By Kiley J. Eck
Wisconsin 4-H State Communications Team
Solomon Wilkins, the keynote speaker for the 4-H Youth and Leadership Conference in late June, started his presentation with riling up the 454 delegates, adult advisors, state team members, and guests with a repeat-after-me. He would shout “Ain’t no party like a 4-H party, cause a 4-H party don’t stop!” This set off the whole speech for a night filled with excitement.
4-H is full of opportunities. The delegates of the 4-H and Youth Leadership Conference had a wonderful opportunity of hearing an empowering speech by Wilkins in the Shannon Hall at the UW Memorial Union on Monday, June 26. Wilkins is not the average motivational or inspiring speaker. He would rather create a lasting impression on youth so that, 70 years from now, the delegates will be able to empower their children using his message.
Wilkins has achieved many ‘firsts’ in his life. He was the first male in his family to graduate high school, the first to graduate college, and the first to get his master’s degree in leadership. Overall, he has not only made an impact on his mother and cousins, but also his children. By achieving these goals, Wilkins has opened doors for generations to come by showing it’s possible for students to overcome the seemingly impossible obstacles and change their life.
Wilkins says, “Education changes situations.” He believes that everyone should have a high school diploma, if not a college one, so every individual can effectively influence society.
Wilkins truly stands apart from the rest of his peers, simply because of how he can connect with youth and adults. He goes to every speech, seminar and training session with the mindset of meeting the audience in the middle. Wilkins has the unique ability to create a message that can reach any person young or old, by “L.E.A.D.-ing” inclusively. Wilkins teaches many lessons within his speech, but they revolve around four key principles: Love, Educate yourself, Advocate for others, and be Dedicated. These four things are what make a leader able to L.E.A.D. inclusively. Wilkins is able to impact and connect with many people all from different backgrounds by using their individuality. He talks to no two groups similarly because everyone has had different experiences and empowers them to build upon their lives for the better. When he was asked why his message was able to impact so many youth, he answered that he doesn’t pass judgement on the younger generation. Wilkins readily admits that youth today live in a different society based off likes and follows and that creates a harsher reality for youth. Wilkins opens his empowering speech with the phrase, “Never let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality.” This doesn’t just give people confidence, it assures anyone listening that they are perfect just the way they are and enables them to believe that their individuality can make an impact.
Wilkins has an impressive resume that shows his diversity in working situations. He has worked in corporate America for Target and Amazon, has played professional basketball, and has started his own company, Solomon Wilkins International. All these experiences have compacted many lessons and mistakes, his greatest career mistake was his biggest lesson, when he started working at Target. He was hired to lead a team at the bottom of the company, their performance was terrible, so he fired 33 team members. His regret was that he didn’t make the attempt to elevate them, to empower them. Everyone, no matter their age, background, or gender, should learn from the mistake of Wilkins. His number one regret was choosing to take the easier way out and not choosing to invest in their potential future.
The 2017 4-H & Youth Leadership Conference’s theme was Leadership: the Road Less Traveled. Even though it wasn’t Wilkins’ main message, it proved the theme that sometimes the more rewarding road is harder, but worth it.