Media personality Tavis Smiley, left, and ExxonMobil engineer Byron Williams, right, visited Franklin High School in Seattle on Oct. 11 as part of the Talented Tenth High School Tour. The tour encourages minority students with leadership potential to excel in school and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Joining Smiley and Williams are Franklin High student Ronnesha Shannon, second from left, Principal Jennifer Wiley and Franklin High student Amanule Mengesha.
"What country tested a nuclear device the other day?" PBS award-winning talk show host and best-selling author Tavis Smiley asked a group of Seattle high school students. After a student answered correctly — "North Korea" — Smiley pulled out a $20 from his pocket and handed it to the surprised high school senior.
"The first thing about being a leader is you have to be aware. In order to be aware, you have to be awake to the world around you," Smiley said.
Smiley and Byron Williams, an ExxonMobil engineer, spoke to about 50 Franklin High School students last week as part of the Talented Tenth High School Tour, which will travel to 10 cities across the nation. After the Seattle stop, the tour continues on to Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Baton Rouge, La.; Houston; and Newark, N.J.
Every other year in various cities, The Tavis Smiley Foundation hosts a national leadership institute where young people spend a week talking about leadership. This year it was in Houston.
The program focuses on leadership and the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to students' everyday lives. For the second year in a row, ExxonMobil has been the lead sponsor of the Talented Tenth tour.
Smiley encouraged students to find what they were put here to do in life. "What you want in life is not a job, what you want to find is your vocation. You're better than a job," he continued. "There is something for everyone to do. Everything serves a purpose and I want you to discover what your purpose is."
Smiley talked about leading by example and how leadership is about serving others.
"You can't lead if you don't love people," he said. "You can't save people, if you won't serve people."
Smiley talked about the "three C's": courage, commitment and conviction. Sharing a quote from a South African activist, Robert Sobukwe, Smiley told the students, "The essence of my life is commitment. The successes and the failures are mere byproducts."
Smiley said he hopes to enlighten, empower and encourage the young generation. At the end of the day, he said, all that matters is that you stay committed; failing doesn't make you a failure.
As part of a new edition to the program, ExxonMobil will provide a $500 grant to each participating high school on the tour to help implement or enhance a new project or program related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
The ExxonMobil Foundation and the Tavis Smiley Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on youth leadership development, formed their partnership in 2005 to provide student enrichment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. The tour encourages minority students who are not involved in traditional school activities to develop the skills needed to become leaders and encourage interest, specifically in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics career areas.
Students received the Youth to Leaders Guidebook, a resource publication of the Tavis Smiley Foundation, The Scholarship and HBCU Guide for African American Students and a copy of Smiley's new book, What I Know for Sure.
Additional information on ExxonMobil's community partnerships and contributions programs is available at www.exxonmobile.com/community.
For more information about the Tavis Smiley Foundation, visit www.youthtoleaders.org.