walks of life to serve in the community and how to do it effectively and with purpose.

For County Administrator Kevin Massengill, Saturday’s event was about bringing people together to walk in one accord for the furtherance of Dinwiddie.

“The world standard tells us we can’t be together, that’s church and state. But the truth is, we can be and we march stronger when we are,” he said to a well-filled auditorium of attendees. “It breaks down the barriers, puts the county government, school system, the faith based community, and the business community, along with civic organizations and nonprofits all together.”

The morning-long event saw a stirring keynote delivered by Dr. John Kinney, renowned pastor and theology professor at Virginia Union University. Kinney was selected by the summit’s planning committee for his ability to inspire those who hear his message. He would open the morning by simply telling attendees to “wake up,” which carried more connotation than simply getting their attention.

“If I say to you ‘wake up,’ that operates with the presumption that somehow you are in some kind of slumber and you’re in that in-between state where you are not quite conscious or fully aware so that you are living beneath the capacity that is your being if you would only wake up,” he said, dovetailing into a poem entitled, “A Leader’s Prayer,” which highlights the key parts of true leadership, “listening and connecting,” and that, “Leadership is less about the love of power, and more about the power of love.”

Through his “Awakening” address, Kinney used a square watermelon, which is skewed from its usual round shape by confining the fruit to a mold that alters its natural state, to draw parallels to the social molds that people are shaped into through their own experiences and perceived social norms in the community and beyond.

“I will mess with how you were created so it creates comfort for me so I structure you to fit the box that best serves my needs and not your person,” he explained. “I am literally modifying you and, if the social contract is perverted and I relate to you for purely utilitarian purposes, primarily in a mercenary nexus. In other words, I relate to you based upon what I can get from you, not how I can live with you and the primary factor motivating what I want to get from you is contingent upon how much I am going to get.”

The key is being able to break free of that mold, with Kinney noting, if the seeds inside the square watermelon are planted to grow without the constrictive box, it will return to the shape nature intended.

“When they take that square watermelon and take a seed out of it and plant it, it grows back round. You can square me but you can’t change the seed in me,” he said, drawing applause from attendees.

Kinney continued, “If somehow doing my journey there is a moment in my life and I recognize I am boxed and I find a way to break it, you are dangerous. The minute you break boxes people have put you in, you are dangerous, and you might even be labeled dangerous.”

Speaking directly to those who do lead, be it at home, work, in government, or elsewhere, or those wanting to get involved and lead in their community, Kinney reminded the audience it is the sum of the parts that makes an effective whole.

“Whenever you start thinking that because of where you sit, you have a greater being, then you treat the people beneath you like they are non-beings. Then you rob their energy and they work to do a job, rather than to embrace a passion,” planting his own seed in the minds of those listening, stressing the importance of recovering their own seed to break free of the molds that have shaped their experiences.

“If we can ever recover the seed that has been lying dormant, we can create the light,” Kinney said. “We see the light and create the light and people will come to work with a spirit of delight. It will be in our homes and they will go to meetings with a spirit of delight. It is a delight to work for the county government, it is a delight to teach in the schools… there is an atmosphere and a reality where I am not entering a war zone, I entered community building space and the model for that should be seen in the leaders.”

Before focused breakout sessions, the trio of Deputy County Administrator Tammie Collins, Sharon Baptist Church Pastor Chris Hillman, and Dinwiddie Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Royal Gurley presented sets of thought-provoking statistics from each of their sectors, some that drew audible reactions from the audience, such as the over $2 million in combined annual county spending to house incarcerated juveniles and adults.

“If we look at those two numbers together and we ask ourselves, what does that number really mean,” Collins said. “It means that $2.5 million going to other types of enhancement and services in our community are going to house people who didn’t make the right choice. It looks like mentorship programs and parenting programs. It looks like someone going to lunch with a student where there may be issues at home but we can step in and give a positive influence,” drawing parallels to data presented by Gurley on the importance of children reading on grade-level by the third grade.

“We estimate the number of beds we need in our regional jail based on how many students that are not reading on grade-level by third grade,” she explained, saying she was disturbed when that information was revealed to her. “It takes a few moments of working with a child to help them grasp the concept of reading. That is a place we can all find ourselves as a community to help make us stronger.”

With Kinney providing the call to action, energizing the audience before Saturday’s event concluded, Massengill said he was pleased to see the turnout for the county’s first leadership summit.

“We are extremely excited for the turnout and I think it shows and proves the Dinwiddie community is desirable for something like this,” he shared. “Dr. Kinney is a phenomenal speaker and we were encouraged with the breakout sessions. The thing about statistics is, you see the numbers, but then you think about the individuals behind the numbers. What we are trying to do is get individuals to understand, respect, and be able to be called to action to assist us when we have another event like this.”

Among those on hand for the summit was Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-04), who praised Dinwiddie for working to bring different sectors together to help advance the county in a positive direction as he settled in for a breakout session focused on servant leadership in action.

“It is really inspiring and heartwarming to see the faith community merge with the government leaders to try and make the community better, sharing important statistics so people know what is going on and the state of their community so, I learned a lot today and I am sure the citizens of Dinwiddie County did as well.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Dinwiddie School Board Chairman Barbara Pittman, who said she was happy to see the community come together to share information.

“We all need to know what each other knows,” she explained. “We all know our field and our clients but, many times, we lose sight of who the other people are dealing with and how what we do affects one another and certainly all of us affect one another. I am encouraged that we have almost 400 people here trying to improve connectivity, which improves what we can do for people.”

Throughout the planning of the Lead Well Summit, discussion of bringing different areas of the county out of their respective silos and sharing information to help support and enhance what each organization is doing was one of the pillars of Saturday’s endeavor, something longtime Dinwiddie supervisor Harrison Moody believes is important in advancing the county.

“In the past, we have all looked at things in separate silos and I think bringing it all together as one can help us work together better because there might be something that I can do that I have a skill and now, I can help someone so, it is really going to empower the community to do good,” he remarked.

For many, that first step toward service may have come through inserts in their packets that allowed them to share the areas they want to get involved in and take action and a detailed list of opportunities for service in the community.

As the first Lead Well Summit concludes, work begins on planning the county’s next summit in the future, along with the approaching Live Well Expo, expected to be held this spring.