It’s Sept 27 at 8:35am EST, and my Delta flight is boarding soon from New York JFK Airport. I’ve recently finished Hilary Corna’s One White Face: How a Remarkable Leap of Faith Launched a Daring Journey in Self-Discovery. As my plane ascends I look forward to the third Coca-Cola Scholars Leadership Summit and reflect on Corna’s words: “One of my favorite parts about flying is the takeoff,” she writes. “The challenge of a takeoff is not dealing with the momentum, but making the decision to board the plane in the first place.”
Every city brings new stories, and as I make my way to the house by the Westin I will be sharing with a couple other Coke Scholars, I listen as my Lyft driver tells me of a Caribbean festival replete with jerk chicken and Soca music. I’m told the city is growing, which has exacerbated the challenge of persistent and pervasive homelessness. My mind flashes back to visiting the museum of Martin Luther King Jr. during my Scholars Weekend as a high school senior when I was named a Coke Scholar in 2013, and his legacy of advocating for the rights of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized.
I pass by the Center for Civil & Human Rights, with a statue of a quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” As I step out of the car, and prepare to enter a shuttle to the Leadership Summit’s kick-off at the World of Coca-Cola, I can’t help but to consider the salience of this quote, and the potential the Coke Scholars family has in changing the world.
The smiling faces of 400+ Scholars, each individual filled with the intangible elements of optimism, positivity, and responsibility, saturate the ambiance. I remember Scholars from my 2013 year who I had seen on The Steve Harvey Show or Netflix’s Taking Up Space, Scholars launching their careers, releasing musical singles and going to law, dental, or theology school. The atmosphere was electric, like a lightning bolt creating sparks in a concentrated area. Many hugs and plates of food later, members of the Coke family, alumni, and leadership team took the stage to welcome us home.
Everyday I am reminded of how blessed and lucky I am to be a part of a family of individuals I had never met made a commitment three decades old to secure invest in us and our futures. As one of our speakers of the night, Senior Vice President of The Coca-Cola Company and President of Coca-Cola North America Jim Dinkins, said with a quote from Warren Buffet: “There is no self made man…The shade you sit under today was once a seed planted by another before you.”
During lunch on the second day of the summit, I open a letter written by Jeremiah Grant in 2013, when he was applying to be a Coke Scholar. He writes of being inspired by the Emersonian captain of one’s soul, guiding his fate like a ship through the night in William Ernest Henley’s Invictus. He analogizes leadership to sailing a ship, requiring captains, mapmakers, astrologists, advisors, and crews — Ironic, given that Jeremiah had never touched a ship in his life. Though just as Odysseus sailed from Ithaca, Greece, I wanted to journey to Ithaca, NY to gain my own crew of people in college.
Five years later, I’m happy to say that the young man who departed for Ithaca was able to find his crew of Scholars and mentors to help get to this point. I feel optimistic for the next 30 years of Coke Scholars sailing on the winds of change our new captain, Jane, the entire CCSF team, and the Coke family.
Jeremiah Grant Jr. is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper of the Ithaca Hub. He is a recent alumnus of Cornell University and currently lives in New York. He is a 2013 Coke Scholar.