Winter Institute Summer Youth Program Inspires High School Students to Lead Communities

OXFORD, Miss. – Twenty-eight Mississippi high school students are preparing to make a positive impact in communities across the state, thanks to an innovative leadership program sponsored by the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

Rising sophomores and juniors were chosen from a pool of 150 applicants to attend the third annual Summer Youth Institute, which began Sunday (June 10) and runs through June 24.

“For many students, it’s a life-changing two weeks,” said Elliot Long, project coordinator. “I’m looking forward to bringing together another group of students, learning about their passions and helping them make a difference in their communities.” The 15-day event provides training in community organizing and leadership, as well as civil rights history. Workshops and activities emphasize the importance of building relationships and knowing state history in order to make positive change in local communities.

“This year we have three special guests,” said Susan Glisson, Winter Institute executive director. “Adin Thayer of Smith College will share conflict resolution and adjustment strategies she used while volunteering in post-genocide Rwanda and Burundi. Two staff members from YouthLink in Belfast, Ireland, will also share tools and skills used by their youth.”

Also included is leadership training that spans areas from how to use social networks and the arts in community organizing to how to give effective speeches to presentations and workshops on the importance of diversity and acceptance, and the effects of privilege.

“We’ve scheduled field trips to Jackson, Holly Springs and Philadelphia, where students will learn about the murders of the civil rights workers and how the community has united over it,” Glisson said. “We’ll also be going to Greenwood, where the students will spend an afternoon involved in community service endeavors.”

Students are coming from Batesville, Indianola, Jackson, McComb, Oxford, Philadelphia, Southaven, Tupelo and West Point.

“At the end of the institute, the students will each present their proposals to partners of nonprofit organizations which might assist them in implementing their ideas once they return home,” Glisson said. “Winter Institute staff will visit the students to see how they’re doing and offer support. This fall, the students themselves will vote for the projects they think have made the most progress. A cash prize will go to the winner of the competition.”

Staff members at the institute anticipate that this year’s program will be a success.

“The students leave with plans of action for community improvement, empowered by the relationships they made with each other and ready not only to enact their plans but also to stay in touch with each other and with the institute and build a statewide network of active young leaders,” Long said.

For more information about the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, go to or call 662-915-6727.