Inaugural SOUTHEAST GEORGIA LEADERSHIP FORUM brings top leaders to Savannah

FEBRUARY 28 - MARCH 1

The inaugural Southeast Georgia Leadership Forum, organized by Morris Multimedia, will open its doors on Monday, February 28, 2022, at the Kehoe Iron Works at Trustee’s Garden for a two-day forum filled with thought-provoking content from accomplished national and regional leaders, speakers, and statewide CEOs.

Attendees will have the opportunity to connect, not only with the speakers and sponsors of the event, but with nearly 400 other participants expected to attend.

The Forum idea grew from passionate business leader discussions about how to best cultivate talent and leadership skills in our region, according to Charles Hill Morris, Jr. Regional Manager, Morris Multimedia.

“There was a group here in town talking about the concerns around opportunities to create upward mobility in our community,” he said. “The Forum is designed to bring established and emerging leaders together in an innovative environment to promote leadership development, networking, and collaborative teamwork for the betterment of our growing Coastal Georgia Region and our city.”

Morris continued, “We have a fairly high poverty rate in our area and so there was a conversation about making leadership training easy, affordable, and possible.”

Even though he’s originally from Savannah, Morris moved to Atlanta for many years and was surprised when he returned to town. “When we came back, we were really struck by how some areas of the city had not changed at all. We wanted to support folks who work at being as successful as they can be, but we wanted to give them more.”

Morris said he wanted to “start shining a light” on community leaders and bring them together. 

“Savannah connects us all,” he stated. “So, this forum is an excellent opportunity. Honestly, we have an incredible group of speakers. I’m looking forward to the content they deliver, as well as meeting new people and making new friends and working together long term with a bias toward action.”

Michael Traynor, consultant to the event, said, “We came up with the concept of the need for leadership in our community. We wanted to focus on leadership training and development with the idea that we need to bring a lot of people together. We want to start from all segments of our community to be a part of the program so we can connect and learn from each other what leadership is all about.”

“In today’s world, we live in tribes,” Traynor explained. “By having people in the same room with each other talking about the same issues that affect all of us and our community, well, this is how we grow positively together.”

“It’s always better to talk,” Morris said. “Leadership enables us to talk to each other rather than at each other so that when we have challenges in this community, we’re communicating with each other and actively trying to solve our issues together.”

To this end, the Forum has an impressive lineup of national and local speakers.

“We have an amazing lineup of speakers, not only from our community, but national leaders,” Morris said. “We have leaders like Horst Schultz, one of the co-founders of the Ritz Carlton hotel company, who has become legendary for his service standards. He’s going to tell us about striving for excellence and how it’s very intentional. We have New York Times bestselling author, Erica Dhawan, who is an amazing collaborator in school talk about digital body language and how we can collaborate faster and further together in a digital era. We also have Michael Thurman who is the CEO of Dekalb County Georgia, but he’s also held many statewide offices in his career and has accomplished some impressive stuff in his community.”

“We also have Lieutenant Commander Steven Bolton, Garrison Commander at Hunter Army Airfield,” Morris continued. “He will talk about the type of leadership he has experienced in his life of service.”

“Another moving presentation will be Jay and Katherine Wolf,” Morris began. “Theirs is an extraordinary story of overwhelming loss and overcoming the most difficult challenges life throws at you. It’s just a very moving story. They have so much to share that is inspirational and motivating.”

“There is also Stedman Graham, educator, author, businessman, and long-time partner to Oprah Winfrey, who is coming to talk about identity leadership and how you need to know yourself to be a better leader,” Morris said. “He is an amazing leader in his own right and he will bring an interesting perspective into identity leadership.”

“The CEO of Georgia Power will talk about leading, not only for today, but for tomorrow. Kimberly Ballard-Washington, of Savannah State, will speak about leading with civility and having tough conversations where we have to listen to one another. We have a whole host of speakers who bring a lot of knowledge and experience to the event and will be quite beneficial to the attendees. There are just so many good speakers with stories, advice, and life lessons we all need to hear,” Morris said.

Morris’s passion for the upcoming event is evident when he discusses the two-day schedule. 

“We want to challenge people’s thinking by bringing in some outside perspectives with the thought of enlightening and entertaining. We want people to think a bit differently and have that bias toward action.”

At the end of the event, Morris hopes attendees will come away with a new perspective. 

“We hope attendees will see how they can help improve the great community that we live in. We feel that’s a significant component of this get-together and part of the inspirational process. We want to break down silos and begin having people collaborate.”

“We want to do what we can—and empower others to do the same—to help move Savannah forward in a positive direction and make a difference in people’s lives,” Traynor stressed. “Everyone’s perspective will be slightly different, but at the end of the day, we want folks to see what amazing contributions they can make to their own community with the proper leadership training.”

Morris believes leadership is learned. “Few people are natural-born leaders, but it can be taught. This forum will provide an outlet for people to challenge their own thinking and allow them to look at issues from different perspectives and to think more boldly.”

The full program for the Southeast Georgia Leadership Forum can be accessed at southeastleadershipforum.com.

Included in the programming are many networking opportunities for attendees throughout breaks, sessions, and the awards luncheon.

The main sponsors for the event include Georgia Ports Authority, Georgia Power, Georgia Southern University, and Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, as well as a host of other local sponsors like Bank of America, Savannah State University, Parker’s, Comcast, Connect Savannah, Savannah Economic Development Authority, and the Savannah Area Chamber, to name a few.

Both Traynor and Morris said this event wouldn’t be possible without the support of community businesses and sponsors.

“We couldn’t put this event on without them,” Traynor said. “We are grateful for their monetary contribution, but we’re also grateful for the steering committee that helped shape this program, agenda, speakers, and everything surrounding it.”

At a ceremony on March 1, the Legacy Leadership awards will be presented to The Honorable Otis Johnson, former Savannah Mayor, and Cliff McCurry, Director of Community Development for Sterling Seacrest Pritchard. The Emerging Leader Award will be presented to Anna Chafin, Executive Director of Bryan County Development Authority.

The most important contribution of the sponsors, Morris said, is the scholarships. 

“Scholarship winners come from all walks of life in an effort to have a more diversified representation of the Savannah community. Scholarships are given out to community members to help foster opportunities for those who might not have the means to attend right now,” he said.

“Due to the generosity of our sponsors, we’ve been able to offer over 50 scholarships to community leaders to attend the forum,” Morris stated. “We reached out to all segments of the Savannah community, such as non-profits, civic groups, charities, students, etc. You know, when we’re all together, we can do positive things for our community. Together. So, this scholarship program allows us to award these talented and excited individuals who are already leaders in their own right—or on their way to becoming one—and don’t necessarily have the financial means to attend. We want these folks at the forum, so that’s why we’re awarded over 50 scholarships.”

Ashley Rainge, 28, is one of those lucky scholarship recipients. Ashley works for Healthy Savannah, a non-profit assisting the community with information about a healthy lifestyle.

“I’m thrilled to have gotten one of the scholarships,” Rainge said. “My biggest interest is the community grassroots organizing I can learn more about. I’m young and still starting out. I’m on the cusp of knowing how to lead, but I want to go over the edge to learn how to be a better member of the community.”

Rainge, originally from The Bronx, (New York) said the opportunities here in Savannah help make it a home. 

“My parents retired here from the military and I appreciate all the area has to offer. This forum is really going to help people learn how to take their own lives, careers, and goals to that next level.”

One of the speakers Rainge looks forward to is Savannah State University’s president, Kimberly Ballard-Washington. “I want to hear about her experiences and coming into her own. It’s exciting to get to know more about leadership positions and what makes a great leader from people who have already done it. I’m young and still making my way and I know this is going to help motivate me even more.”

Armand Turner, 29, originally from Indiana, has made Savannah his home with his fiancée and is another scholarship recipient. He is quite excited about the possibilities.

“I’m looking forward to networking with a lot of people,” Turner said. “I’ve been preparing all month and trying to focus on cultivating my leadership skills. It’s just another step in the right direction for me. These speakers have a ton of information to share and I’m honored to have one of the scholarships to give me the chance to soak up as much knowledge as I can. I appreciate that I was seen as someone with potential.”

Like Rainge, Turner also works at Healthy Savannah. “Paula Kreissler [Executive Director of Healthy Savannah] is such an inspiration with all she does and I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned from her, mixing it with what I’ll learn at the forum, and expanding on it.”

Turner is anxious to hear Horst Schultz’s presentation, as well. “He has a ton of information to share…all of his experiences are just mind-blowing and impressive with all he’s done.”

Turner feels this forum is the perfect setting for him at this point in his career development. 

“Good leaders are so important. I’m sure some people are born to be leaders, but I think the majority of people simply need to learn how to do it. It takes practice, commitment, and learning to listen to others. 

I think this will help me get to the point to where the next ten years can be the best years of my life.”

Morris added, “Exciting things will come out of this forum. We will do amazing things in this community and build upon what’s already there. Again… a powerful statement we are putting out there is a bias toward action.”

And, Armand Turner is confident this forum will help young leaders, like him, prosper and succeed moving forward.

“I’m going to learn everything I can so that one day, I’ll be one of the names and bios listed as a speaker at the forum.”

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