Monday 15th April 2024

Dr. Yancy Freeman is Keynote Speaker for 25th African American Leadership Conference


photo courtesy of The University of Tennessee at Martin

By: Bud Grimes, Office of University Relations

MARTIN, Tenn. – Dr. Yancy Freeman, chancellor for the University of Tennessee at Martin, will be the keynote speaker for the 25th African American Leadership Conference on Tuesday, April 16, in Jackson. The conference will run from 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center and is offered through the university’s WestStar Leadership Program and other sponsors.

In addition to Freeman, this milestone year for the conference will feature speakers and panelists from private business, education, law enforcement and health care who will address opportunities and challenges facing African Americans in West Tennessee.

The idea for the conference originated with the 1997 WestStar Class when Dr. Bob Smith, WestStar co-founder and UT Martin chancellor emeritus, suggested the conference as a class project. The first conference was first held in 1999 and organized by original conference committee members Evelyn Robertson Jr., Whiteville; Minnie Bommer, Covington; Jean Carney, Brownsville; Barbara Gray, Paris; Anne Banks, Brownsville; Myrtle Russell, Jackson; and Gill Petty, Jackson. Committee members Thomas Taylor and Maurice Smith are deceased.

The conference is the first and only of its kind in the state that explores challenges and opportunities for the African American leader. Since its inception, conference organizers have presented 15 awards each for under-40 and over-40 African American leaders.

Following the 8 a.m. registration and a continental breakfast, the program will include the following:

8:20 Welcome

· Dr. Bob Smith, co-founder and honorary member, WestStar Leadership Program; senior associate for executive leadership and talent development; the University of Tennessee System; UT Martin chancellor emeritus.

8:30 Keynote Address – Leadership

· Dr. Yancy Freeman, chancellor, UT Martin

9:00 Preparing Today’s Students Based Upon the Changing Landscape of Education

Panel Moderator: Yvette Blue, Owner, The Acceleration Coach, WestStar Class of 2018

· Dr. Versie Hamlett, superintendent, Fayette County Schools, WestStar Cass of 2023

· Dr. Marie Feagins, superintendent, Memphis Shelby County Schools

· Dr. Janice Epperson, superintendent, Humboldt City Schools

· Dr. Vivian Williams, deputy superintendent of academics, students and schools, Jackson-Madison County Schools

9:45 Keeping Our Homes and Communities Safe

· Officer Curtis Cozart, Jackson Police Department

10:15 Break

10:30 Secure the Bag/Show me the Money

· Lynne Henning, financial advisor, Senior VP Investments, Smith Campbell Group of Raymond James

11:00 Networking to Identify Challenges and Discuss Solutions impacting African American Communities


· Dr. Andre Temple, economic development specialist, UT Center for Industrial Services, WestStar Class of 2009

· Dr. Cheryl Browne, retired physician, Fayette County, WestStar Class 2020 and WestStar Board of Trustees member

11:45 Lunch – Reflecting Back 25 Years, African American Leadership Conference

12:30 Interactive Leadership Fun

· Suzanne Harper and Courtney Echols, owners, Extra Credit Team Solutions

1:00 Public Health Issues Affecting the African American Community

· Dr. Michelle Taylor, division director for health services, Shelby County Health Department

Register for the conference at Registration is $40 per person and should be completed by April 10. For more information, contact Virginia Grimes, assistant director, the WestStar Leadership Program, at 731-881-7787 or

The conference is made possible by WestStar in partnership with the City of Brownsville, Conner Real Estate, Crockett County, Mark Heaston in memory of Ruby Heaston, Mary Jones in memory of Ina Yarbrough (WestStar Class of 1990), Jonah Housing Authority, Community Foundation of West Tennessee, the city of Covington, TRANE of West Tennessee and the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service.

photo courtesy of The University of Tennessee at Martin