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About the Leadership Institute

“Commit yourself to the best possible development of others.” Tavis Smiley


About The Leadership Institute

The Tavis Smiley Foundation’s Leadership Institute is the core training and development program of Youth to Leaders. Each year students, ages 13-18, are invited to apply to attend this five-day conference held on a college campus. Between 200 and 250 students are accepted for participation along with adult allies who serve as chaperones. The majority of the Institute participants are moderate to low-income from urban and suburban communities nationwide. Each year 20-25 states are represented.


Learning Objectives & Outcomes

The Leadership Institute is a professional development program designed with young leaders in mind. The outcomes and objectives are:

  • To develop a cadre of youth leaders with critical-thinking skills who will share their knowledge and skills and make a positive impact on world.
  • To help youth develop a sense of civic and personal responsibility and commitment.
  • To foster relationships among youth from different parts of the country, schools, church and community groups.
  • To recognize youth alumni who have demonstrated their commitment to community through community service projects implemented within six months of the Institute






Attendees and Key Sessions

The students are selected based on their academic achievement, demonstrated and potential leadership, community service, an essay and a letter of recommendation Through workshops, panel discussions, and interactive activities, the participants learn to assess their strengths and weaknesses, review models of leadership, resolve conflicts, set goals, discuss and debate issues, and create action plans to address issues important to youth.

Core Institute sessions include Teen Town Hall Meeting, Youth Welcome Reception, Hands on Community Service Project, Book Signing and Lecture with Tavis Smiley, Love, Leadership & Service with Dr. Cornel West; Closing Banquet & Awards Ceremony.

Speakers and Presenters

Social and political activists, academic experts, and celebrities address the conference and conduct the workshops. A key component of the Institute is the foundation’s National Youth Advisory Council. These teen alumni help design and run the Institute. They are trained in youth facilitation, which enables them to serve as role models to their peers and increases their experiential learning.