Friday, March 11, 2011

Memory Lane - NYLC 2001

Let me take you back to 2001. 16 years old and way more comfortable in a classroom than in a casual setting. I was still in my sheltered world of school, home and church and starting to get excited for college apps as a HS junior. UCLA was still my dream college but my sporting life was restricted to being the team manager and stat boy (yes, I had that nickname before Tony Reali on Around the Horn).

One of my teachers told me to apply to this conference in Washington D.C. but I wasn't sure I was interested because I didn't want to miss any school time. Yep, like a dork, I wanted a perfect attendance record throughout school. When she found that out, she got in my face and said that I better not let fear keep me from doing something that would help me grow as a leader.

Oh yeah, back then I was scared of doing anything outside of comfort zone. I was smart and when I spoke, people listened, but my teacher knew there was more to be seen. Naturally, when I told my parents, they went full speed ahead with the idea.

That's how I ended up attending the National Young Leaders Conference. It was 10 years ago this week that I woke up super early in a suit and tie, kissed my folks goodbye and took my 1st solo plane ride across the country with a bunch of other kids for a week we'd never forget.

To explain what NYLC is, imagine several hundred 16 and 17-year old kids from around the country coming together to get a firsthand experience of how the government works with mock press conferences, Supreme Court Justice sessions and the process on how Congress passes a bill from the various committees all the way to a model session of Congress. We went through all that and had to prepare every night for the next day's activities.

Besides the model Congress, we also got to visit the National Press Club as well as hear speakers during the week speak on a variety of issues. But that was just the work side. The fun included tours of Union Station, the D.C. monuments and memorials, walking on Capitol Hill, meeting our Senator and Congressmen and sitting on the floor of the House of Reps. To a kid who had only seen D.C. once before, this was heaven.

Plus the 4-H center we stayed at near Chevy Chase, Maryland, had a basketball court and a game room complete with arcades. And at the end of the week, there was a dance. I'll never forget wondering what kind of dance this would be until I saw two of the leaders get a lil close and I said to myself, "Yeah it's on," even though I had no clue what to expect.

That first plane ride was a bit rough at first but once we landed, all the Cali kids started asking if we were going to NYLC. Course we all stepped outside and it was FREEZING cold. And I had to laugh when I met this kid from South Carolina with an "aww-shucks" drawl and thick accent talking about Ludacris' first CD while I said, "so you know about that Southern hospitality, huh?"

But to keep this story short, cause I can talk about this all day, the trip was memorable in so many ways.

1st solo plane ride
1st time meeting people my age who were as motivated and driven as I was.
1st time being around Black kids (especially girls) my age who were motivated.***
1st time at a dance and learning how to slow dance (Where has this gone?)
1st time I was forced to make friends and get out of my comfort zone.

**I went to a high school that was mixed but mostly Black. At that point in my life, I felt bad that most of the younger kids weren't as driven or as goal-oriented as I was and I couldn't relate to them. This trip showed me there were indeed others like me and that was mindblowing.

I remember meeting kids in my group from Oklahoma, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Northern Cali. My roommate was from Montana. I remember waiting outside to go into the House of Reps and meeting a dude from Boston that is still to this day one of my closest friends (What up OOL!). He's the reason I know what "Return of the Mack" is (more on that story here)

Sadly I thought about it more after 9/11 because I realized just how lucky I was. March 2001 - my parents and sister walked me up to the airport terminal. Airport security was basic. I took a photo across the street from the White House. My aunt met me in the terminal for a layover in Denver when I left DC. All of these things are almost non-existent today.

It makes me wish now that we had Facebook or Twitter back then to keep track of everyone. We were all pretty sad to leave and it got even sadder when one of the girls prophetically said she was emotional because she knew we'd most likely never see each other again. In the back of my mind, I hoped she was wrong but I knew it was likely. By the time I started college 18 months later, I was only in contact with two of my group.

Mainly I came back motivated to not just be a better leader or but get out of my shell as a sheltered kid. I listened to more music, tried to explore my faith a big deeper and expand my social life a bit more. It inspired me to be a different person as I saw there was a world bigger than what I saw and I could be free to discover myself without being afraid. I ended up going to a similar conference that summer and enjoyed it primarily because I knew what to expect. I even encouraged other friends to go because I knew it would benefit them as well.

It prepared me for more than just being a leader and a well-informed kid. It showed me how to balance learning with learning how to have fun. Can't believe it's been 10 years since I took that flight. And I'm thankful every day that I did.

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