By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — It was a beautiful sunny day and the first time in over a year a large crowd of city and county leaders had been in the same space since the pandemic shut down the city and the world.
In a time that has demanded great leadership on many levels in Knoxville and Knox County, it seemed only fitting that the annual Mayors Leadership Luncheon, now in its 12th year, bring great leaders to speak to the 2021 graduates of Leadership Knoxville about community and servant leadership.
The event is hosted yearly by the board of directors and alumni of Leadership Knoxville. City and county mayors, Indya Kincannon and Glen Jacobs opened the luncheon which is held to bring community leaders together to celebrate past accomplishments, set new visions, and encourage others to act.
The Leadership Knoxville program which began in 1984, now has over 1,600 alumni, all of whom graduated from an intensive 10 month program of study of Knoxville’s community which was derived from the organization’s vision, “Every Leader-A Servant Leader.” Their goal: that those who would lead Knoxville should be knowledgeable about the issues of the community, and passionate about helping across all social and economic boundaries.
To inspire the newly graduated class of 54 leaders, The Honorable Stephen Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, SC, one of the most successful
mayors in the United States, and Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook, active member of the civil rights movement and personal friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, brought messages of how to build community across the board and words of encouragement that brought the audience of over 1,000 to their feet.
Modeling one of the beliefs of the organization, that everyone has a role to improve the lives others; one of the greatest moments of the sold out luncheon that was live-streamed for the virtual audience was the surprise presentation of a check from alumni members and a collaboration of banks in the amount of $39,000.00. The monies were given to help the fund raising effort of the Austin/ Austin- East Alumni Association to help their school which has seen several months of tragedy since the beginning of the year.
For several years, the association has been working to raise the funds to erect an electronic messaging board for Austin East Magnet High School. When called to the stage and was presented with the check, George Underwood, president of the association, was totally shocked by the gift, joyfully said, “You have effectively ended the fund raiser.”
Another pivotal moment came as the The Honorable Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook, a member of the LK Class of 1999, was presented the 2021 Leadership Knoxville Distinguished Alumnus Award by Avice Reed, Board Chair, for his exemplification of community stewardship, integrity, humility, and a desire to serve to beyond self.