Alumni Spotlight: Jalen Q. Polk

Alumnus Jalen Polk is currently a fourth-year Economics major at University of Georgia (UGA) and is a graduate of Woodward Academy (2017).  During his high school years he participated in many of 21CL’s programs, and now gives back, recently serving on our summer leadership team as a staff member and alumni mentor for the summer leadership institutes in 2019 and 2020.

Jalen most recently received the UGA President’s 2021 Fulfulling the Dream Award at their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Breakfast. The award recognizes individuals dedicated to making significant contributions to race relations, justice and human rights.

Paint a brief picture of what you are doing now.

I am currently a senior pursuing an Economics major at UGA. It is exciting, particularly due to the electives which I am enrolled in plus the opportunity to conduct research which has been a desire of mine since entering college. I am heavily involved on campus as it is a passion for me to give back to the spaces which uplifted me when I first stepped foot on this campus. I am the President of the Black Male Leadership Society currently on campus seeking to foster a sense of unity, strength, and love amongst black males on campus and throughout Athens.

How did participating in 21CL transform you and lead you to where you are now?

I participated in 21st Century Leaders, and every step was uncomfortable. However, I gained confidence, insight, encouragement, and connections which have served as a solid foundation as I matriculated throughout high school and into college. It has transformed into a premiere opportunity for me to give back and truly examine my leadership capabilities. 21st Century Leaders is extremely service-oriented and intentional, so both mentors, speakers, and students are celebrating in a space of learning, growth, and diversity.

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 skills/tools/perspectives have helped you along the way?

21st Century Leaders exposed me to a new friend circle who demonstrated to me the importance of being coachable and giving one’s very best! My experience within 21st Century Leaders was enhanced with the real world challenges we solved, and these simulations required teamwork and effective communication. 21CL prepared me today because I grew out of my shell by trying new risks and I also realized my creative capabilities.

Jalen pictured in the blue shirt as a student attending SYLI@Goizueta in 2016.

Which programs did you participate in, and when? What skills did you gain or improve through those programs? 

I participated in the SYLI@Goizueta in 2016 and in the school-year leadership summits in 2016 and 2017. I also served as a Youth Ambassador during my senior year. These programs helped me improve in my openness as there were others who genuinely wanted to learn from me and share more about themselves. The relationships which formed at this organization are going strong until today! I am forever grateful.

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

A memorable moment in 21CL was when I was working on a project, and I was incredibly nervous to mention my idea. However, my team was more than receptive and they took my idea, ran with it, and added to it. I was impressed with our end result and amazed by how we all played a team effort. My investment was necessary no matter how many times I counted myself out in my own head!

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so how? And have you recently learned something else about leadership? Please share!

Leadership is not about me, but it is sincerely about leading others. Leadership is not consuming a position or working in any interest separate of the followers who look up to that person in leadership. Leadership will always be based on action, and I believe there should be a desire to lead others.