Leaders of Tomorrow Brighten Downtown Spartanburg

June 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm

By Kim Kimzey
Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 8, 2012 at 12:24 a.m.
Photo by John Byrum/john.byrum@shj.com

High school students transformed the drab wall of a shuttered building in downtown Spartanburg on Thursday.

Fifty students created a mural on one side of Magnolia Street Pub and another building across the street, painting silhouettes against a kaleidoscope of color.

The students, rising sophomores, juniors and seniors from high schools in Spartanburg and Union counties, are participating in the University of South Carolina Upstate’s sixth annual Youth Leadership Summer Institute. Two students from Germany also are participating.

USC Upstate psychology professor Jennifer Parker directs the week-long institute, which ends today.

Parker said they select from a “diverse pool” of students who are academic, athletic and faith leaders.

“The one-week residential experience focuses on activities to inspire high school students to develop an awareness of issues regarding their environment, both physical and social. The program consists of educational and social components that examine aspects of leadership and civic engagement from local and global perspectives,” according to a written statement from USC Upstate.

This year’s theme was “Community Vibrancy.”

“To have a healthy community, you need to have areas where people want to gather and that create spots of vibrancy that create a sense of belonging and energy,” Parker said.

She said each year they select a “tangible project” to make Spartanburg a better place, and they decided to paint a mural this year.

Michael Dickins, USC Upstate art gallery and box office manager, and his wife, Dawn, directed the project.

Students have listened to speakers and participated in workshops and field trips.

Parker said the institute is designed to teach and help students develop leadership skills.

She wants them to identify their strengths as leaders, feel empowered and realize they have much to offer the community. She also hopes students gain a “sense of belonging, but also that sense of empowerment that it’s their community.”

“They need to be making a difference, and they are,” she said.

Justin Brown, a rising Spartanburg High School junior, said he wanted to participate in the institute so he could do more for the community. He said he’s learned that people can make a difference in the community through teamwork.

Rising Byrnes High School senior J’Dian Bennett said other students are from different backgrounds, and he’s learned to respect different views.

This is the second year that Priya Patel, a rising Boiling Springs junior, has participated.

“It’s an amazing experience … it teaches you a lot. It’s not just fun, but it’s a great learning experience,” Priya said.

She said they help the community, and she learns something new each day, including how to cooperate and communicate with others. The institute also has given her the opportunity to meet many people and develop friendships.

“Youth leadership is a real passion of mine — to help youth see themselves as change agents and identify those traits that they have and apply them in ways to change their environment for the better,” Parker said.