In the recent article “Building the bench,” Columbus Business First Editor-in-Chief, Dough Buchanan, shares the story of how a group of African American leaders in Columbus joined forces to create a space where rising African American leaders are prepared to step up to more prominent roles in the community. Recently, the Academy convened its 16th class of fellows since it was founded in 2005. Each class begins in January and concludes with a graduation in September.

At the Academy’s inception, a close group of prominent African American leaders in Columbus realized that there needed to be a forum where the next generations of African American leaders could develop their leadership skills. Donna James, now Executive Director of the Academy, and her husband, Larry James, Managing Partner of Crabbe, Brown, and James, organized a dinner to discuss how to build that space. Attendees at that dinner included leaders like Yvette McGee Brown, Janet Jackson, Warren Tyler, and Donn Vickers. As a result of their gathering, the African American Leadership Academy was born.

At the center of the program is a simple but powerful message: “You are the project.” The program curriculum embraces that message by guiding participants to look inward and focus on self-discovery. A key component of facilitating that self-discovery is embracing cultural-based leadership development. By offering a safe space for individuals to share and process their experiences together, the Academy prepares the next generation of African American leaders to lead with authenticity as examples for those who will follow them.