“I realized that a lot of us come from very different backgrounds, but we all share a desire to make the world a better place.”
As one of the newest members of the Kenan Scholars program, Jake Sackstein shared the insights he gleaned from the program’s orientation weekend, held Jan. 11-12 in Chapel Hill. Sackstein and 14 other new sophomore scholars spent the weekend learning about the history and goals of the Kenan Scholars program, and participating in activities designed to introduce them to the program’s emphasis on putting the private sector to work for the public good.
The weekend began with an overview of the history and growth of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the sponsoring organization for the Kenan Scholars, by Executive Director Greg Brown and Managing Director Mark Little. After learning about the institute’s work in the public sector, new scholar Deanna Upchurch seemed enthusiastic. “I’m thrilled that the Kenan Scholars program encourages and pushes students to think about others,” said Upchurch, “and the ways they can be of service in a community.”
A highlight of Friday evening was a dinner at which the newest members of the program were joined by scholars from other cohorts and several alumni. Also participating was Tom Kenan, whose father, Frank Hawkins Kenan, founded the Kenan Institute. The younger Kenan remains active in the organization to this day.
On Saturday, the program provided opportunities for the scholars to meet individuals making a difference in their communities. At the historic Franklinton Center at Bricks in Edgecombe County, scholars were greeted by Elly Mendez Angulo, who discussed how the conference, retreat and educational facility with a focus on justice advocacy and leadership development began life as a slave plantation, then transformed into one of the first accredited schools for African Americans in the South. The scholars also heard from the Rev. Richard Joyner, a pastor who actively engages in farming to provide healthy food for poor communities.
At United Community Ministries, students put what they learned about the issue of food security to practical use. They worked with residents of the Rocky Mount-based homeless shelter to serve lunch, organize clothing donations and listen to residents’ stories.
“It was humbling to hear the stories of people who have faced unfathomable obstacles, within the very same state lines in which I have grown up,” said new scholar and North Carolina native Tahia Hannan.
After making their way back to the Franklinton Center at Bricks, the scholars participated in community-building activities led by poet and social justice activist C.J. Suitt. Suitt, a Chapel Hill native and fellow Tarheel, engaged students in exercises aimed at helping them both work as a team and identify their implicit biases.
At the end of orientation, new scholar Daniel Bowan summed up the weekend’s message eloquently, saying, “Our obligations are not simply to the Kenan Institute, but to each other.”
To learn more about the Kenan Scholars program, visit kenaninstitute.unc.edu/scholars.