Young students at Pine Bluff Lighthouse Charter School were given time out of their regular studies Friday to meet with local leaders.
The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders enthusiastically gathered for Hero Day, an event organized by the Interested Citizens for Voter Registration’s Pen or Pencil program
The Rev. Jesse C. Turner, director of the Pen or Pencil program, said the event’s objective was to give young students an opportunity to learn about different career choices and how to prepare for them.
Guest speakers were Pine Bluff Assistant Police Chief Ivan Whitfield, Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department Chief Shauwn Howell, Salvation Army Captain David Leonard and industrial engineer Patricia Mays.
Each speaker told the students about key components of their success.
“It’s not important where I am now,” Whitfield said as the youngest students sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him. ”What’s important is where you are now.”
All eyes were on Whitfield as he told the students that even though he was not very smart in school, he started early doing things that gave him an advantage.
”When I went to school, I was always in my seat a little early, I always said yes ma’am and no sir,” he said.
The 31-year police department veteran said his respectful manner helped him when he needed extra points to make the grade.
Whitfield said his dream was to help people, and now he wants to see the students fulfill bigger dreams.
“I’m just the assistant chief,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to be around when one of the young girls here becomes the chief of police … when one of the boys here becomes the chief of police.”
Whitfield concluded his advice with being honest and obeying parents.
“Pay attention to details,” Howell said as he gave the first point of his step-by-step guidelines. “Do something that separates you from the pack.”
Howell told the students that when people apply for positions as firefighters, all of whom may have good skills, “at some point we are going to come to a separation point.”
He said the distinction could be as simple as someone who always comes to work on time.
Howell echoed Whitfield saying he, too, wasn’t the brightest student but he was consistent. He told the students to find the thing that “separates them from the pack,” work at it consistently, and become proficient.
“Don’t be satisfied with doing it one time,” he said.
Howell also informed the students that firefighting is an option for both girls and boys.
“We no longer say fireman; it’s firefighter,” he said.
Leonard recommended that the students start now laying a solid foundation. Starting with a brief history of the Salvation Army, he explained the value of compassion. He said the organization is much more than ringing the red bell at Christmas — its outreach includes church services, feeding programs, youth programs, providing clothing and shelter.
“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; … and I was in prison, and you came to visit me,” Leonard said, paraphrasing a Bible scripture. “What the Lord was teaching is that we have to have compassion for others.”
Leonard included persistence, studying hard, making good choices and doing the right thing as components of the foundation he told the students to build.
“Do the right thing, not because it’s easier,” he said, “but because it’s hard. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing.”
He left the students with a challenge to “do the most good for the most people with the most need.”
“I’m so happy to be here to represent for the women,” Mays said, followed by a a shrill of approval from the girls.
“Never give up,” was Mays’ tenacious message. “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t. You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Mays, in her brief but inspiring comments, continued to stoke the crowd by reminding them of the possibilities.
“God has given you potential, he’s given you intelligence, creativity, personality; and you can use that to do whatever you want to do. ‘You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.’ ”
She told the students to picture themselves as leaders. She encouraged them all — but commenting that the field is male- dominate, especially the girls — to consider the field of engineering.
“Engineers design things,” she said. “They solve problems.”
After closing remarks by Principal Sandra Smith-Jones, the sessions concluded with a group of fifth-grade boys performing a rap dedicated to the school.