The Lessons of Youth
YLF alumni compare key takeaways across decades
This spring marked 35 years since the first class of high school sophomores and juniors graduated from Youth Leadership Forum (YLF). Since then more than 1,200 students have gained a deeper knowledge of the Birmingham region, learning what makes it tick, what hurdles it faces, and how to take their places alongside the community’s decision makers.
Q: Have those lessons changed over the years? Darren Allen (YLF ’88) and Tamauri Murray (YLF ’20)—representing two generations of YLF alumni—discuss their most important insights:
Darren: I lived in Brighton, and getting transportation to some of the program sites was a little difficult. But when I got to the meetings, it was life changing to see so many people from different backgrounds.
Tamauri: We learned not to judge a book by its cover. It would be easy to look at someone and think, “He’s probably rich because he goes to Vestavia,” but at our beginning retreat, we learned so much about each other that we wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Darren: Understanding how to work with people from various socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as different races and ethnicities and other areas of diversity, is a part of leadership. We all developed a camaraderie.
Tamauri: I feel like YLF gives us a foot in the door. It builds connections. I now have so many people I could get recommendations from, including the speakers who talked to us. YLF also taught us about resume writing and what colleges look for when we apply.
Darren: That interaction helps widen your perspective. You gain relationships that you normally would not have at your school or in your own community. As YLF class representative, I was invited to Leadership Birmingham’s closing retreat, where I met the executive vice president of a bank. He hired me to work that summer in records retention. What’s interesting is that, years later, a major role I held as a college administrator was registrar, which is all about record keeping. My 25-year career came about because I saw the things that happened behind the scenes to make a business run.
At Lawson, I have helped connect students with opportunities. In many cases, they may not know what opportunities are out there for them. That was my own experience. But then YLF introduced us to people who told us what they did and how they did it. So I expose students to people who are from different backgrounds—and, conversely, put them in touch with people just like them. It says to them, “If this person can do this, then so can you.”
Tamauri: I enjoyed meeting the twin judges [Jefferson County District Judge Shera Grant and Circuit Judge Shanta’ Owens]. I’m a twin also, so I connected with them. It was exciting to hear how they ended up doing the same thing but different types of judging. [Grant is in the Civil Division; Owens presides over criminal cases.]
Darren: When we learned about government, Mayor Richard Arrington Jr. came to speak with us, and he was very candid, very warm, very engaging. Of course, when you’re in 10th and 11th grade, you feel you can solve the world’s problems in one conversation. And we attempted to do that, but he was patient and kind, and he didn’t patronize us. It appeared that he was listening to what we had to say. It was refreshing to have our civic leaders sit down with young people and just hear our ideas.
Tamauri: It’s the best thing when professionals talk to young adults but also listen to us. All we want is to be heard, because we often think no one wants our opinion or that we don’t matter. Knowing someone out there is listening feels good.
Darren: What was even more impactful is that the speakers shared some of their plans for the city—ideas we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. They wanted to include us in the vision for what Birmingham would become, and they were showing us that the city is a place with a future, where we could be proud to work and live and raise our children. That was one reason that I saw a place for myself back in Birmingham. There was this idea of promise—that there were people intentionally working to improve opportunities for the city.
Tamauri: With YLF, I was always happy to be there and ready to learn all I could. I felt like, “Hey, I was chosen for a reason. So let me make the most of this.”
Darren: That is a great perspective. My daughter, who graduated from YLF in 2019, felt the same way. At her graduation I ran into two guys from my class who had children graduating the same year. It was great to see that YLF was still bringing people together from different parts of the city. Several of my college friends were members of those early classes as well, and now they are leaders in their professions. I think it has a lot to do with the seeds that were planted in YLF. It was a life-changing experience, and we need to make sure that it continues for other students.
Darren Allen (YLF ’88) is acting dean of students at Lawson State Community College. After YLF, he became a first-generation college student at the University of Alabama and later worked there in admissions. He also is the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Cordova, Ala.
Tamauri Murray (YLF ’20) recently graduated from Birmingham’s George Washington Carver High School. He has his sights set on studying computer engineering/computer science at Tennessee State University.