CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 6, 2016 – Southeast Missouri State University senior Kevin Windham of Florissant, Missouri, has been selected to the inaugural class of FOCUS St. Louis’ Impact Fellows Program.
Windham was the only student selected to the leadership program that includes 20 members. Among them are Missy Kelley, president and chief executive officer of Downtown STL Inc.; Tom Noack, general counsel and vice president of Commerce Bank; Leann Chilton, director of BJC HealthCare; Cassandra Brown Ray, director of finance with the St. Louis Zoo; and Sue Wagener, executive director of the Covenant House Missouri.
With support from the William T. Kemper Foundation, the program is designed to prepare diverse leaders to work cooperatively for a thriving St. Louis region through its experience-based leadership training, civic issue education and public engagement initiatives.
The Fellows will use the Ferguson Commission report as a guidepost and framework for their work. The hope of the program is to train leaders with a passion for civic engagement, who will commit their time and energy to further exploring a specific call to action and while developing and implementing a plan to bring it to life in the St. Louis region.
“When applying to Focus St. Louis’ Impact Fellows program I had low expectations of being selected, mainly because of my age,” Windham said. “After being notified of my selection and engaging in a couple of sessions, I have found that my youth is a benefit to the team; I represent a specific mindset and passion that could not come from any other age group. Now I recognize the passion and commitment that I have on issues related to my community.”
His passion for change was motivated by the life and death of Michael Brown, including recent protests and civic engagement events in Ferguson, Missouri.
“I changed, my community changed,” said Windham, who used to live only one block away from the Ferguson area. “It woke me up to how something needs to be done, and if not me, then who?”
Windham has always been drawn to leadership roles on campus, including Southeast’s First Year Leadership Program and Emerging Leaders, and most recently serving as secretary of Southeast’s Black Student Union, senior senator for the College of Liberal Arts on Southeast’s Student Government and an ambassador to Southeast’s Student Athlete Advisory Council.
But after 2014, he said he felt it was time to take a more active role for the betterment of the campus as a whole and his community.
“As a leader, I feel it’s my responsibility to at least play a part in the change,” he said.
He was appointed to the Southeast President’s Task Force on Diversity Education where he played a major part over the past year in helping compile the final report and recommendations presented to the Southeast Board of Regents in February.
“Kevin stepped forward, he supported and participated in the campus protests, and he also engaged in critical and difficult conversations with fellow students, faculty and staff – he directly and unabashedly ‘spoke truth to power,’” said Trent Ball, associate dean of students and director of Educational Access Programs at Southeast. “Kevin became a member of the President’s Task Force on Diversity Education and at the first meeting stated that ‘if we are not going to make change, why are we meeting?’ In a room full of faculty and staff, he consistently engaged, shared his opinion, spoke his truth and asked us all to do so as well. When the opportunity presented itself to provide a presentation to the group, he again stepped forward –presenting on the lifelong effects of race and socioeconomic status.”
From his experiences on campus, Windham learned to speak with conviction and sincerity in his unique, authentic voice. He found his next steps are leading him back to efforts and issues within his hometown community.
“I have begun to make it my mission to network with those who can help to further the cause of supporting my community,” he says. “I just really want to be a part of the process and see the changes and rewards.”
In the summer of 2015, he was a member of Cigna’s inaugural Ferguson-St. Louis Internship program and in January of this year, he participated in the Missouri Governor’s Leadership Forum in Jefferson City, Missouri. Windham has also served as an election judge in his hometown, a position he hopes to continue throughout this year’s election process.
He said he’s learned there are many topics about the community he has a passion for, from income inequality, health disparities in underserved communities, food deserts, to the West Lake Landfill. The more he learns and researches, the more he is stunned by the statistics of inequality, but the more motivated he is to make a difference.
“My heart and soul is in the St. Louis community,” he said.
Mentorships and internships are essential to his growth and process.
“I understand that sometimes it takes a death in the community to recognize a passion, but it also takes opportunities to live out these passions,” he said.
Windham hopes to instill action now not just for today, but for the generations to come.
“When I think about my service on campus and in the community, I think about my three little brothers and how I don’t want them to experience the things I’ve seen,” he said. “We can talk about change all day, even if we disagree on the how. That’s ok. We can even talk about saving the world, but let’s do it.”
FOCUS St. Louis’ Impact Fellows Program met for the first time March 5 and will continue through Dec. 3. At its completion, it is hoped the Fellows will have collaborated towards solving the issues outlined in the Ferguson Commission report.
Windham is the son of Cherron Reynolds of St. Louis, Missouri, and Kevin Windham of St. Louis, Missouri. Last April, he was awarded Southeast Missouri State University’s Distinguished Student Award for creating lasting and positive change in the University community. He plans to graduate from Southeast Missouri State University in May with a Bachelor of Science in communication studies.