Taylor Leadership Institute kicks off the spring semester

Courtney Green, News Editor

The Taylor Leadership Institute kicked off the spring semester with a Mentorship Orientation session on Jan. 22. The session was an opportunity for both mentors and students apprentices to meet (some for the first time) and receive tips, resources and training.

“Not one of you here is average,” Dr. Matthew Ohlson, director of the Taylor Leadership Institute, said in his opening remarks to a room full of mentors and student apprentices. “Tonight is an opportunity for us to get to know each other, an opportunity to kickoff this program and know what it means for the students and mentors, and also an opportunity to have some fun. Hopefully, we will leave a little bit better than we came tonight.”

Dr. Matthew Ohlson makes his opening remarks. Photo credit Romario Gardner.

The mentoring event featured free food and lasting smiles. Provost Rhodes was in attendance, as well as best selling authors and the Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Centers of Jacksonville, Diane Boyle. 

Diane Boyle, Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Center of Jacksonville, speaks about what makes her student apprentice special. Photo credit Romario Gardner.

Among those attending was Taj Spencer and his mentor Jonathan Catherman, who met in person for the first time last night. The pair had been talking since the beginning of Fall 2019. At that time, Taj had many goals that were all over the place.

“None of it was bad,” Catherman said. “He said, ‘I’ve got these aspirations and these interests and I need guidance in these areas.’ We started bringing it into reasonable foresight, how far down the road can you see, what goals can we set, and how can you work your way through accomplishing the goals you set.”

Catherman is a sociologist and the author of a bestselling book, Manual for Manhood. He is from Charlotte, North Carolina, but became involved with the Taylor Leadership Institute after knowing Ohlson for over 10 years.

“He blew my mind at how many goals he accomplished already,” Catherman said of Taj. “He’s motivated. You can have a mentor, but unless you have motivation — the mentor is not going to do it for you.”

Taj is a published poet. With Catherman’s guidance, Taj has now read his poetry at several different venues.

Sociologist, author, and mentor Jonathan Catherman (right) and Tajudin “Taj the Poet” Spencer (left). Photo credit Romario Gardner.

Catherman believes everything the Taylor Leadership Institute and Dr. Ohlson does is a great investment in the future. 

“Dr. Ohlson is investing in the lives of young people with the belief that they will meet and exceed everything he’s doing, everything I’m doing. We believe this emergent generation has more potential to do good in the world than any generation before. We believe they can meet and exceed us. So we’re here to provide the guidance.”

While guest speaking, Catherman spoke on the idea of the mentors not only passing along their tips of the trade and knowledge, but also that the student apprentices will one day surpass their mentors. He asked the mentees to look in the eyes of their mentor and repeat after him: “I believe…I will be…better than you.”

In answer, the mentors told their mentees: “I believe…you will be…better than me.”

For those unaware of the Taylor Leadership Institute’s presence on campus, the resource is an integral part of UNF’s minor in leadership. 

The Leadership minor has seen an 80% increase among UNF students between 2019 and 2020, according to the Institute’s Spring 2020 newsletter. This semester, they are announcing new partnerships with Ronald McDonald House and a surge in LDR 4263 Leadership Practicum enrollment.


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