College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

4-H Pinckney events help pave pathway to leadership for SC youth

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Alex Blocker became versed in Clementa Pinckney’s legacy by growing up in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, but it was attending a leadership program bearing Pinckney’s name that led Blocker to realize the late state senator’s career path was one he wanted to follow in his own life.

“He was a leader of the AME church in Charleston and the entire AME community in South Carolina knew who he was, and when they created the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program in his name, that was definitely something my church members wanted me to be a part of,” Blocker said.

Pinckney was one of nine African Americans killed by white supremacist Dylan Roof during Bible study at the Charleston AME church where he was the senior pastor. While his life came to an end on June 17, 2015, Pinckney’s passion for leadership lives on though the namesake program.

“That kind of let me know what I wanted to do and stoked my passions for servant leadership in government. So, I gravitated toward the program and came back to it on my own — without my parents telling me to do it — and wanted to learn more,” said Blocker, a member of Lexington County 4-H.

Alex Blocker, right, a senior at Irmo High School, speaks with attendees at a S.C. 4-H Pinckney Leadership roundup event at Brookland Baptist Church Banquet & Conference Center in West Columbia.

Now a senior at Irmo High School who plans to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., Blocker began in the S.C. 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program in 2018 and says he quickly gained insight into “what leadership should look” and what “servant leadership” meant during an initial camp experience before returning the next year to build on that learning as the program focused on governmental leadership.

South Carolina 4-H hosted two leadership roundup events this spring as part of the Pinckney program — the first at Brookland Baptist Church Banquet & Conference Center in West Columbia and the second at the Southern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology at Florence Technical College — and this time, Blocker got the chance to be a teacher instead of a student.

“As I came up through the 4-H program, it allowed me to share my experience with others,” Blocker said. “After being through the leadership roundup and then being able to be a part of it in a more administrative way and help plan out some things — that, to me, was the true experience of the roundup. There’s a picture of me talking to another student who I didn’t even know went to my school, and now I have him involved in 4-H. So, seeing the whole cycle of it, that’s what I liked about the leadership roundup specifically.”

Blocker called his entire 4-H career — including a visit to the State House this spring to share the benefits of 4-H with state representatives — a “transformative experience.”

“Most people don’t know what they want to do coming out of middle school, but through the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program it kind of showed me and gave me my career path early,” he said. “So, I’m taking after the legacy of Sen. Clementa Pinckney — because he was a servant leader in state government and that’s the direction I want to go as I pursue college and beyond.”

And Blocker’s experience was exactly the kind of results that Rushawnda Olden hoped to see when she created the leadership roundups — open-to-the-public events for middle and high school students to get them involved and introduce them to the Pinckney program.

The 4-H Pinckney Leadership program is a program designed for middle and high school students who are looking to develop their leadership abilities and awareness in civic engagement. Founded after the late state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the program aims to set forth the standards and principles valued by Sen. Pinckney.

“We bring together students from diverse backgrounds who may have leadership positions already, and some may not but may be interested in them,” said Olden, 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program director.

At the events in Columbia and Florence this spring, students were divided by middle and high school designations to gear the program for specific grade levels, and a parent workshop was offered as well.

“We definitely believe in the village approach when it comes to building youth leaders, so we also have a workshop for parents and this year we focused on mental health coming out of the pandemic,” Olden said. “We have seen that mental health has been a hot topic for not only youth leaders, but also those who serve them. So, we want to make sure our parents are prepared and understand what mental health issues could look like with regards to their teenagers, and we also wanted them to understand what we as educators and community partners are seeing in our teens.”

Julian Nixon, diversity and inclusion director for Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS), said the leadership roundup events offered many young people in South Carolina an introduction to the concept of leadership.

“I believe that education, exposure and experience are central to the core of an effective leadership program and the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program provides these for their participants each year,” he said. “CAFLS is exceptionally stronger when it receives leaders who are both aware of themselves and aware of the cultural needs around them. Participants within the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program have intentional experiences that grooms them into these leaders.”

To learn more about the South Carolina 4-H Pinckney Leadership program and get involved, visit www.clemson.edu/pinckney.

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