Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program

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Segal Lecture

2011 Lecture

In March 2011, Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, honored over 400 students, faculty, and community members as the featured speaker of the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Lecture at Brandeis University.

Barnes gave powerful examples of changemakers who made a difference in their communities. She remembered Nannie Helen Burroughs, who in her early 20s fought against segregation in Washington, leading a boycott of the transit system, and went on to found the Washington National Training School for Girls and Women. When Burroughs opened the school, she set a motto for it, and that motto was “We specialize in the wholly impossible.”

Barnes reflected, “‘we specialize in the wholly impossible.’” Think about that motto: the turn of the last century, we’re talking 1910, female, African American, living in Washington D.C. She had every single reason to shrink from challenges, to resist challenge, to look for the easy path. But instead, Nannie Burroughs leaned into it. She looked for it. She embraced it. She was excited by it. And most of all, she believed that she and her colleagues and her students could overcome it – that they, in fact, could do anything.” Barnes went on to challenge the audience. She said, “So I leave you with this question: Will you accept that motto as your own? What hurdles are you going to jump? What barriers will you break down? How will you take on the ‘wholly impossible’ in your work? Because I guarantee you that as service leaders, if you ask yourselves that question every day, if you think about what that means every day, your community and your country will be all the better for it.”
Watch the entire Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Lecture featuring Melody Barnes here!

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