When William H. Crouch Jr., president of Georgetown College, was invited in 2007 to speak at Princeton University to the Granville Academy National Youth Conference, he was told he was one of two keynote speakers.
Only after his arrival did he realize the first speaker was Vernon Jordan, a leading civil rights activist and adviser to President Bill Clinton.
"I was the only white person in the room, and I had to follow Vernon Jordan," Crouch said. "I was sweating."
He shouldn't have been.
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Crouch had been invited to speak by William Granville Jr., founder of the academy, an after-school program for inner-city youth that stresses the fundamentals of business, engineering, finance and entrepreneurship. The program has affiliates in eight cities and six states.
Granville had heard of Georgetown's push to intentionally diversify its student body, which has resulted in an increase in student diversity from 1 percent to 12 percent in five years.
So when his turn came at the microphone at Princeton, Crouch said, he pointed out to the youth that for them to do all the things they needed to do, for them to finance their successes, they would have to go to a bank.
"Bankers look like me," he told them. "Let me tell you how to deal with a white man."
Granville was so impressed, he invited Crouch back the next year to the conference at Yale University. That time, though, Granville asked whether Couch could offer a scholarship to one of the youth. Crouch agreed. He interviewed students and gave a scholarship to Cassandra Simmons of Cleveland. Simmons will graduate with honors this year from Georgetown and has been accepted into graduate school in Chicago.
The following year, 2009, at Case Western Reserve University, Crouch gave a scholarship to Chayna Hardy-Taylor of Trenton, N.J. She is awaiting word of acceptance to the University of Kentucky medical school.
Crouch decided he wanted those students to come to Georgetown College and asked Granville to hold the annual conference in Kentucky for the first time, he said.
"I said I wanted those 200 kids on my campus," Crouch said. "If they are this good, I want more of them to visit here and see Kentucky."
Making that happen fell to Simmons and Hardy-Taylor. They have been using the business skills they learned after school at the academy to pull together the annual youth conference in Georgetown, complete with sponsors, contract agreements, tours and logistics.
"We have spearheaded it for a year and a half while working jobs and being students," Simmons said. "But it has been a good experience."
More than 100 students and adults will be coming from Cleveland; Trenton; Northern Virginia; North Carolina; New Haven and Waterbury, Conn.; and Prince Georges County and Baltimore, Md.
The 2012 conference is today through Sunday. Friday will be spent performing community service activities for Georgetown Baptist Church and Harmony Christian Church, Hardy-Taylor said. Saturday, participants will tour the Kentucky Horse Park and learn about the horse industry and its economic impact on this state.
In groups, the youth will also develop a business idea and present it on posters to be judged.
"It will give the students an opportunity to put their practices to work," Hardy-Taylor said. "Some of them have been at the academy for a few years, and the conference will give them a chance to see their friends and network with different CEOs and business people."
The academy was founded in 1983 by Granville, who had been a gang member in his youth. A teacher saw something in him and helped turn him around. Granville became an executive vice president of Mobil Corp., Middle East subsidiary. He started the free academy to give youth in grades eight through 12 the opportunity to hone their skills in a more productive way.
When Hardy-Taylor was in ninth grade, she said, members of her group started a business called Capital City Crafts. They decorated plates in various color choices and sold them for $6 to $15, depending on the size. Half of the profits were donated to charity, and the group shared the rest according to their job titles.
"We learned the language of business," she said. "We learned terminology such as balance sheets and how to fill them out. We learned how to go about filling out a business plan so that if you take it to a bank, how well would it hold up."
Those lessons translate into highly motivated students, some of whom Crouch hopes will like Kentucky and enroll at Georgetown. Diversity, he said, "has been a blessing to our institution. Students come from all over the country. The word is out that they will be taken care of."
And, one of the students at the conference may just land a scholarship.
"I'm looking for the best one in the crowd," he said.