Alumni Spotlight: Keyla Cabret-Lewis

For our 35th anniversary, we’ll be sharing the stories of 35 alumni showcasing the leaders they are today and how 21st Century Leaders inspired and impacted their journey. Alumni will represent the 3.5 decades since our founding in 1989 – the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Take a read and be inspired!

35th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight

1990’s Decade
: Keyla Cabret-Lewis
H.S. Grad Year: Class of 1997
High School: Carver High School (Columbus, GA)
College: Columbus State University
Current Role: Vice President, DEI + Talent Development, Aflac

How has your career unfolded and how did participating in 21CL help prepare you for your next steps going to college, taking on a new leadership role in community/college?

I started in corporate America very young -a sophomore in High School- so going into the 21st Century Leaders program was very timely and appropriate development training for me.  Some of lessons that I learned during the program were brand new but more importantly much of the content in the program detailed working in teams, etiquette, etc., and I was already experiencing this at work.  This made the program very applicable and appealing.

What’s your memorable or ‘aha’ moment during your time at 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peer, speaking in public for the first time, etc.)

It’s hard to pick one moment out of the experience…this was my 1st time away from my home overnight and meeting teens from out of town was not common so the exposure to so many different young people of like minds was cool.  That we were all there to learn about being leaders was eye opening too…so many commonalities, many differences but we all wanted to do more for ourselves, families, communities.  Humbling even at that age.

Keyla is third in from right at a 21CL summer institute.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so, how? 

I would say that the fact the organization still exists with the sole purpose to lift young people up and teach them more about leadership and themselves…that’s an effective leadership characteristic that I believe in.

Why do you believe programs like 21CL are important? And what advice would you give to a current or future student?

Programs like 21st Century Leaders are key to the development of young people’s soft skills. Many times, academia focuses on technical skills but does not always spend time on the skills that help young people interact with adults during interviews, during lunches/dinners, communicate with people via email professionally, work as a team…all these skills are critical in the workplace and lead to success.  Why not start cultivating these skills in high school.  I often tell young people that I come across, “find a good internship, co-op, or program that can help you prepare for the workplace”.  21st Century Leaders does that and more.

21st Century Leaders Receives Commendation from State of Georgia

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”no” hundred_percent_height=”no” hundred_percent_height_scroll=”no” hundred_percent_height_center_content=”yes” equal_height_columns=”no” menu_anchor=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” status=”published” publish_date=”” class=”” id=”” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_position=”center center” background_repeat=”no-repeat” fade=”no” background_parallax=”none” enable_mobile=”no” parallax_speed=”0.3″ video_mp4=”” video_webm=”” video_ogv=”” video_url=”” video_aspect_ratio=”16:9″ video_loop=”yes” video_mute=”yes” video_preview_image=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” padding_top=”” padding_right=”” padding_bottom=”” padding_left=””][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ layout=”1_1″ spacing=”” center_content=”no” link=”” target=”_self” min_height=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_image_id=”” background_position=”left top” background_repeat=”no-repeat” hover_type=”none” border_size=”0″ border_color=”” border_style=”solid” border_position=”all” padding_top=”” padding_right=”” padding_bottom=”” padding_left=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_offset=”” last=”no”][fusion_text columns=”” column_min_width=”” column_spacing=”” rule_style=”default” rule_size=”” rule_color=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=””]

Founding Executive Director receives honor for 29 years of service to Georgia’s High School Students

(March 2019) Atlanta, Georgia – 21st Century Leaders is proud and honored to receive a 2019 Commendation from the State of Georgia from former Governor, Nathan Deal to recognize the organization’s 30th year history and specifically recognize the retirement of our founding executive director, Robert “Bob” Watson. 21st Century Leaders’ Board of Directors’ Chairman, Kevin Sessions presented the formal Commendation to Bob on March 2, 2019 at our annual Georgia Youth Leadership Awards.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the Commendation:

WHEREAS: Since 1989, 21st Century Leaders has served more than 14,000 high school students from over 250 high schools in Georgia. The efforts of the organization inspire young leaders and provide benefits for our state’s workforce by developing homegrown talent for Georgia communities and companies; and
WHEREAS: Mr. Robert “Bob” Watson, the founding executive director of 21st Century Leaders, has dedicated his career to the service of students in Georgia; and
WHEREAS: Mr. Watson retired in December 2018, following 29 years of service to youth leadership; and

WHEREAS: This year, 21st Century Leaders will celebrate 30 years of inspiring youth to lead and honor Mr. Watson for his decades of service; now
THEREFORE: I, NATHAN DEAL, Governor of the State of Georgia, do hereby commend

and join in recognizing Mr. Robert “Bob” Watson for his service to Georgia’s youth.

View the full 21st Century Leaders Commendation 2019

21st Century Leaders is also asking everyone to share how Bob and 21CL has impacted them and show your appreciation by writing him a message. Everyone is encouraged to submit it before April 15th! SUBMIT YOUR MESSAGE HERE

About 21st Century Leaders:
Since 1989, 21st Century Leaders has served more than 14,000 diverse high school students from over 250 Georgia high schools. 21st Century Leaders is a collaboration of business and professional leaders inspiring high school students to take on leadership positions, seek out opportunities and give back to their communities by connecting them a diverse group of enthusiastic peers, passionate professionals and powerful ideas, transforming their skills, attitudes, and abilities through training and hands-on experiences. For more information about 21st Century Leaders and how you can be a part of the 30 Year celebration, visit


Alumni Spotlight: Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones who works for Eaton as a VAVE engineer is a graduate of Fort Valley State University (2014) with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and of Georgia Institute of Technology (2017) with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. He is a graduate of Southwest High School (2012). Nicholas says that the leadership skills he acquired from 21st Century Leaders helped him turn an internship into a part-time job while still in college and later into a full-time job when he graduated.

Paint a picture of what you are doing now.

My current role is a VAVE Engineer at Eaton’s Lighting Division in Peachtree City, GA. VAVE is an acronym for Value Analysis and Value Engineering. I have served in this role for a little over a year, and in this role my primary objective is to reduce the costs associated with our lighting products while maintaining or improving quality and value. This includes examining and/or changing manufacturing processes, suppliers, and product designs.

How did participating in 21CL change you and/or lead you to where you are now?

Participating in 21CL helped me work something that is very invaluable: soft skills. The programs at 21CL help students focus on communicating and building networks, which is a key resource in navigating college and career fields. Developing these skills helped me turn an internship into a part-time job during my last semester in college, which I was able to turn into a full-time position at Eaton once I graduated.

What was a memorable or ‘aha’ moment in 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional, etc.?)

The most memorable moment for me during my 21CL participation was learning to Salsa at EarthCare in 2009. It was memorable for me because it was a chance to interact with people I hadn’t normally interact with during the camp. It was also a chance to see everyone there having fun learning something new together in a more relaxed environment.

Which programs did you participate in, and when?

I participated in two 21CL programs: Earthcare at Berry College in 2009 and G5 ( now SYLI) at Goizueta in 2010.

How did 21CL prepare you for your next steps? Going into college and taking on leadership roles, heading into a new era of professionalism, etc. What tools/perspectives have helped you along the way?

Participating in 21CL prepared me for my next steps in life because it helped me appreciate diversity and different perspectives other than what I was used to. Being appreciative of and open to different thought processes and ideas allowed me to be a better leader in organizational roles in college. This is a key to being an effective leader.

What’s something you have recently learned about leadership?

Recently, I have learned that in order to be an effective leader, you have to know and build relationships with those under you. It’s important for those you lead to know that they can talk to you about issues they are facing.

Alumni Spotlight Update: Manny Elsar, Jr

Manny Elsar, Jr., who works for The Coca-Cola Company, is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Economics & International Affairs with a minor in Spanish. He graduated from Etowah High School in 2013.

Manny took the lessons from his time in 21CL into many new opportunities where he could grow in personal and community leadership. As a college student, Manny was actively involved in leadership and service. In 2016 Manny was selected to be an Orientation Leader at UGA for matriculating freshmen, and in 2017 he reconnected with 21CL to serve as a volunteer leader to current 21CL students at our leadership summits and summer institutes. 

After graduating in December 2017, Manny began working at the Coca-Cola Company as a digital business analyst in their marketing department. Manny was also the alumni spotlight for March of 2017, but after updating 21st Century Leaders of his new position at The Coca-Cola company we were eager to learn how 21CL prepared him for this point in his career journey. Read Manny’s first alumni spotlight post here.

Thank you, Manny, for sharing your leadership with 21CL!

Is there a piece of knowledge or a lesson that you learned from 21CL that you have put to use at your job at Coca-Cola? 

I would say the one thing that I learned from 21CL is how important diversity of thought is in both my personal and professional life. I encountered so many different types of people years ago at Leadership Unplugged (now Turner Voices Youth Media Institute) that challenged my ideas and mindset in high school. I used that time to not only think critically about my place in the world as a young, black millennial but how my experiences can both mold and help my future career and social goals.

The fact that I still keep up with people I met through 21CL 6 years ago is a testament to the leadership skills the organization cultivates in all its students. We all had concrete goals to be great in our academic lives, and we’ve done that plus more. I can confidently say that 21CL was the first and most important step in developing my love for surrounding myself with people from different backgrounds so then I’m consistently adjusting to how the world changes.

What is something new that you recently learned about leadership?

I wouldn’t say this is something new I’ve learned about leadership, but rather I had to remind myself while I started my career that it is absolutely okay to make mistakes. A lot of people have the assumption that leaders lead effortlessly and without any fault, but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth. Some of the best leaders throughout history made mistakes and openly admitted to not having all the answers.

Working with such a big company scared me initially because I was worried that mistaking mistakes would quickly put me on the chopping block. My fears were quickly assuaged by managers who worked hard to develop my technical skills for my current position. They understood where I was coming from, but they also reminded me that leaders make mistakes and by no means is it a demonstration of my intelligence level. I was afraid to make mistakes as a fresh college graduate because I didn’t want coworkers to make judgments about my background, but so far I’ve had no reason to worry about that. I’m very glad to work for a company that works hard to cultivate leadership skills in all its employees, no matter how junior or senior you may be in the hierarchy.

Which of our seven leadership competencies have you used in your workplace recently? 

Action-Oriented. Such a cliche phrase, but I honestly believe “Actions speak louder than words” is the truest statement I’ve seen next to verses in the bible. It’s so easy to speak about what you’ll do for someone, but it’s another thing to put weight behind what you promise. In the workplace, you need those action-oriented people that’ll stick their necks out to get stuff done. Whether it’s going the extra mile to finish a presentation, or making an extra call to someone to make sure you’ve obtained all the information, your actions prove your worth in the workplace.

I do preface that by saying it’s necessary to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Staying hours after you were supposed to leave, in my opinion, doesn’t prove your work ethic but rather a lack of time management. It’s absolutely vital to put your mental and physical health first in the workplace as you won’t be able to produce quality work unless you’re at your absolute best. I’ve learned that the hard way since starting full time in January.

Are you an alumni of 21st Century Leaders and want to be featured in the next Alumni Spotlight? Update us on where you are now.

Alumni Spotlight, Khari Arnold

April’s 21CL Alumni Spotlight is Khari Arnold, a graduate of Westlake High School and Howard University, who currently works at Turner as a Senior Producer of Khari recently reengaged with 21CL by giving back as a volunteer by helping read and review our recent student applications. The same application he went through just a few years ago. Khari shares how enduring connections made with mentors through 21st Century Leaders lead to a career at Turner.

Khari got involved with 21CL in 2010 by attending 21CL’s summer leadership institute, Leadership Unplugged  in 2010 (now known as Turner Voices Youth Leadership Institute) and continued through the program during his senior year landing him an internship that following summer.

How did participating in 21CL change you and/or lead you to where you are now?

The media industry was something I had interest in as early as middle school. When I got to high school, I got involved with the yearbook staff and joined a local teen newspaper. These were great opportunities, but I found 21st Century Leaders to be the most enjoyable and satisfying experience. Here, I received great principles that allowed me to build the foundation of where I am today. The program allowed me to witness a professional setting in my desired field, while garnering vital information that would help me get there (and not just get there, but succeed while there as a leader). I was fortunate to learn what it was like to work on a team and pitch an idea to a panel of executives, something I still do in my current career.

What was your most memorable moment in 21CL?
To be quite honest, my most memorable moment was building a fantastic bond with the other 21CL members. We got so close that one week — I remember everyone saying it felt like we knew each other for a year. Meeting like-minded individuals with similar goals as me was extremely beneficial. We all want to network with people that are already established in their careers, but building relationships with your peers is just as critical. I still keep in contact with a few members of my class and if there’s anything I could do to help a fellow 21CL, I would do it in a heartbeat.
How did 21CL prepare you for your next steps?
It prepared me for my next step by leading to an internship at Turner the very next summer through their Turner Voices Internship Program. During my interview process, I explained the qualities I received as a 21CL and how I learned more about the company and business as a whole through the ‘Turner Voices’ program. Before I knew it, I was serving as a Communications Intern at CNN. That same summer my manager introduced me to a high executive at Turner Sports. I kept in contact with him throughout my four years in college, and now he’s my boss.
What’s something you’ve recently learned about leadership?
I recently learned that a leader must understand the various personalities of who he is guiding, and adapting to it when applicable. Especially the ones you interact with. Also, making an effort to be sure everyone feels like they have a voice — even though you’re the leader — is essential.

Are you an alumni of 21st Century Leaders and want to be featured in the next Alumni Spotlight? Update us on where you are now.

Alumni Spotlight: Britney Lovett

0c8f6fcWritten by Britney (Blackwell) Lovett, 21CL Alumni, Cox Communications

21st Century Leaders had a significant impact on my life in high school in several ways. I made so many new friends! I still talk to them even though it has been 7 years since we graduated from high school at Jonesboro High School in Clayton County. I gained an immense amount of knowledge about networking, teamwork and what it means to be a leader. 21CL I believe really gave me the tools to continue the same concepts in my professional career.


21CL exposed me to a career path I wouldn’t have originally considered. Before 21CL, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. After my experience, I was 100% certain I wanted to go to business school and become a businesswoman.

1910317_19452360939_7913_nMy most memorable moment in 21CL was the summer leadership institute, (SYLI @Goizueta) at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. My stay at Emory was a key point in my life because that is when I decided that when I graduated high school I wanted to go to business school. During my week long stay, I was exposed to what my life could be like in the future. I met a diverse group of business professionals. I was able to stay on the campus which exposed me to college life and I gained so much insight into the business world. The best part was that I was able to experience the whole thing with my friends.

Without a doubt I felt more prepared going into college and taking on leadership roles because of 21CL. I was able to gain some internship experience through the 21st Century Leaders’ Cartoon Network Closet internship program in 2008 while in high school. At went on to attend the University of Georgia, Terry College of Business, where I quickly took on leadership positions in different organizations because it felt natural at the time.

In 21CL, you are encouraged to step outside the box, to seek out opportunities and to help others. Servant Leadership is a term I remember well while in 21CL. I apply it in my everyday working life. In order to lead you must first serve. To make sure others needs are taken care of and not prioritizing your own needs first. I believe this has allowed me to make connections in the workforce. My professional career is doing well because of this mentality. Since graduating from college in 2012, I’ve been promoted twice in the company.

Going through the programs while in high school, I realized I was more analytical than I imagined. I had a passion for technology and the corporate world. For my very first job out of college the person interviewing me for the position happened to be on the board for 21CL and I do believe it was that connection and my skills that helped me land the job. I continue to work at a resource manager for a vendor company onsite at Cox Communications. I’m proud to say that I’ve been promoted twice in the past 3 years.  I thank 21st Century Leaders for inspiring me to become the leader I am today and to discover a career I’m passionate about!