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Growing comfortable being uncomfortable was key for Haynes

Barry Mcnamara
Larry "Mr. President" Haynes receives his diploma from Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – There were no acceptance speeches at last month’s Highlander Leadership Awards at Monmouth College.

But if there had been, Larry Haynes could have given an inspiring message about leadership and community.

A graduating senior from Chicago, Haynes received the White and Crimson Leadership Award, which recognizes students who have gone beyond the call of duty to have an impact on the campus.

“There’s a lot that divides us, but there’s a lot that brings us together,” said Haynes. “My goal is to be that bridge that brings people together.”

An African-American student, Haynes admits he was no different than many young students during his first years at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School.

“Walter Payton is a predominantly white school, and I’m from a black neighborhood,” said Haynes. “You saw a real divide, and I felt very uncomfortable. In my mind at the time, I had it wrong – I thought that we weren’t supposed to be friends, to be cordial to one another. My sophomore year is when I started to realize it probably shouldn’t be like that, right?”

For the rest of his high school career, Haynes said he “really started to open up,” speaking to a variety of people and learning that “we all face the same problems.”

“I started having the confidence to speak to just about everybody and to go outside of my comfort zone,” he said. “That high school experience helped make me comfortable being uncomfortable.”

It also made him social. Evidence of that from his high school days was being elected prom king at Walter Payton. His friends on campus can vouch for his social ways continuing at Monmouth.

“When you picture your perfect friend, he’s that friend that you paint,” said Terrence Best ’21 of Belleville, N.J., one of several students Haynes has mentored during his time at Monmouth. “People glow, they light up when he’s around. He knows everybody. I call him ‘Mr. President.’”

Haynes remembers the mentors from his early days on campus – students like Jordan Carter ’17 and Josh Washington ’16. He didn’t intentionally set out to follow in their mentoring ways.

“It came naturally,” he said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I want to be like that.’ But Monmouth is a tight-knit community, and you see the same people every day. I just made a conscious decision to speak to people. I didn’t feel like I had a plethora of information or wisdom to dole out. But we need each other to make it through the tough times. That’s true of life, in general, and it’s certainly true of this thing called college. If you see that need, fix what is needed.”

Making that type of effort helps create a sense of community, and Haynes believes community is key.

“College is what you make of it, life is what you make of it,” he said. “We have to continue to speak – not necessarily always in an effort to change things – but continually speak to make this a community. Problems will come, but if we come together as a community, those problems can be solved.”

For Haynes, personally, the days of simply judging a book by its cover are long gone.

“We must learn to judge each individual based on their own character, on their own merits,” he said. “Let stereotypes fall by the wayside.”

A double major in religious studies and sociology/anthropology, Haynes plans to take the fall semester off before beginning work toward a master’s degree in social work and a degree in theology.

“God is very important to me,” he said.

Haynes is also looking farther ahead, beyond his graduate studies.

“My 10-year plan is to open a community center for kids in inner-city Chicago,” he said. “I want to let them know what I was able to do and tell them that they can do it, too. There’s a bigger world out there beyond what you see in your neighborhood.”

In other words, Haynes wants to continue being a bridge, helping connect youth to that bigger world.