WISD Empowerment Summits inspire Young Leaders

By Aranza Torres and Jon Singletary

With a commitment to inspiring, guiding, and connecting young leaders in Waco ISD, Superintendent Marcus Nelson introduced the first Empowerment Summits for Young Men and Young Women.  Campus staff and administrators identified approximately 450 students in grades seven through 12 as future leaders from seven Waco ISD campuses.

Students had the opportunity to hear from local experts in the medical, legal and educational fields on topics ranging from managing stress, social media, sexual violence, college access and leadership development during panel-style discussions. At the Women’s Empowerment Summit, Jolanda Jones, a Houston ISD trustee, former city council member, author, attorney and former All-American athlete and member of the United States track and field team, served as the keynote speaker. Jones was also a former contestant on “Survivor” and star of WEtv’s “Sisters in Law.”

Jaime Carias, the keynote speaker for the men, is the Civic Engagement Coordinator at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Carias is also a leading urban educator, author and national speaker who is well known for his ability to inspire and educate students of all ages.

 Approximately 75 men and women from the Central Texas area representing various professions and community organizations volunteered as table hosts to provide a strong leadership presence and facilitate conversations with the attendees. The following reflections are from two of our table hosts. – Robin McDurham, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services & Family Engagement

Empowerment Summit for Young Women

As a college recruiter, I have the privilege of walking students and families through the transition from high school to college. Occasionally I am given the opportunity to participate in community events such as the Waco ISD Young Women’s Empowerment Summit on February 23rd. As a table host, I had the pleasure of meeting 8 wonderful young leaders who were hand-selected by their campuses to participate in the summit. Our table included students from different campuses and of varying grade levels. It was great to witness them get to know one another, share related experiences and provide advice and encouragement. I was thrilled to hear of the many ways these bright young women demonstrate their leadership through school clubs, dual credit classes, athletics and additional community opportunities.

I enjoyed the time I spent with my group and gained new insights thanks to the excellent speakers. The panelists covered a number of relevant topics including; social media, sexual violence and consent, college readiness, stress management and personal development. They were able to offer concrete advice and action steps students could take now. One of my personal highlights of the morning was the keynote speaker, Jolanda Jones, whose powerful and resilient life experiences are a testament to the power of hard work and the importance of finding confidence in one’s self. I feel very lucky to have been invited to the summit and have shared this time with my group.

Young leaders are one of the best elements of our school campuses. Recognizing them in our community and investing in them is imperative. Ensuring that they feel supported and heard will serve to encourage their growth. We will look to these young leaders as they move to their next grade level, the college of their choice and contribute to our community. No matter where these young women end up I am confident that they will be hard-working and successful.  – Aranza Torres

Empowerment Summit for Young Men

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a few local leaders on a panel as part of Dr. Marcus Nelson’s inaugural Young Men’s Empowerment Summit. Some eyes may have been on us, the panelists, but our eyes were on the amazing gathering of men in the room that day. Not only did three dozen men from Central Texas, representing a wide range of professions from accounting and law to medicine and ministry, come together in support of men’s empowerment, but more importantly were the 200 young men from Waco ISD schools who gathered. As those of us on the panel looked out on that room, we noticed the pride and confidence of the men, and the potential and hope that they represent. Too few young men in today’s culture are invited to reflect on the value of their past and even fewer have a clear expression of hope for their future. On that day, I saw that perspective shift in dozens of middle and high school men. As the panel reflected on social challenges from technology to sexuality, and as our guest speaker, Jaime Carias, shared his own journey of struggle and hope, these young men laughed, their eyes lit up, and they looked ahead at what their lives might hold. And, if this event is a glimpse of the future that Waco has with the leadership of these youth and the leadership of Dr. Nelson, then our future together is bright indeed.  – Jon Singletary


Aranza Torres has lived in Waco for a majority of her life (21 years!). She is a University High School graduate who continued her education out of state at Goshen College located in Goshen, IN. After graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work she returned to Waco to give back to her local community. She is currently a Recruiter and Dual Credit Advisor at McLennan Community College. In her spare time she enjoys being a part of the Waco Immigrants Alliance, Advisor to the MCC Hispanic Student Association, doing puzzles and spending time with her two large pitbull puppies (they’re not really puppies).

Jon Singletary, PhD, MSW, MDiv, is dean and professor of the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. He has served on faculty at Baylor since 2003.   His wife teaches at Hillcrest PDS in Waco ISD and their children attend the Atlas Academy at Tennyson Middle School and Waco High School.

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