2016 World Leadership Congres
The World Leadership Congress is a weeklong leadership seminar held at Loyola University, a private university just minutes north of downtown Chicago. This year, 403 ambassadors, hailing from 44 different states and 12 different countries were in attendance for this magical week. It is impossible to describe with words how incredible this experience was, but here is my best attempt to recount the week.
One thing that makes all HOBY ambassadors so special is their incredible energy and charisma, and this HOBY spirit was apparent even upon arrival. The air in O’Hare airport was just electric with excitement, as at long last, WLC was beginning. I was reminded of just how surreal being around HOBY was. No one paid any mind to the weird looks we got when yelling cheers, to the disdain from onlookers as we crowded baggage claim and raised the volume of the airport ten fold. Everyone was completely immersed, and all-in from the very first moments. I knew it was going to be a great week.
The opening ceremony commenced shortly after everyone’s arrival, and it was yet another reminder of the endless energy HOBY ambassadors bring to every moment. What was most memorable to me was the moment all the international ambassadors made their entrance. As us US ambassadors screamed our voices out, everyone on their feet, with the song “Wavin’ Flag” blaring in the background, perfectly setting the mood, each country made their entrance one by one to an ear deafening greeting. It was something out of a movie, and any apprehensiveness that might have existed was most certainly gone. Talk about starting with a bang.
During our first night, we also got a chance to listen to our first speaker, Megan Alexander. Megan is a correspondent on the renowned newsmagazine show “Inside Edition”. She also covers Thursday night football on CBS, and has covered the last five Super Bowls. A former HOBY ambassador herself, and a member of HOBY’s board of governors, Megan emphasized the influence of social media and pop culture in today’s society, and made a case of bringing the HOBY spirit to the news. She voiced that in order to change culture, one must directly be a part of culture.
Megan would prove to be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of speakers. The next day we were spoken to by Lamarr Womble, who’s goal was to inspire passion and action in children through his organization “Passion for Leadership”, and a belief that we can accomplish what we are told is impossible, and stray from the ideal path we are pushed to take. We then smoothly transitioned to our next speaker Koji, a signer/songwriter and perfect follow up to Lamarr, as he used his life experiences, and raw passion and enthusiasm as an activist to inspire. We were also spoken to by Diane Lattiker, the founder of Kids Off the Block, and a top ten CNN hero.
However, the speaker that stood out the most to me, and would prove to be one of the highlights of my week was Houston Kraft, a kindness advocate and founder of the “Choose Love” movement. Houston spoke about “agape”, the one of the four Greek words for love. He used it’s meaning of unconditional love to emphasize that love is a choice, and elaborates on his view that as leaders, it is our duty to love all even when it is inconvenient or difficult, especially in a world where kindness is a commodity. He emphasized that as a choice, our love for others must not waver, expressing his view that sometimes our most impactful moments are when we are not even trying to make a difference, but rather in those little moments we are loving.
Apart from the amazing speakers, WLC also put a great deal of emphasis on leadership through service to others, and during the week we were given two opportunities to give back. The first was a morning trip to Chicago’s Humboldt Park, where ambassadors took part in various labor around the park, whether it was mulching, picking up liter, or painting bleachers. By the end of the morning, around $125,000 worth of service was provided to the park in the 3-4 hours we each contributed. CBS Chicago was even on the scene to report the service project.
The second came towards the end of the week, when ambassadors took part in packaging healthy meals for hungry children with the organization “Feeding Children Everywhere”. In a mere hour, enough meals were packed to feed 50,000 hungry children.
In addition, an hour of each day would be dedicated to creative time, where ambassadors would either participate in a service project, an art project, or chorus, depending on what they had chosen at the beginning of the week. The work of each group was put on display at the closing banquet. Service had a table showing off the newly made toys for the community, art revealed a beautiful mural emblazoned with the word “Know Your Why” (the theme of our WLC,) and chorus sang a mash up of “Seasons of Love” and “Man in the Mirror”, before ending with a powerful rendition of Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome”, a song that had been performed by Koji previously in the week.
Other significant moments in the week include the Amazing Race, a scavenger-hunt like activity in which groups would partner up, and scour Chicago for famous buildings or monuments, based on a list of hints given to facilitators. In addition, ambassadors were also given an opportunity to visit the Museum of Science and Industry. Naturally, each action packed day would also conclude with group time, where groups would gather in their respective rooms and reflect on the events of the day, as well as participate in activities that forced members to open up, and ultimately become much closer with each other.
There was one quote said by a panelist on the last day that really stuck out to me: “HOBY gives me the energy to keep going through the year”. The more I thought about WLC as I took off from O’Hare airport, en route back to Boston, the more I realized how true this would be. As Houston said, we live in a world where kindness is a commodity, and whether on an international scale or simply a trivial level, it is a depressing place at times. However, when I am around HOBY, I am truly the best version of myself. Never have I met such charismatic, kind, loving people, and being around 400+ of these individuals at WLC was absolutely incredible. I could walk up to a random stranger during lunch at WLC and say “Hi, I’m Andrew from Boston, where are you from”? and in moments we would be conversing about our life stories, truly connecting with each other. This to me is what made the week so special, and what makes HOBY so special, and my experience that week listening to speakers, participating in service, and most importantly meeting and connecting with others, has truly changed my outlook on life. It has been over a month, and WLC is still fresh on my mind, and I will never forget the magic of those 8 days. Thank you HOBY, for this amazing experience.
Meta (Amy) Russell