September 2017 message
Young member uses leadership positions to promote diversity, inclusionThe
way Rotary member Todd Jenkins puts it, he's the first generation in his family
"to do everything": first to go to college, first to fly on a plane,
first to visit another country, and the first to live across state lines.
28, grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Columbia, South Carolina, USA. His
family worked hard just to make ends meet. So travel and college seemed out of
eldest of ten children, Jenkins says his goal was to break out of the family
status quo and set a positive example for his siblings. He credits his mother
with helping him avoid falling into the cycle that was common for young
African-American males in his community.
a lot of poor minority young men without hope, there were three paths: gangs,
jail, or death," says Jenkins, who is a member of the Rotary Club of
Fayetteville, Arkansas. "My mom wasn't going to have that for me, so she
made sure my time and focus were on education and productive activities. It was
all about the books and church activities for me."
that support and his own dedication, Jenkins excelled in school, earning
merit-based scholarships to the University of South Carolina for his
undergraduate degree and Illinois State University for his master's. The
impact of being the first in his family to achieve success can't be overstated,
don't have a path in your life painted for you. You can create your own
path," says Jenkins, who earned master's and doctoral degrees with a focus
on minority professional development. "I had to learn how to utilize every
resource. I had to break down barriers. If I didn't, I would have gone into a
shell of what society thought I should be. I hope I provided a platform for my
family members to branch out as much as possible to become what they hope to
opens his world
moved to Fayetteville in 2012 to complete his doctorate and take an
administration job at the University of Arkansas. He found that campus life
alone wasn't fulfilling enough, and was looking for a way to be more engaged in
the community. The university's chancellor responded by inviting him to a
Fayetteville Rotary club meeting, and Jenkins says he was hooked.
didn't know anything about Rotary at first, but after a couple of meetings, I
was so impressed with the programs it had to offer," he says. "And
the speakers were the movers and shakers of Fayetteville. Going to meetings was
like a history lesson about the community I lived in."
he became a Rotary member at age 24 — another family first — Jenkins was by far
the youngest of its 200-plus members. But that didn't deter him from seeking
out leadership positions.
after he joined, Rotary put Jenkins on a plane for the first time, landing him
on another continent. His participation in a Rotary New Generations Service
Exchange in Brazil took him to a "whole other level with Rotary," he
spent three months there working on his doctorate, learning how Brazilian
university administrators integrate with students. But he experienced more than
just academic life; Jenkins says he learned to care about other people in ways
he'd never thought he could.
same emotions I felt for my family in the U.S. I felt for my family in Brazil.
Yes, we were culturally different. But there was so much in common," he
says. "Exposure to different ways of life and different customs planted
the seeds that would blossom into the things going on in my life now."
in diversity and inclusion
by his exchange experience, Jenkins returned to Fayetteville eager to promote
change. He became his Rotary club's youth service chair and then district Youth
Exchange officer, making him one of the youngest district leaders in Rotary.
He's also served as the club's Rotary Youth Leadership Award chair, Rotaract
faculty adviser, and Interact sponsor adviser.
you ask Fayetteville club president Harrison Pittman what Jenkins brings to the
club, he responds, "What does Todd not bring to the club?
the day Todd joined, he's been a leader in many ways that have advanced Rotary
principles and expanded our membership," says Pittman. "Todd is one
of those special Rotarians who exemplifies what present and future Rotary is
district-level training enabled Jenkins to translate his club's business goals
into tangible results.
noticed that, typically, 40 to 50 of the club's 210 members didn't attend
regular meetings but had paid for lunch anyway.
the empty seats as a missed opportunity, Jenkins proposed an Under 35 Rule to
the club's board: Half of those available seats can be used to invite young
professionals to the meeting free of charge. And if one of these guests decides
to join, their dues and fees are cut in half.
says this initiative has recruited about 12 new members since it was launched
two years ago.
people in our community aren't exposed to Rotary, how are they going to know
all that we do and accomplish? Bringing in young professionals with a financial
incentive is a great way to holistically develop and fill in what's
missing," he says.
is equally enthusiastic. "Young professionals considering joining Rotary
are often constrained by the time and financial commitments," he says.
"Our Under 35 Rule allows our club to say to interested young
professionals: 'We care about you and want you to join us in changing our
community and the world.' "
Rotary, Jenkins is the founder and CEO of Bowtie Development,
an international leadership management and professional development firm that
focuses on bringing diverse people together to boost organizational
productivity and performance.
affinity for the necktie earned him the nickname "Dr. Bowtie."
"I love it! I wish I could be called that all the time," he says with
month, Jenkins is leading a Young Professionals Summit in northwest Arkansas,
an event cosponsored by Rotary clubs in the area. The summit's aim is to
empower emerging leaders to create positive change within themselves, their
workplace, and their community. Says Jenkins: "I want to showcase Rotary
and encourage attendees to expose themselves to what we do."
promote that goal, Jenkins speaks to clubs all over the world about diversity
and inclusion. "I don't necessarily like using the word diversity. To me,
diversity is 'fullness,' " he says. "I believe Rotary can achieve
fullness through investing in our youth and diverse members. I often say to
clubs, 'Let's color the Rotary pipeline with our programs like Youth Exchange
and membership development.' Those are the people who already have a global
experience, which I feel is crucial for Rotary's future.
is inviting everyone to the party. Inclusion is allowing everyone at the party
to dance the way they want to dance," he adds. "That's what I want
for Rotary. Let's all continue the dance."
By Ryan Hyland
Todd Jenkins, a
member of the Rotary Club of Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA, talks to clubs all
over the world about diversity and inclusion.