Thirty-one students graduated from Junior Leadership Kershaw County’s Class of 2019 on Thursday during a banquet at 833 South Broad in Camden. Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford’s message to them: Find your own leadership style to overcome the obstacles placed in your way.
Drakeford, the evening’s keynote speaker, drew from her own experience as the first African American woman promoted to a supervisory position at DuPont (now INVISTA). As Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and Junior Leadership Co-Chair Amy Kinard pointed out, Drakeford was born and raised in the Camden area, having gone through the public school system. She graduated as valedictorian from cosmetology school in 1963 and worked in that field for five years before deciding to join DuPont. That, in turn, led to her earning a degree in finance and business in 1984. Drakeford worked for DuPont for 33 years before retiring.
Drakeford became the first African American woman elected to Camden City Council in 2004 and, in 2016, became the first African American mayor of the city.
Despite her successes, Drakeford made it clear she was “not a natural born leader.”
“Leadership is not a trait that comes naturally to most people,” Drakeford said. “Yes, we have those to whom it comes more easily, but even they read, practice and observe. You have begun a lifelong journey to of growing your leadership ability.”
Drakeford said she was raised on a farm north of Camden and did all the work -- picking tobacco, cotton and other chores -- that comes with it, taking care of livestock before and after school.
“For me, just the opportunity to go to school was a big deal,” she said.
Wanting more after working as a cosmetologist, she applied to DuPont and was hired, but her name caused some confusion. With the first part of her name being Alfred, managers at DuPont expected a man to show up for work.
“There were 37 fellas and I was the only female,” Drakeford said of being in her orientation class for the company. “So, they did all sorts of things. They made me sit in front of the class, made sure they didn’t tell bad jokes or whatever. It was then that I realized that I had to be the best that I could be to succeed at DuPont. I was a woman working in a man’s world.”
Drakeford said she worked her way up from an hourly employee to become the first African American female in a supervisory role. After a few years, however, she said she “hit a ceiling.”
“I was told repeatedly that I could not be promoted to a higher level management position without a college degree. I looked around and I saw many men who were being placed in management positions without a degree. But, you know what, instead of complaining, I enrolled at the University of South Carolina and proceeded to complete my degree in three and a half years. It almost killed me while working full time and raising my daughter with my husband,” Drakeford said.
She was promoted, only to run into yet another obstacle.
“I had a supervisor tell me that not only did he not want a woman working for him, he especially didn’t want a black woman,” she said. “But, you know what, that was OK. Such comments and unacceptable thinking just made me work harder. I applied what I learned at USC on how to lead. I learned through mistakes and I developed my own style of motivating people to be better, to be a part of the team, to enjoy the success of our efforts.”
Just before retiring, Drakeford said she was able to accomplish something at DuPont no one thought possible: Having the company adopt certain ISO quality guidelines in order to sell its products overseas. There were, she said, some people who simply wanted to keep doing things the way they had always been done, resistant to change. Again, she put her leadership skills to work and was able to push through getting the standards adopted.
“My leadership technique is closer to those who find good in others (and) expects the best of others, and if you do that, they will excel,” she said, adding that this method “naturally aligns” itself with her later work in public service.
Drakeford suggested not taking the traditional path of boss over subordinate, but “leading by example” in order to be a “molder of consensus,” a reference to something once said by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She said that when people use their own leadership style, they gain credibility, diminishing the need to exercise traditional power.
“You go from being ‘directive’ to, ‘how do we reach our goals,’” Drakeford said, adding that she believes in the principles of listening and taking the best ideas and empowering others.
She then listed out some accomplishments in the city and county that were a result of such leadership, including the two-year scholarships for students to attend Central Carolina Technical College for free, placing utilities underground and increasing tourism through various projects.
“Now, you have the opportunity to develop your own leadership styles,” Drakeford told the students. “As you do, you’ll realize that reaching a goal is not enough. You will have to develop a style to sustain whatever your endeavors are. Your style will include methods of motivation, a willingness to produce a quality product or service, and an organization that is enthusiastic about what they do.
“But I want you to understand that everything does not always go the way you want them to. Sometimes we fail at things we are trying to accomplish,” she said, mentioning a video featuring Will Smith’s “three Fs: fail early, fail often but fail forward.”
Drakeford concluded by urging students to continue their lifelong journey of learning leadership principles and wishing them the best.
Four students spoke about the importance of student leadership after Drakeford, each representing their schools: Tyshawn Gant, Camden High School (CHS); Nicolo Pucciarelli, Camden Military Academy (CMA); Casey Blair, Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS); and Izabella Baipho, North Central High School (NCHS).
Izabella, whose speech focused on how Junior Leadership prepares its students to go on that lifelong journey of learning leadership skills Drakeford mentioned, was named the 2019 recipient of the Robert J. Sheheen Outstanding Junior Leadership Student Award.
Junior Leadership Co-Chair Teri Luther said students nominating Izabella said she is “committed, kind, gives 100 percent effort, responsible, hard-working, determined and ambitious.”
During her speech, Izabella talked about working with Habitat for Humanity during spring break. She said even though she and another Junior Leadership student only stained a porch, “I felt amazing after working with our non-profit. Hopefully, I’ll do it again. And that’s what leadership’s about: You do it once, and you feel good about it. You get this kind of high, and you want to keep doing it. It’s the motivation and the push to continue doing something that makes you a leader.”
This year’s Junior Leadership graduates are (from CHS) Deniah Arthur, Katherine Coplin, Tyshawn Gant, Grant Maree, Margaret Matthews, D’Mya Missouri, Daniel Putnam, Lakyn Stevenson, Jalen Johnson, (from L-EHS) Tunde Balogun, Casey Blair, Gracyn Duncan, Haylee Imbaratto, Molly McAvoy, Brianna Ogburn, Sawyer Reeves, Meredith Rhodes, Allisyn Sinay, Laurel Taylor, (from NCHS) Izabella Baipho, Autumn Barrett, Jada Izzard, Gracie Morrow, Tierra Preston, Nayelli Vallejo-Ibarra, (from CMA) Grant Johnson, Niles Leach, Jackson Lewis, Deven McKee, Nicolo Pucciarelli and Rodrigo Villalobos.