It Takes a Community to Raise a Leader

Written by Danielle Graf, Spring 2022 Leadership Discovery Participant

Chief Reggie Burgess & Danielle Graf

Last Wednesday, March 16, our Leadership Discovery class was welcomed by, Chief of the North Charleston Police Department, Reginald “Reggie” Burgess; and myself, nor classmates, could expect the journey Chief Burgess was about to take them on.

Burgess started the session by saying, “My mother always said to thine own self be true” and as always he was going to give us his truest self. As Burgess recounted stories of his childhood one thing stood out – his community is what raised the leader who stood in front of them that day.

Burgess, a native of North Charleston, South Carolina, faced adversity from the moment he was born. His mother, Albertha, was young, single and forced to make a decision between Burgess or providing for the family house. With that Albertha, set out on her own and worked three jobs to build a foundation for her sons.

Part of this foundation was furniture and the first lesson that Burgess would teach the group.

“The Lord will make a way and God will provide.”

When Burgess was a child, he, his mother, and his baby brother got on the bus that brought them to Chase Furniture in downtown Charleston. He tells the story of Mr. Chase, who would help the black community by giving them credit to purchase furniture from his store. On this day Albertha did not have the funds to place an initial deposit so they left the store to head home; as they arrived home there was a Chase Furniture van outside with more furniture than she initially asked for. This one act of kindness allowed Burgess to see people in a different light. Burgess understood the importance of a chance because Mr. Chase took a chance on Albertha.

Later in his law enforcement career, he would have the opportunity to pay it forward. Burgess discovered a couple of students outside a high school smoking. As the principal approached him and the students, Burgess told the principal he will take care of the issue. These students were weeks away from graduating high school and Burgess knew that if they were to get in trouble, they were not going to graduate. Instead of arresting them or insisting on suspension, Burgess chose to make this a teaching moment to mentor to the students. Years later Burgess ran into one of the young men and he told him that by giving him that chance, he helped set him up to succeed in life.

“You can’t survive in this world being and thinking like one group of people. You need diversity.”

His father came into his life when he was a young boy; though in the beginning Burgess did not like the man who was courting his mother, he grew on Burgess and taught him many life lessons, including the importance of diversity.

One day his father wanted to take him and his brother swimming and instead of going to their neighborhood swimming pool, he took them to an integrated pool. Burgess, being curious, asked why and his father stated he needed to step out of his comfort zone and be around people who did not look like him. He told Burgess about the lessons he learned from those around him and how he was able to expand his mind because of the different points of view he took in. Burgess carries these lessons with him today. He teaches people in his community how important it is to accept one another and their experiences.

Burgess is also trying to build a more diverse police department. His team is working on recruiting individuals from all walks of life. He knows that a more diverse police force will help better serve the community.

“The best type of leader is a servant leader.”

After college, Burgess returned to North Charleston, South Carolina. At the time, Burgess was waiting on a few calls about his future, but when they did not come, he decided to take action into his own hands. One of his mentors told him about a law enforcement opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina. When he told his mother about it, his mother told him he should clean up his backyard before cleaning up the backyard of others. These words stuck with him.

Burgess decided to join the North Charleston Police Department to help clean his backyard and give back to the community that gave him so much. Burgess rose through the ranks and in 2018, he was sworn in as the North Charleston Police Chief. Burgess is not just your normal police chief. He is a police chief who is taking action by walking the streets of North Charleston and asking residents what the police department can do for them. He is trying to gain trust within the community and show them he cares. Burgess believes that people do not care about how much you know until you show them how much you care. Instead of accepting the stigma that North Charleston has, he wants to speak about it and change it. For the last 33-years, Burgess has shown leadership by giving chances when needed, emphasizing the importance of diversity, and serving the community that help raise him.

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