Class of 2017 Graduation Recap

Dr. Kira Hudson Banks, Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Louis University
Dr. Kira Hudson Banks, Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Louis University

The MCLP class of 2017 enjoyed not only a celebratory evening, but also a thoughtful one, when they graduated on April 22.

The role of “leadership courage” in bringing about a more inclusive community was the keynote theme from speaker, Dr. Kira Hudson-Banks, an Associate Professor at St. Louis University. Dr. Banks previously taught at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.

Her message to the graduates, and audience of over 300, cited three key points: 1) Inclusion starts with recognizing our own biases. 2) Listen to the voices of others. 3) Policy may precede personal development.

Dr. Banks shared stories from Ferguson, Missouri and Michael Brown’s death, emphasizing the leadership courage she was asked to bring to her role as a racial equity consultant for the Ferguson Commission. To help listeners better understand the interrelationship of diversity and inclusion, she shared her “elephant and the mouse” metaphor.  Meaning, in some cases an individual can be an elephant, within the dominant culture; while in other instances, an individual is the mouse, within a minority group. Using herself as an example, she noted that as an African-American woman, she is a mouse; as a Christian, she is an elephant in U.S. culture. Understanding how these multiple roles and identities can place individuals in different contexts at different times is a critical factor in developing human empathy and analysis.

Justin Vickers, an Illinois State University Assistant Professor of Music, spoke for the class, echoing the theme of inclusion and calling his classmates to continued community service.


Dontae Latson, CEO of the YWCA of McLean County and past MCLP graduation guest speaker, received the MCLP Community Service Leadership Award. Dontae has proven himself a true servant leader and human rights champion. Besides his duties with the YWCA, he is also active in Not In Our Town, Central Illinois PRIDE Health, Indivisible, the League of Women Voters and many other organizations.

“Dontae inspires us all to see the world as we wish it to be, and gives us the inspiration and determination to make it happen, together,” said Rickilee Bennecke, the MCLP alum who nominated him.

Tejas Jani received the MCLP Alumni Community Service Leadership Award. Tejas is active with For a Better Tomorrow (FBT), the Community Health Care Clinic board, and the Baby Fold’s Development committee. He volunteers as a “Human Book” for Illinois State University and is a founding member of Youth Global Citizen, a leadership development effort for high school students. He was a facilitator for the MCLP Class of 2015 as well.

Tejas was nominated by MCLP alumni Emily Vigneri, who said, “Tejas is a role model to those of us who serve with him on nonprofit boards and within other community service endeavors.  He is always willing to help a friend or colleague in need and to take on a task that will help lighten someone else’s load.”

Graduation photos, courtesy of Mike Matejka, can be viewed here:  MCLP Grad Photos.