Honour in Leadership

By Alphonce O’Bannon


Mr Alphonce O’Bannon was invited for the commencement speech for the National Honors Society which has been known in helping and accredited students who show excellence and dedication in their aspirations. This speech by our editor talks about four key pillars of the National Honors Society- Scholarship, Character, Service and Leadership

Good evening. My name is Al O’Bannon. I am the Head Coach and Founder of a Cedar Rapids-based non-profit called the LBA Foundation. I graduated from LaSalle High School back in 1985. This was before Regis and LaSalle merged to form Xavier High School. I’m proud of my Cedar Rapids heritage. I have traveled the world and I could move anywhere I want. But I have always chosen to come back and stay here. Let me explain to you why…

Al speech

I am and will always be a child of Cedar Rapids. I grew up on her streets, in her gyms and churches, attending her schools and trying to figure out what my purpose in life was. I wasn’t the greatest student, but when I enlisted in the military, it wasn’t because I had no other choices; it was because I wanted to see the world and learn a trade.

Early on in my military career, I learned the concept of service. Service to your fellow enlistees, service to your superiors, service to your country. While serving outside the United States, I was introduced to other populations, other people, other mindsets and ideas. I saw groups of people working in sometimes poor conditions, while living a life that you and I would be jealous of.

What made their lives different, and I’ve seen this even more recently while traveling in India, is that they were working for a purpose they had invested in. They weren’t working for “the man,” they were working for themselves and/or their families. Now, a lot of this was subsistence work…just barely making it. But the people I’ve run into, from Kingston, Jamaica to Mumbai, who are working for something they see as their goal…everything they do is in service to others so they can achieve their goal.

When I came back to the states, I worked for others, within their structures, but never felt the same kind of excitement that I saw on the faces of the people I saw in other places. Soon, I figured out that the entrepreneurial spirit they exuded was alive and well in me. It was time to do something about my Jones for working for myself.

This is where I encountered the four pillars of the National Honor Society: Scholarship, Character, Service and Leadership.

In LBA, the L,B and A stand for Leaders, Believers and Achievers. IN the community I grew up in, I saw the lack of youth who were ready to claim the mantle of leadership from the generations that preceded them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are several organizations in our community that provide great resources, but none that served the mind, body and spirit to create not only a whole student, but an intact human being. So, I started there.

The center of everything in your life, in my life, is our Statement of Purpose. What are we doing here? What goals do we have? How are we going to achieve them? What resources do we have at our disposal? What resources do we need?

I knew I wanted to…needed to serve my community and our youth through this non-profit venture. And, I started filling out my Statement of Purpose, just like every student that comes into the program does. By doing this, we get a better understanding of what makes each of us tick.

  • Are we self-serving, or do we derive more pleasure form serving others?
  • Do we believe in schools of bricks and mortar, the school of life, or a balance of the two?
  • Do the ends justify the means, or are we called to a higher purpose?
  • What do I need to become the best leader or team member possible?

The Statement of Purpose…so many kids come into our program…so many adults come into our program…and it clarifies everything for them. You all are smart. The cream of the crop…the top of the heap. Have you ever taken the time to sit down and write up your Statement of Purpose?

When my students did, they realized they had dreams that conflicted with their actions. We reviewed them and, honestly, some decided they didn’t want to put in the work necessary to not just drive toward their dreams, but park outside them, knock on the door of opportunity, walk in and buy that house and live in their dreams.

They listened to the negativity around them. They listened to the popular media and e or I world we now live in that is all about instant gratification. They walked away. Some, I’ve never heard form again. Others, I have heard of…through arrests, obituaries…white, black, brown, the color doesn’t matter. These were my kids. I wanted to give them an opportunity to achieve their dreams…to believe that they were worthy of the purpose they were originally put here for.

You see, I was put here to serve. I could be somewhere making six figures, vacationing in the Caribbean every year. I chose something different. I have made the choice to serve my community, my kids. You. I hope you don’t mind that I count you among my kids. Although this might be the only time you ever hear my voice or see my face, I know you’ll take away from this evening one thing. Statement of Purpose. And that’s all I need. With that, I’ve served you and the future of this city, state, country and world.

One of the problems in our city and in cities across the planet is that when leaders poke their heads above the fray, they call that prairie dogging in office cultures, there are always people waiting to take a metaphorical shot at them. We are always taking out our next generation of leaders because all we do is bitch at them until they run out of steam and walk away from serving others. How do we reverse this process? Well, there are two ways:

  1. We can try to shut all the nay-sayers up, which will never work, or;
  2. We can build a new, better generation of leaders, steeled by the best and brightest mentors in our community…

Heck, we don’t even need the best and brightest…we need people who are dedicated to serving others by stepping into the gap to mentor this next generation.

Growing up, I never thought of people who were my mentors. I had family, I had friends, and there were adults surrounding me. Looking back, it’s hard to distinguish who were or were not mentors in my life, but that’s not a bad thing. The good thing is that I can look back and see their handiwork in my life today.

My mom, siblings, my friends and the families we were close to all served as mentors to me during critical stages in my development. Today, I think of them and how they served me with a “tech” analogy and call them “myCloud.” These people seamlessly handed off information about me to one another without me ever realizing it. This information they passed about my growth was key to keeping me moving in the right direction, and even nudging me back onto the path if I strayed.

We all want to have myCloud, either to be someone at the center, or to be the one in the Cloud, itself. Today, the problem is we don’t take enough time to get to know the people who need mentoring. Instead, we react on the basis of quick information, like the first thing we see or hear from an individual; even letting our biases get in the way. Instead, we need seek to talk to and then listen to our youth.

Every moment can be a teachable as long as we build relationships and effective communication.

Unfortunately, our society is a society constantly on the run. There is division in our households and in our community. There are too many fatherless households, meaning we have kids in our community without mentors. Single mothers are working hard to make ends meet and our kids are left without the most critical mentors there can be. Where are the mentors stepping into the gap? This isn’t a criticism on single mothers or “normal” nuclear families; it’s simply a call to ask the question to find if there’s an acceptable answer.

And being a mentor is so much more than just the educational part of our kids’ life. It’s about having honest conversations with real people who don’t walk like you, talk like you, or think like you. It’s unfortunate that today we’re having real funerals for real teenagers and this has got to stop.

We can avert this crisis in our community through more effective mentoring. So, today, as soon as you finish reading the period at the end of this essay, ask yourself, “Who is in myCloud?” If you don’t know, then find someone. If you know someone, reconnect with him or her. And, if you have someone you mentor, tell them to pass myCloud on to another person. Stand in the gap. Help our next generation become better leaders, believers and achievers through effective mentoring.

By doing this, we are teaching effective leadership. Leadership. Leadership. I can’t say it enough. Say this with me. I want to be a leader. I wait to be a leader. I want to be a leader.

Out of the LBA Foundation, we’ve created the LBA Academy to bring a balance to the lives of our next generation of leaders. Mind, body, spirit, local, international, intentional, experiential. We’ve found a way to integrate our Cedar Rapids students with international students, giving them the opportunity to mentor someone who is not familiar with the idiomatic English or the customs of American society.

We give our students the chance to lead by example, and then we allow them to self-govern each other. This is the most entrepreneurial thing most anyone has ever done, and we’re doing this with students your age! Yeah, we keep an eye on them, but it’s to create a higher mentorship, allowing them to mentor themselves!

Did anyone notice a word I used in the last little part I said? Entrepreneur? Did anyone get a tingle up their spine when they heard that word? If you did, then you’re like all great leaders. Great leaders, from the beginning of time, have had the ability to understand how leadership and service work together to foster great leadership skills. But what about the darker side of leadership? Isn’t there another intangible that comes into play?

There’s an old quote, “The true character of a person is not defined by what they do in front of a crowd, but instead what they do when no one else is around.” You’ve heard that before, right? It’s more than just true, it’s exampled everyday.

One of the goals with the LBA has been to translate our efforts with youth in creating Leaders, Believers and Achievers to not only the classroom, but giving many of these students what might have been their first ever look into what their future at a college or university would look like.

When you leave this school next year and enroll in an institution of higher learning you may run into a student working through a program we are integrating with LBA, and creating what we call LBA Academy. Many of you started your march toward college back when you were in 9th grade. You, or your parents, understood the need for rigorous scholarship. Your hard work will land you in the college or university of your dreams.

For others, though, they need a little extra, and maybe the classroom isn’t the place they excel. In the LBA Academy, we strengthen our kids’ college resumes through what many international programs have been doing for years. It’s more than standard exam test prep, and it allows students the opportunity to grow in a much more organic environment.

I’ll say the same thing to you as I say to them as they start working their way through honors exams we proctor, and helping them through research methodology and research programs that may result in published works; everything you do reflects on your ability as a scholar. You never know when a single, mundane decision you make might turn into either the greatest opportunity you’ve ever had, or the greatest failure you might ever experience.

I work with students from India who come to the US for college, and they are entrepreneurs before they even get to the states. In addition to their school and course work, they find a way to carve out a niche in their area and not only make money, but they get a better understanding of business practices. Now, I’m not suggesting you head out and register your company with the Secretary of State, but consider whatever extracurricular opportunity might do for your advanced schooling. How can you use your life experiences in your academic life? The best students in school, and the best students of life, find a way to integrate their everyday life into the scholastic life.

So, your to do list for tonight…write out your Statement of Purpose for now through the summer. Write another one for the next school year…and then write another for the next four years after that. If you feel it, don’t stop there. Keep these documents handy and review them frequently. Take them to a mentor and get an honest review of both the documents and your progress. These will be the road maps for your future.

Integrate service into your plans. Never be afraid to have an accountability partner to help you, and someone for you to help. And when you’ve made the big time…never forgot where you came from. This city will be here for a long time. Pass on your knowledge, your leadership abilities, and the integrity you will have learned throughout your journey. You’ll always be a child of Cedar Rapids, too, just like me. Now, go out there and Lead, Believe and Achieve.

Thank you.

About the Author

Alphonce O’Bannon

Alphonce O’Bannon is Business and Motivation Coach. He is the Head Coach at Transitions Lab University Prep School (TLUPS), the founder of the LBA foundation (non profit organization inspire hope in tomorrow’s leaders, believers and achievers.), member of Study Iowa, associated with NACAC,OCACA, ACA and ASCA, and a veteran US Marine Corp