North Park University Diversity Conference Teaches Leadership Competencies

Student Diversity Leadership Conference
Don Woo, right, dean for ethnic diversity and multicultural programs, Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Ill., speaks with students during a small-group session at the 2011 Student Diversity Conference at North Park University.

Students, advisors from several regional colleges and universities attend

CHICAGO (November 15, 2011) – More than 600 students, plus advisors from North Park University and 26 other Midwest colleges and universities, learned leadership skills for working with diverse campus organizations and groups at the Third Annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference at the University.

"The conference provided a forum where diverse students could acquire the skills and tools needed to build stronger cross-cultural communities on their campuses and in their home communities," said Dr. Terry A. Lindsay, conference chair, and dean of diversity and intercultural programs, North Park University. 

More than 400 first-year North Park University students, plus 223 from other colleges and universities attended the day-long conference at the University's Albany Park campus Oct. 28, under the theme "Celebrating Differences While Creating Community." They spent the day listening and talking with each other about leadership, social responsibility, ethics, faith, and inclusiveness on their campuses. Conference attendees heard speakers, and attended a variety of workshops on subjects such as leadership, creating community, cultural diversity, Christian-Muslim relationships and social responsibility. Worship, plus musical and dance performances were also part of the program.

Dr. David L. Parkyn, North Park University president, welcomed the students and invited them to do two things: explore the diverse neighborhood surrounding the University and listen to each other. "If you have a minute, take a walk, take a long walk through one of the neighborhoods around us, and you will discover the … place where the people of the world come together," he said. "Open your ears to each other, because as you listen to each other you will learn from each other the best way to prepare for leadership."

Plenary speaker Dr. John Perkins, founder and president of the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development, Inc., spoke of his lifelong mission of Christian community development and racial reconciliation. He reminded the students of Jesus' prayer in the Gospel of John, where he prayed that those who believe in him "may all be one."

"As his father and he were one, (Jesus) prayed that the people of God would be one across racial, cultural, economic and social barriers, (and) that the world would know we are authentic Christians because of this love we have for another. That was the intention of the gospel," Perkins said.

Perkins was critical of what he called "the apartheid Church," whose members are often separated by race and ethnicity. "What makes me so happy to be here is you are one of the first groups that I know about that has planned your conference to confront this. You are a new breed.  Take this news of the gospel of God's love and go into all the world," he said.

The church is a community, and believers should "become ambassadors of God to engage in reconciliation," Perkins said. "You have a wonderful opportunity because in universities and colleges there is a community," he told the students. "You can live it out. That's what universities and colleges ought to be. They ought to be places where you both teach it, (and) live it out."

The Rev. Karen Mosby-Avery, conference closing speaker, saluted the leaders of North Park University for holding up its core values to be "Distinctively Christian, Intentionally Urban and Purposefully Multicultural." Mosby-Avery is associate pastor, Second Baptist Church, Evanston, Ill.

She said she was encouraged by the students' presence, and said it gave her generation hope. "To come here and see you as young adults excited about being leaders, excited and interested in what it means to build community and what it means to work together, is inspiring," she said.

Mosby-Avery reviewed a number of "firsts" that the college students have witnessed in their lifetimes, and she commented on how communication and social media have changed the world. "Every generation is responsible for what it has been given, what it creates and what it leaves behind," she said. "No other generation before you has been given as much as you have." She asked the students to consider the legacy of their generation as they return home, and to think about what they will do with the diversity and community they have.

She concluded by pointing out that every generation, including the students' generation, has needed faith. "For me, that's God, for some of you that will be faith in a divine presence or a system of beliefs centered on loving neighbors, doing justice, walking in peace," Mosby-Avery said. "Whether it is faith in God or not, it must be a faith that loves you unconditionally. It must be a faith that calls you to serve, so that you understand it's not always about you. It must be a faith in something that renews your strength when you are ready to give up."

Conference performers included the One Church Gospel Choir, Ashland (Ohio) University; the Gospel Ensemble and Step Team, North Park University; Sakari Greenwell, Second Baptist Church, Evanston; and a step jam led by teams from North Park University and Bethel University, St. Paul.

The conference was sponsored by the North Park University Office of Diversity and Intercultural Programs. The University will host the 2012 conference on Friday, Oct. 26.

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