A NEXT GENERATION LEADER IN CHARGE TODAY
25 February 2022
Annapolis, Md. --
What does leadership look like? It can be said leadership style is like a fingerprint; everyone’s is a little different. The leadership style of Midshipman 1st Class Jackie Booker was first based on the desire to make his hometown Orangeburg, S.C. a better place. Today, his focus is much wider.
“Jackie’s goal is to change the world, whatever point and time in life it is, his goal is to make a difference,” said Kathy Booker, mother of Jackie Booker.
Kathy says Booker was destined for greatness from a young age. He met every obstacle head-on seeing them not as insurmountable, but as challenges to conquer. His latest challenge: completing his fourth and final year at the United States Naval Academy. Not surprisingly for one so motivated, he earned the highest leadership position a midshipman can reach, Brigade Commander.
There is no doubt he has learned much about leadership at the Academy, but by the time he arrived at Annapolis, Booker had already found his leadership style.
“I read a lot from Simon Sinek and he says there’s a difference between leaders and those who lead,” said Booker. “Leaders focus on their position and how much power they have, but those who lead focus on inspiring those they’re leading. I always think of leadership as being able to serve the people you’re working for and trying to do the best job yourself, for them so that they’re taken care of and that they’re happy and pursuing what they want to pursue.”
His leadership story starts in a small town named Orangeburg, S.C. Booker is proud to be from there. It’s a place he knew well, and it’s a place that knew him well. Orangeburg was a community with many people who influenced young Booker. It’s a place so small that the idea of representing it on a big scale drove him to achieve the goals he set for himself as well as the expectations of those who knew and influenced him when he was younger. At the top of the list were his parents whose guidance was rooted in a strong faith.
“There was a purpose for everything he did,” said Kathy. “I handed authority of Jackie to God and let Him work. I just told Jackie to raise the bar and reach it. I never had to push Jackie to do anything, if it needed to be done he motivated himself and helped others in the process.”
An early example of Booker’s innate leadership happened when he was in high school. According to his mother, he wanted to attend a charter school for two years before he transitioning to a more prestigious school --- The South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math.
“When I asked him why he wanted to go to that school he said, ‘that would allow me the autonomy to choose the courses that I need to prep before I go to the Naval Academy,’” said Kathy. “Well, we worked to see how to get him to the Governor’s School. The perception of the Governor’s School at that time was that only predominately affluent white students could attend. I did not know that opportunity existed for students who looked like my son Jackie. After the two years he attended, that perception was definitely shattered.”
Kathy said she made one call and she got in touch with a counselor who happened to be a Black woman. The counselor met with her and Jackie’s dad and went over the whole criteria . During Jackie’s 9th and 10th grades, they worked on the goal of attending the Governor’s School and when it was time to apply, Jackie made a statement that surprised everyone.
“He told me he wasn’t sure if he wanted to do this alone,” said Kathy. “He felt he wanted a support system. So Jackie took it upon himself for the last year at the charter school to recruit other classmates to attend the Governor’s School along with him. They could be successful together.”
Booker and all his friends were accepted to the school, but Kathy said they encountered adversity there and had a hard time gaining acceptance at the school.
She said it seemed, “the school said, ‘that children from the Orangeburg community were not ready for an aggressive program at the school.’ At the end, nine brown skin students from Orangeburg were accepted into The South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math, which was the highest amount that had ever been accepted in the history of this school. They all ended up graduating and Jackie graduated with the President’s Cup, which is equivalent to being the valedictorian.”
Although Kathy shares the story of Booker facing and overcoming adversity, he does not. A humble leader, he focuses on the aspect of the story in which he helped others achieve. This quiet leadership style of his has been noted by his classmates and staff of the Naval Academy.
Midshipman 3rd Class (sophomore) Eduardo Ramirez said he’s personally learned a lot from Booker and tries every day to emulate all the quiet but determined traits Booker has modeled.
“One of the main things he’s always told me was as long as I’m doing better tomorrow than I was today, that I’m doing everything right,” said Ramirez. “His effortless leadership and infectious optimism are the things he brings as a mentor and I haven’t ever found that in anyone else. He was brigade commander last fall, through another semester of COVID-19 and he led us through that. He inspired us daily and navigated it all with an ease that I have never seen in anyone. He definitely put us before himself.”
Booker’s father was a historian, so history became his favorite subject. He was inspired by not only some of the most notable civil rights leaders in American history like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, but also other Black leaders from other parts of the world like Toussaint Louverture, who led the Haitian independence movement.
“They paved the foundation for me aspiring to be the best version of myself,” said Booker. “I was eight when Barack Obama was elected president so that was the breaking of a glass ceiling, seeing a man who looks like me ascending to the highest position of leadership in our government.”
“It makes me laugh because I’m just a 22-year-old who doesn’t know much about life, but the possibility of being a part of that history is super humbling because some people do have that perspective of me,” continued Booker. “Knowing I can be an inspiration to younger generations is gratifying, but I just want to be a good role model. I want them to understand that if I can do it --- and I’m no different than them --- then they can do it just as much if not more. But more importantly, I’m just trying to be the best version of myself in everything I do and just carrying the torch along as far as I can until I’m able to, and happily ready to, pass it on to the next.”
When asked who his biggest inspirations were, Booker quickly named three people, his second-grade teacher, Ms. Davis an administrator at the Governor’s School, Dr. Staples and the late Kobe Bryant. From the three of them, Booker said he learned a love of education, focus on doing the things it takes to make himself better, and having the determination to succeed. The influence of those three important people in Booker’s like is evident today to everyone at the Naval Academy.
“Jackie was already a mature student and had a vision of what he wanted to do with his education, but he kept the aperture very large during his early days here,” said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McKee. “He was always open to new opportunities while keeping a sharp focus. He didn’t always take the easy route, in fact, he normally took the more difficult route. In the end, he took ownership of and received the education he wanted. From education to leadership, Jackie has a great personal philosophy individual success can be added up but collective success as a group is really powerful and makes big things happen.”
That is high praise from a seasoned naval officer, and it’s not lost on Booker who fully understands and appreciates that as he gives of himself, he has also been the recipient of much from those who have supported him. He says it goes all the way back to Orangeburg, the place that molded him into the leader he has become, and the place that will always hold a special place in his heart.
“When I tell people I’m from Orangeburg, I always say ‘Orangeburg,’ not one of the other nearby towns,” said Booker. “I want people to recognize the city for the talent we have, and to understand that the young generation of people we have down there is just as capable as anyone else. If you go down there and look for us, we can be found.”