National leader’s visit spotlights education, science

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial presented Knoxville Area Urban League President and CEO Phyllis Nichols the national "Women of Power" award when he was in Knoxville recently.

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial presented Knoxville Area Urban League President and CEO Phyllis Nichols the national “Women of Power” award when he was in Knoxville recently.

When National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial visited Knoxville recently, the local Urban League CEO, Phyllis Nichols, wanted to impress upon him that East Tennessee is more than just bluegrass music and Appalachian landscapes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those.)

“I want him to go back to New York thinking, ‘Wow! I never expected to be so impressed!'” she said.

So, in a time span of less than 24 hours, here’s what he did: attended an intimate reception with about 50 community leaders and had dinner with a few of them following that; attended a breakfast for members of the Urban League “family” (meaning staff, board members and leaders of the Urban League Young Professionals group); toured the Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge’s National Laboratory‘s National Center for Computational Sciences; and ended with a tour of the Spallation Neutron Source, also in Oak Ridge. Whew!

Moxley Carmichael was honored to sponsor the reception, dinner and breakfast. And I think that after the whirlwind visit, Morial, who also is the former two-term mayor of New Orleans, left with a much changed impression of Knoxville and East Tennessee.

Pilot Flying J Founder and Chairman Jim Haslam with Nichols at the reception.

Pilot Flying J Founder and Chairman Jim Haslam with Nichols at the reception.

But, never mind what he learned. Here are some of the things I learned during Morial’s brief but jam-packed visit:

  • Robert M. Whitten, Jr., a group leader at the National Institute for Computational Sciences, emphatically and repeatedly made the point that we, as a nation and as a local community, must encourage more students to go into the so-called STEM professions: science, technology, engineering and math. “There are more STEM jobs than there are candidates to fill them,” he said.
  • Something goes awry in our teaching when children reach fifth, sixth and seventh grade. “Everybody wants to be a scientist — until they hit middle school,” Whitten said.
  • When Morial asked about the cause of that, Whitten said, “There’s simply not enough focus on it. We need to answer the question, ‘How can I use math as a tool to get things done?’ Rather than it just being something you have to get through.”
  • The Urban League is on board with these goals with the League’s emphasis on education and employment. “Education is a key part of economic empowerment,” Morial told the local Urban League staff and board members at breakfast. “We need to manufacture things in this country. That’s what built us. But for the past seven decades, that’s moved abroad. But China and Indonesia will experience upward pressure on wages because those folks will want a better way of life. The Urban League needs to be a part of training people to do those jobs when they come back.”
  • Two of the Urban League Young Professionals: Damon Rawls and Syreeta Vaughn at the breakfast meeting with Morial.

    Two of the Urban League Young Professionals: Damon Rawls and Syreeta Vaughn at the breakfast meeting with Morial.

    Morial said the Urban League supports common core standards and more stringent requirements for graduation. “But parents and schools have to have resources to get there,” he added. “It’s one thing to set goalposts 15 feet high. But players have to be strong enough to kick the ball through them.”

  • “You can’t have effective reform without intelligent investing,” he said. “We give money to what we think is important. The hogs on the farm don’t get fatter just because you weigh them.”
  • As chair of the local Urban League Board, I was very interested in what Morial had to say about the organization and its future. “We are trying to penetrate the college and university market,” he said. “We are an institution not of the past, but of the future. You’d better include young people or you will die on the vine. As an institution, you can’t be stuck in the past.”
  • The Knoxville Area Urban League is among the 62 of the 95 Urban League affiliates that have a strong Young Professionals group. Morial said today there are 6,500 young professionals in those 62 affiliates and that number is expected to double within five years.
  • I was delighted to hear that he also is a strong advocate of social media. “Concentrate on social media,” he urged the staff and board. “Social media allows David to fight Goliath! Social media builds visibility and advocacy. Get on the front edge of all things related to technology.”
  • The Urban League as a non-profit organization is not driven by volunteers, but instead has a paid professional staff that works in conjunction with volunteers. “The first job of an Urban League Board is to hire an excellent CEO,” Morial said. “It’s like the NFL: no team is successful without a great quarterback.”
  • I agreed with him when he said “the skill set required of an Urban League CEO is bigger than those required of the CEOs of multimillion dollar corporations.” Why? “The multiplicity of tasks,” he noted. That is certainly the case with our CEO, Phyllis Nichols. During his visit, Morial re-presented her with the national “Women of Power” award she received this summer at the Urban League’s national convention in Boston. We are very proud and fortunate to have her as one of our community’s most successful non-profit leaders.
The reception was held in the private dining room at Windows on the Park in the Holiday Inn World's Fair.

The reception was held in the private dining room at Windows on the Park in the Holiday Inn World’s Fair.

 

Tim Young, left, chats with Phyllis Nichols and Marc Morial.Young is a member of the Knoxville Area Urban League's board of directors.

Summit Medical Group President and CEO Tim Young, left, chats with Phyllis Nichols and Marc Morial. Young is a member of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s board of directors.

Nichols and Morial pose with state Rep. Joe Armstrong, right, and his wife, LeTonia.

Nichols and Morial pose with state Rep. Joe Armstrong, right, and his wife, LeTonia.

WBIR-TV General Manager Jeff Lee, center, with Morial and Jim Haslam

WBIR-TV General Manager Jeff Lee, center, with Morial and Jim Haslam at the reception.

 

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, right, was on hand.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, right, was on hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With Morial and Nichols are City Council members, from left, Nick Pavlis, Duane Grieve, Dan Brown and Marshall Stair.

State Rep. Bill Dunn, left, with Jerry Harnish, newly named division general manager of Rural/Metro of Tennessee.

State Rep. Bill Dunn, left, with Jerry Harnish, newly named division general manager of Rural/Metro of Tennessee.

 

State Sen. Becky Massey, left, with her husband Morton and Mintha Roach, CEO of the Knoxville Utilities Board.

State Sen. Becky Massey, left, with her husband Morton and Mintha Roach, CEO of the Knoxville Utilities Board.

Mayor Burchett, left, and News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy in a convivial mood.

Mayor Burchett, left, and News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy in a convivial mood.

Bob Griffitts, left, of Conressman Duncan's office with Cliff Hawks, president and CEO of Cherokee Farm Development Corporation

Bob Griffitts, left, of Congressman Jimmy Duncan’s office, with Cliff Hawks, president and CEO of Cherokee Farm Development Corporation

Dr. Doug Leahy, left, of Summit Medical Group, and Andy Lorenz, right, vice president of Messer Construction Company. With his side to camera is Jim Nichols, Phyllis' husband.

Dr. Doug Leahy, left, of Summit Medical Group, and Andy Lorenz, right, vice president of Messer Construction Company. With his side to camera is Jim Nichols, Phyllis’ husband.

Here's a better picture of Jim Nichols, right, with Jon and Mintha Roach.

Here’s a better picture of Jim Nichols, right, with Jon and Mintha Roach.

 

Warren Logan, left, is the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga.

Warren Logan, left, is the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga. We were happy he could join us for Morial’s visit to East Tennessee.

 

Marc Morial making a few remarks before giving Phyllis the "Woman of Power" award.

Marc Morial making a few remarks before giving Phyllis the “Woman of Power” award.

Shaun Fulco Hyver is the CFO of Moxley Carmichael. She is from New Orleans and lived there when Morial was mayor. She is a big fan. (But we are glad she lives in Knoxville now!)

Shaun Fulco Hyver is the CFO of Moxley Carmichael. She is from New Orleans and lived there when Morial was mayor. She is a big fan. (But we are glad she lives in Knoxville now!)

Jim Haslam, left, with Jim Nichols, center, and UT's Rickey Hall

Jim Haslam, left, with Jim Nichols, center, and UT’s Rickey Hall

 

Morial with County Commissioner Sam McKenzie and his wife, Gwen. Gwen's dad, Woodrow Wilson, was the first president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. She's on the board now.

Morial with County Commissioner Sam McKenzie and his wife, Gwen. Gwen’s dad, Woodrow Wilson, was the first president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. She’s on the board now.

Morial with Mary Bogert, the general manager of the Knoxville Convention Center.

Morial with Mary Bogert, the general manager of the Knoxville Convention Center.

 

LeRoy Thompson of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, with Morial.

LeRoy Thompson of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, with Morial.

Morial poses with Jim and Phyllis Nichols.

Morial poses with Jim and Phyllis Nichols.

 

They both do the honors with Moxley Carmichael President Alan Carmichael, right, and me.

They both do the honors with Moxley Carmichael President Alan Carmichael, right, and me.

Thanks to photographer Gary Heatherly for taking all the shots at the reception. They are much better quality than the usual ones, taken by me, that are on the blog!

At 7 a.m. the following morning, we gathered for breakfast at the downtown Hilton Knoxville, where Morial was staying.

Morial at breakfast

Morial addressing “the family” at breakfast

I just wanted to show you a few of the people who help Phyllis make the Knoxville Area Urban League the success it is.

From left, Urban League Board member Avis Young, Jan Brown, Leigh White and staff member Felix Harris after the breakfast.

From left, Urban League Board members Avis Young of UPS, Jan Brown of TVA, Leigh White of WBIR-TV, and staff member Felix Harris after the breakfast.

 

Urban League staff members, from left, Michelle Henry, Wokie Massaquoi-Wicks, Brenda Roper, Bill Myers and LeSean Stewart

Urban League staff members, from left, Michelle Henry, Wokie Massaquoi-Wicks, Brenda Roper, Bill Myers and LeSean Stewart

From left, staffer Rowena Lundy, board members Lonnie Jones and Al Pirie, and staffer Jackie Robinson

From left, staffer Rowena Lundy, board members Lonnie Jones of Allstate Insurance and Al Pirie of Uster Technologies, and staffer Jackie Robinson

 

From left, Young Professionals Mark Webb and Fanesha Powell with staff member Ola Blackmon-McBride

From left, Young Professionals Mark Webb and Fanesha Powell with staff member Ola Blackmon-McBride

 

From left, board member Rosa Mar, Young Professional Syretta Vaughn, board member Judge Debbie Stevens, and Young Professional Damon Rawls

From left, board member Rosa Mar, who is retired from Levi’s; Young Professional Syretta Vaughn; board member Judge Debbie Stevens; and Young Professional Damon Rawls, who is the president of that group.

After breakfast, we were off to Oak Ridge to accomplish Phyllis Nichols’ goal of impressing Morial!

The Oak Ridge National Lab is located on a beautiful sprawling campus with lots of green space.

If you haven’t been there, you might not know that the Oak Ridge National Lab is located on a beautiful sprawling campus with lots of green space.

Here is the view outside one of the glass-sided conference rooms in the Visitor Center.

Here is the view outside one of the glass-sided conference rooms in the Visitor Center.

Morial seemed engrossed as we got an overview of the National Lab from David Keim and Leigha Edwards.

Morial seemed engrossed as we got an overview of the National Lab from David Keim and Leigha Edwards.

 

David and Leigha

David and Leigha

 

Inside the Visitor Center

Inside the Visitor Center

It was a beautiful autumn day, too.

After the overview, we strolled over to the National Center for Computational Sciences to see the Titan supercomputer.

 

This is the so-called Court of Flags. An ORNL employee by birth hails from every nation represented by these flags. There are more than 100 of them.

This is the so-called Court of Flags. An ORNL employee by birth hails from every nation represented by these flags. There are more than 100 of them.

Robert M. Whitten, Jr., told us all about the supercomputer and its uses. It covers an acre's worth of floor space.

Robert M. Whitten, Jr., described the Titan supercomputer and its uses. It covers an acre’s worth of floor space.

Here is Titan, one of the fastest supercomputers in the world. It is used for research in the fields of materials science, combustion, nuclear energy and climate change.

Here is Titan, the most powerful supercomputer in the world that is open for scientific research. It is used for research in the fields of materials science, combustion, nuclear energy and climate change.

 

Soon, we left the supercomputer, hopped into the car and drove the short distance to the Spallation Neutron Source.

Soon, we left the supercomputer, hopped into the car and drove the short distance to the Spallation Neutron Source.

Soon, we left the supercomputer, hopped into the car and drove the short distance to the Spallation Neutron Source to meet Sam McKenzie, not in his role as County Commissioner, but in his role as head of facility operations at the Spallation Neutron Source. Sam is a physicist.

In the lobby, we met up with our friend Sam McKenzie, not in his role as Knox County Commissioner, but in his role as head of facility operations at the Spallation Neutron Source. Sam is a physicist.

Soon, we left the supercomputer, hopped into the car and drove the short distance to the Spallation Neutron  Source to meet Sam McKenzie, not in his role as County Commissioner, but in his role as head of facility operations at the Spallation Neutron Source. Sam is a physicist. That's him on the right. Photo courtesy of ORNL.

After a briefing in the lobby, McKenzie led the way to show us the real thing.That’s him on the right. Photo courtesy of ORNL.

 

McKenzie explaining how and why the Spallation Neutron Source operates.

McKenzie explaining how and why the Spallation Neutron Source operates.

This photo is courtesy of ORNL.

This photo is courtesy of ORNL.

 

Marc and Phyllis saying goodbye after his whirlwind trip to East Tennessee.

Marc and Phyllis saying goodbye after his whirlwind trip to East Tennessee.

In case you were wondering about the Spallation Neutron Source, click here for a five-minute video overview.

This visit was valuable and impressive to me on several levels. It drove home the real issues we have with education, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. It introduced the folks at ORNL to the Urban League as a possible partner in influencing young people to pursue these fields. And it let the leader of the largest civil rights organization in the country in on the fact that some of the most important science in the world is happening in the hills of East Tennessee. All in all, a very worthwhile few hours!

 

Filed under: Business, Events, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to National leader’s visit spotlights education, science

  1. Shaun Fulco Hyver, on November 1st, 2013 at 3:45 pm said:

    What an awesome night for me! It really brought things full circle for me. I am a huge fan of Marc Morial for many reasons. He did wonders for the city of New Orleans during his term as Mayor. It was great to chat with him about New Orleans and my thoughts on Knoxville. He agreed that what we may miss about New Orleans “ain’t there no more”. Ha! Thanks for including me. It was a very proud moment for me to have the former Mayor of my home town visit my new (and much better) home town!

  2. AlanCarmichael, on November 1st, 2013 at 4:09 pm said:

    Morial told community leaders this generation needs to empower the next with educational and job opportunities.

  3. Natalie, on November 1st, 2013 at 4:15 pm said:

    What a fun 24 hours, Cynthia! Thanks to you and Phyllis for hosting such a noteworthy leader in Knoxville.

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on November 1st, 2013 at 4:27 pm said:

    Shaun: It meant a lot to me to have you involved. It was obvious Marc enjoyed talking to you, too! It just made a fun night even better!

    Natalie: You did a great job being the Moxley Carmichael point person on the event. Thanks so much.

    Alan: I think Marc made some great points in every venue where he spoke. I can see why he has been such a success.

  5. Phyllis Nichols, on November 2nd, 2013 at 5:18 pm said:

    Thanks to Cynthia, Alan and the entire Mox-Car team for helping the Urban League to accomplish what would have been “Mission Impossible” for us. You guys make it look easy – that’s what the pros do!

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on November 3rd, 2013 at 8:04 am said:

    Thanks, Phyllis. You and your team are making our whole community better. We are happy to be associated with you. Loved spending time with Marc, as well. What an inspirational leader.

  7. Pingback: Moxley Carmichael – Don’t duck the details when planning events

Leave a Reply