by Tommy Navickas
“Let’s spark the brain that can spark our community.” D. Dontae Latson, adapting the words of the late Tupac Shakur, ignited a crowd of MCLP supporters at its annual graduation celebration on Saturday. The President and CEO of YWCA McLean County shared his life story: a recount of tragedy and triumph, but most poignantly, the renewing power of community.
Latson is a native of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, a suburb just east of the nation’s capitol that became affected by drugs and violence that flooded a number of American cities in the mid 1980s. His evolution, from a troubled youth and young adult to an inspired community leader, is a testament to the dynamic change made possible by individuals who step-up to make a positive influence in the lives of others. He has brought these lessons to Central Illinois, where he has helped the area recognize and support its own cultural wealth.
“I believe together we can mold a community where there is no east-west divide, where we collectively shape a positive environment for youth and adults alike,” said Latson.
The graduation celebration included recognition of outstanding community members, including alumni award recipient Gina Defa and community service awardee Karen Schmidt. Defa is a 2012 graduate of the program, and currently serves as the manager of agency business consulting at Country Financial. The alum has remained a constant in MCLP, serving as both a program facilitator and mentor.
Schmidt has epitomized servant leadership through her various roles in Bloomington-Normal. She currently serves as the Bloomington Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem for Bloomington. Schmidt has also led several community initiatives, including the Book Bike Program. In her professional role, she serves as Illinois Wesleyan University Librarian.
Following a video detailing the story of the Class of 2015’s impact on local nonprofits, 2012 alum and MCLP Board Member Tereva Parham shared why she continues to support the program.
“To be a powerful leader for others, you first need to understand yourself,” Parham said. “MCLP truly helps individuals recognize who they are, and then inspires them to share these assets with others.”
The evening culminated in the program welcoming its newest 26 alumni, including Elizabeth Robinson, who served as the class’ speaker. In accepting this role, she will be the event’s emcee in 2016. Class of 2014 alum Ivan Hall deftly handled those duties on Saturday.
MCLP would like to thank the student interns, countless committee members, alumni, presenters and sponsors for making the graduation celebration possible. The event serves as a primary fundraiser to support future programming.