Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

73rd Annual Meeting Presidential Address

73rd Annual Meeting Presidential Address
Presented by W.E. “Bill” Russell, 73rd President
June 17, 2003  Greensboro, NC

gboro0001Junior Chamber International President Robby Dawkins, Junior Chamber International Vice President Mejia, President elect and First Lady Shapiro, Fellow members of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors, Past National Presidents, Ambassadors, Senators, Fellow Junior Chamber members, and guests:

I could spend my final moments as national president reflecting on the past year: my travels to your states, the training we introduced, the impact we made with the Wake Up America program and our governmental affairs efforts.  However, rather than reflect on the past, I would rather us prepare for the future.

When I was a local officer in the Rock Hill, South Carolina Jaycees in the mid-1980’s, I was an inexperienced Jaycee.  I made the occasional mistakes…but I learned and benefited from it all.  But what I learned early on and what has lasted for me all these years – is the Jaycee Creed.  As simple as those 65 words are, they are the framework that helped me deal with many challenges, especially change.  During this past year as I traveled into 47 states and three different countries, I saw and read some very unsettling things.  Things that the Junior Chamber could change – if we wanted to.

In December, in the Town of Vienna, Va., the newspapers ran a photo of a

National Advisor Madsen, USJCC President Russell, JCI President Dawkins, JCI Advisor Pridgen

National Advisor Madsen, USJCC President Russell, JCI President Dawkins, JCI Advisor Pridgen

group of people held at bay by armed guards.  That may not sound unusual, but these were not rioters or protesters.  They were Christmas Carolers.  You see, the Town of Vienna had outlawed the singing of religious songs on public property.  So the men, women, and children had to sing “Silent Night” behind barricades.  It sounds much like Eastern Europe under communist rule…instead it was America 1991.  There is a cultural war going on in America and the young people are fighting for the conscience of America.  Remember that faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has triggered widespread thinking that the cold war is over – there is no need to do anything else – we’re safe now.  Consider for a moment the past six years, when the Junior Chamber moved behind the iron curtain and began chipping away at the walls of communism through the spread of Jaycees, and paving the way for democracy. I remember the pride I felt when I saw JCI World President Dawkins on the cover of Jaycees Magazine with the Kremlin hauntingly in the background.  Starting new Junior Chamber chapters in Russia, Estonia, and now Vietnam – new pockets of democracy.  We actively pursued friendships and cultivated relationships.  The brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations.

We hear so much that’s negative in America today.  We hear things like our economy is weak, our standard of living is low, America’s people don’t want to work.  There are indeed examples of that in every town and city of America.  But we are short sighted if we let the nay-sayers convince us that America is worse off than it’s ever been.  While there is no question there are pressing national challenges that need to be solved – we shouldn’t be sidetracked by issues that certainly do not do anything to help this nation.  Our future as a country requires us to choose issues that surpass symbolism and move toward the heart of addressing today’s foreign and domestic challenges with speed and accuracy.

I encourage you to go home this week and look closely at the real numbers behind the economy.  I think you will see that critics are off base about America’s premier status in the world. We are a nation who even at our lowest end of the economic scale – work harder and are better off than any other industrialized nation in the world.  Period.  That’s not just my opinion – it’s a fact!  You know it as economic justice – which we believe can best be won by free men through free enterprise.

world-congressAn area of the Junior Chamber whose potential largely remains untapped is our international affairs.  Not one major city in America is without an international company operating and employing the people of that community.  The barriers of the world are opening and today’s world is becoming a global village.  The world’s challenges are very simply – our challenges.  Our Jaycee chapters need to become involved in international affairs, creating bonds with chapters from throughout the world – sharing cultural and business knowledge.  The future of this organization lies in its ability to offer young people the opportunities of the world.

United States Jaycees, the challenges which face us are not unsolvable.  But unless we have the courage to meet them head on, our hesitation could seal our fate.  Traveling around the country this year, some people asked, “What’s wrong with the Junior Chamber?  Why are we losing members every year?”  There are no simple answers and some of you may not agree with some of the things I’m about to say, but I feel compelled to say them.  First off – there is nothing wrong with the Jaycees.  The fault is not in the product – the faults are in the delivery of the product.

Each year, we send young people out to serve in leadership capacities: state presents and vice presidents, regional and district directors, local chapter officers who are unprepared for the role they play.  They have the commitment, courage and desire – but they lack the knowledge and experience.  I believe we should require our officers to meet certain criteria for office.  I believe we should require state presidents to have been vice presidents.  State vice presidents should have been regional or district directors and they in turn should have been local presidents.  Some of our states might find it difficult to fill leadership roles for a while, but I believe it is a disservice to both the chapters and the officer to send them out there unprepared.  Pinning a name badge on a shirt just for the sake of filling the position does more harm than good.

Each year we start new Junior Chamber chapters in communities with the only criteria being twenty filled out applications and money to cover the dues for the twenty people.  The chapter does not have to run projects.  It doesn’t have to teach personal and leadership skills.  It doesn’t even have to conduct regular meetings.  I believe this is wrong.  I think we should bring back the affiliation process which would require chapters to meet certain criteria before a charter is granted.  The chapter should create a chapter plan, run community projects, conduct orientations, and initiate quality programming which are going to make young people the business and community leaders of tomorrow.  These activities could be monitored by the state organization.

One of the weaknesses we incur is we recruit people every day, telling them that the organization is inexpensive – only $45 a year, you don’t have to attend the meetings, you don’t have to participate in the projects and programming, as a matter of fact you don’t have to do anything – and then the member lives up to those expectations.  They become the member we asked them to be.  I believe you should collect their membership application and check but before they become a member, they must attend an orientation, a meeting, and a project.  If they are unable because of evening classes or work commitments, exceptions can be made.  This type of membership activity would ensure that people who never intended to be active, who never knew they joined in the first place, or paper members signed for personal gains never appear on our rolls to begin with.

Membership recruitment is vital to our organization.  We must recruit more young people and create new Junior Chamber chapters more zealously than ever before. But we cannot damage our chapters and our credibility by recklessly creating chapters which don’t meet that standard.  As a national organization, we must examine the measurement system by which we judge our state organizations – the Parade of States.

It is a system which recognizes one winner and forty-nine losers.  It is a system which rewards short term performance.  It is a system which condones a live for today attitude, no matter of tomorrow’s consequences.  Just a quick look at our top five parade players of the past five years will indicate states which are paying for their moment in the sun.  One state – Vermont – was a top five state just a few years ago, today – we have no state organization in Vermont.  We simply cannot continue to recognize short term success.  President elect Shapiro if you truly want to impact the United States Junior Chamber – dismantle the Parade of States.  Initiate a program which recognizes states which excel in the only awards program which encompasses all areas of Jaycees on a long term basis – our Blue Chip Program.

States which have 20-30% of chapters at Blue Chip can be Blue Chip States;

Outstanding State Presidents

Outstanding State Presidents

States with 30-40% can be Gold; and  States with 40% or higher can be Diamond States.  It’s time we reexamined our measurement systems.  It’s time we stopped condoning reckless and irresponsible membership activity.  Understand clearly Jaycees – membership is people.  And we’re in the people business.  We have a responsibility to give other people an opportunity to be in the Junior Chamber. This organization has been around for 73 years because people have felt strongly enough about it to share it with others.  We must recruit more young people, get more people involved than we did this past year – and we must do it because it’s the right thing to do.  Not because of what we gain by it, but by what we give by doing it!

Henry Kissinger, the former United States Secretary of State, said, “The task of a leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”  In the governmental affairs area – it’s time for the Junior Chamber to have a lobbyist in Washington DC to ensure we’re not overlooked on issues of importance to us.  Let’s go somewhere we have not been.

In the environmental area, let’s show America we’re dedicated to preserving natural resources – but at the same time – communicate clearly that environmental awareness is not more important than human life.  Let’s go somewhere we have not been.

Let’s inject ourselves into the political debate of this country – wholeheartedly and enthusiastically – to represent what young people today think and need. Let’s go somewhere we have not been.

It’s time we rejected the old measurement systems and turned our backs on the status quo and mediocrity.  It’s time to embrace our opportunities.  It’s time to go somewhere we have not been.

Rock Hill Jaycees - The Traveling Animals

Rock Hill Jaycees - The Traveling Animals

United States Jaycees, we’re stronger now than we’ve ever been.  We’ve made it through the hardest part.  We had to break it all down to build it back up.  We leaned on each other when times got tough and we’ve survived so much.

We shared it all this year, you and I.  Thank you for giving Melissa and I this wonderful opportunity.  To the Jaycee Traveling Animals of Rock Hill, we’re coming home.  And to the South Carolina Jaycees – Let’s put the green back on stage.

Good luck Jaycees and may God Bless the United States Junior Chamber.

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May 5, 2009 - Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches | , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Having only been a Jaycee since 2001, I have witnessed such a sharp decline, it saddens me. This speech hit home in so many areas. I agree that there is nothing wrong with the product. It is sad that through the years we still have not improved the delivery. There is no time to look back and wonder what if, but reading this has given me inspiration move forward and “prepare for the future”, especially as I take on more responsibility in my future with the Jaycees.

    Thank you,
    Danielle Kaminski
    2009 Membership Vice President
    Kentucky Jaycees

    Comment by Danielle Kaminski | August 23, 2009 | Reply

    • Danielle:

      Appreciate your comments. We make a difference one person, one community at a time. The greatest reward I have from my Jaycee career was not what I gained from it, but the feeling many years later from folks who I met along the way that told me something I did or said, that I perceived was so small, so insignificant at the time, made such a profound difference in their life.

      Therein, lies the true feeling of volunteerism and the power of Jaycees.

      Good luck this year

      Bill Russell
      73rd President
      US Junior Chamber

      Comment by Bill Russell | August 23, 2009 | Reply


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