January’s Extraordinary Leader: A Poet, A Singer, A Faith-Full Leader

Feb 21st, 2017

January’s Extraordinary Leader: A Poet, A Singer, A Faith-Full Leader

Sydney Richards writes on scratch paper, Post-It notes, just anything she can find. But mostly, she writes in her journal.

She writes in purple, blue and black ink about her world, sizing up what she sees around her as she navigates her busy life.

Richards, far right, performs with the Genesis Gospel Choir

And she is busy. She’s taking 20 credits this semester, working two part-time campus jobs, steering a Bible study group and acting as president for the second year in a row of HPU’s talented Genesis Gospel Choir.

Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. College officials have selected her as HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of January.

She comes from close by. Richards, the youngest of three, is a native of Lexington, North Carolina, a small city 30 minutes south of HPU known worldwide for its barbecue.

Her mom is a teacher; her dad, a Navy veteran whose work has taken him around the world. His global deployments and the movie, “Mulan,” got Richards interested in the Chinese culture.

She loves studying Chinese. That’s her minor at HPU. When she graduates in May, she will receive degrees in anthropology and sociology and follow a more divine path. She plans to enroll in divinity school because she feels the need to go.

The idea came to her one night recently, and she wrote a poem about it in her journal. The title is appropriate:  “Accepting the Call.”

He called me and I humbly inclined
To go to see the world and life with new eyes

“That’s what it’s all about,” Richards says today. “Us being willing to listen – and act.”


The Impact of One Moment

It happened a few weeks back. After getting emotional about her future and tumbling to the floor in tears, she felt what she calls a “blanket of warmth.” Then, she heard what she believes was God’s voice. He told her to pursue the ministry.

Sydney Richards with her mom, Judy

Immediately, she called her Mom, Judy, a sixth-grade teacher.


“Mom,” Richards said. “I finally got my answer.”

Richards’ faith is strong. She grew up in Cedar Grove Baptist, a small yellow-brick church perched on a hill 30 minutes from her home. She sang in the choir, attended Sunday school, volunteered with vacation Bible school and read scriptures from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.

At HPU, Richards’ faith has led her to organize the Bible study group and get involved with Genesis Gospel Choir. But HPU also encouraged her to go after what she wants.

She didn’t know that was going to happen when she enrolled at HPU. But she always knew she was coming to HPU. She had an inkling at age 4.


Growing Up HPU

Judy Richards is a lifelong learner, and in 1999, she’d drop off Sydney at a nearby pre-school and come to HPU for class. But this time, her youngest child didn’t want her to go, and she began to cry.

So, Judy brought Sydney with her. Sydney sat beside her mom, not saying a word. But she did raise her hand. Her mom chided her, saying in a stage whisper, “Put your hand down!”

But when the professor saw it, she came over to Sydney.

High Point University Dean Dr. Carole Stoneking
Dr. Carole Stoneking

“What question do you have for me?” the professor asked.

“I want to sing,” Sydney responded.

So, like she had done countless times with her dad, Sydney sang, “You Are My Sunshine.” The professor chimed in.

That professor is still at HPU. She is now the dean of HPU’s College of Arts and Sciences – Dr. Carole Stoneking.

Dr. Stoneking still remembers that moment, and for Sydney, that moment made HPU a part of her. So, when she came to HPU, she looked for opportunities that would make her education personal like her favorite songs. In the process, she became a campus leader.

“I woke up to that here,” Richards says. “I got out of my comfort zone, and I wasn’t afraid.”


The Joy in Small Details

She sings, minors in Chinese and is a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.  This semester, she works at the library and the Campus Concierge, while continuing with what feeds her heart – the Genesis Gospel Choir and the weekly Bible study group.

Then there is her volunteer work.

She has tutored children at a local YMCA, helped collect 230 blankets for the local homeless with members of the Genesis Gospel Choir and served breakfast and lunch to women dealing with the heartache of life.
She did that every other Saturday for 18 months at a church minutes from campus. And there, Richards found joy in the smallest of details, like sharing breakfast and sharing stories about life and the beauty of fingernail polish all glittery and pink.

It helped her look at her world – and herself – in a different way. Richards wrote about that in her journal in purple ink. She called her poem, “Perhaps.”

Accepting the fate and situations God put before her
Waking and shaking her constantly and daily
She figured too that she needed to become stronger for herself.

Richards is well on her way.