Friday, November 30, 2007

A Person, Not A Plot Device

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, November 30, 2007; Page A23

Why do you suppose so many people were so quick to blame Sean Taylor for his own murder?

Relax, that's a rhetorical question. There's no need for self-exculpatory huffing and puffing, no need to point out that the verdict of suicide-by-bad-attitude -- pronounced so often this week, and so coldly -- was usually couched in broad hints or softened by the nebulous fog of the conditional mood. Everyone knew what was really being said, and everyone knew why.

Taylor instantly became not a person but a character, one whose purpose was to advance a narrative about young black men and their manifold failings. Taylor, a gifted defensive back for the Washington Redskins, had been in trouble with the law. Despite the millions he earned playing football, he never managed to escape the quicksand lure of the mean streets -- parasitic friends, envious haters, a culture of casual violence. It was his decision to swim in this cesspool of dysfunction, the narrative said. And, like so many other young black men who have made the same wrong choice, he paid for it with his life.

At least that was the story before Wednesday, when Robert Parker, director of the Miami-Dade police, announced that investigators had "no reason" to believe Taylor was targeted by his killer or even knew the man who shot him. Police were operating on the theory that the crime was a botched burglary, Parker said, essentially a random act.

I realize that Parker may eventually be proved wrong. But what fascinates me is how eager people were to believe the worst about Taylor -- how ready to stuff a young man's death into a box labeled "pathology" and call it a day -- in the absence of supporting evidence. Apparently, "innocent until proved guilty" doesn't apply to young black men even when they're the victims of violent crime.

The few facts we have tell a story that's very different from the chosen narrative. Sean Taylor is hardly a typical product of those fabled "mean streets" -- he grew up with his father, a suburban police chief, in a middle-class neighborhood. He did spend weekends with his mother in a tougher area and acquired some sketchy friends. But at the same time he was attending an exclusive private high school, where he met his girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, a niece of the actor Andy Garcia.

Taylor's home, with its expansive yard and big swimming pool, is in an upper-middle-class suburb. There's nothing remotely "mean" about the street.

Jackie Garcia hid under the covers with the couple's 18-month-old daughter early Monday while Taylor faced the intruder who mortally wounded him. Andy Garcia released a statement Wednesday praising Taylor for his "heroic" sacrifice that saved Jackie's life.

Much has been made of the fact that Taylor grabbed a machete from under his bed before confronting the intruder. In New York or St. Louis or Seattle, if you saw a machete, you'd think: deadly weapon. But I spent years covering Latin America for The Post, so when I see a machete in a place like Miami I'm more likely to think: garden implement. Tropical vegetation is a lot easier to trim with a machete than with hedge clippers, and Taylor's father said Sean used the blade in his yard. No, machetes are not usually kept under the bed. But if my house had been broken into recently -- as Taylor's was, barely a week before his slaying -- I might have wanted the thing a little closer to hand.

My purpose here isn't to make a hero out of Sean Taylor, though he may well have died a hero's death. He made some serious mistakes in his life, and he didn't always have the proper regard for authority and discipline. Nor am I trying to sell the "he was finally turning his life around" narrative, as if taking a few GPS readings were enough to show someone the way to responsible manhood.

Life isn't so linear -- and people aren't so one-dimensional.

The next time you encounter a young black man like Sean Taylor -- a man who can be headstrong and rebellious, who listens to rap music and sometimes wears his hair in a wild-man 'fro that's meant to intimidate, who scowls when we want him to smile and makes a bad mistake or two and doesn't choose the friends we would want him to choose -- know that there is possibility within him, and contradiction, and the capacity for love. Know that he's more than a plot device.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Road to Bad Newz - Sports Illustrated must read

Through his rise and fall, Michael Vick stayed loyal to a tight circle of friends -- homeboys who used him and ultimately sold him out. He's not the first pro athlete to be swallowed up by his old neighborhood

Posted: Tuesday November 20, 2007

Influential Atlantans urged Vick to embrace his new community, but at heart he remained

By George Dohrmann and Farrell Evans

In August 2002, Andrew Young, a former ambassador to the United Nations and onetime aide to Martin Luther King Jr., met with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. The meeting was not scheduled or scripted, and it lasted only a few minutes. Vick was coming off the field after a training-camp practice at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., and Young pulled him aside.

Like most Atlanta residents that summer, Young, the city's former mayor, was excited about Vick's athletic gifts. During the eight games Vick played as a rookie in 2001, he had electrified the league and a sagging franchise, raising high hopes for '02, which Vick would validate by leading the Falcons to their first playoff win in four years and making the Pro Bowl. A popular Powerade commercial broadcast at the time showed Vick throwing a ball out of a stadium and knocking players off their feet with the velocity of his passes. Live on Sundays and in fantastical advertisements, Vick appeared to be an otherworldly talent.

But Young, as a black member of the Falcons' board of directors and an ordained minister, noticed things about Vick that fans and advertisers probably missed. He hadn't joined a local church. He didn't show any interest in socializing with prominent African-Americans from Atlanta who could provide advice on handling life in the public spotlight. He was "young and country," Young recalls, and he hung out almost exclusively with friends from his hometown of Newport News, Va. When Vick's rookie season ended, Young noted, he immediately "jumped on a plane back to Virginia."

In their brief talk, Young told Vick that being a star is a burden and that he needed to surround himself with smart, trustworthy people. He gave Vick his number and urged him to call. Over the next five years Young attempted to steer him toward a church near Newport News that he hoped Vick would attend.

It is easy now -- with Vick having surrendered on Monday to federal authorities in Richmond to begin his incarceration ahead of his Dec. 10 sentencing, when he faces as much as 18 months for conspiracy to operate a dogfighting enterprise -- to view Young's intervention with Vick as unsuccessful. Young reached out to Vick at a pivotal moment in Vick's maturation, but "everything I tried failed," Young says. Vick never embraced the Atlanta community. He didn't visit the church Young recommended, and he continued to socialize almost exclusively with friends connected to the old neighborhood, some of whom would later be complicit in his crimes. It's also easy to settle on the root cause of Vick's problems: He remained "young and country" even as he became one of the biggest and richest brands in sports.

But shortly after Vick pleaded guilty last August, Young, in an interview with SI, introduced a more complex explanation for Vick's downfall. He was victimized by "ghetto loyalty," Young said, taken down by an obligation he felt to his friends from home. "It's a heady life, being a pro athlete, but it's also a lonely life," Young said. "And often the only people athletes feel comfortable with are the guys they grew up with on the streets." Many athletes are trapped in that situation, according to Young, and it's not entirely their fault.

It's a difficult premise to embrace. It suggests that athletes -- primarily black athletes from poor backgrounds -- are held captive by a code that requires them to help neighborhood friends, even to their own detriment, and that therefore they are not always responsible for their actions. Still, it's a theory gaining traction among those who study and work with athletes; they point to several high-profile cases, none bigger than Vick's, to illustrate the problem.

"Sometimes the cultural influences athletes face aren't being offset by their advisers, their team, the league they play in," says David Cornwell, an Atlanta-based attorney who has represented Reggie Bush and Gilbert Arenas. "What's left, as we saw with Vick, is a Molotov cocktail."

There's a story from Michael Vick's childhood that seems almost mythical.

Shortly after Vick was born, on June 26, 1980, his father, Michael Boddie, took him into his arms and carried him outside their apartment. Standing in the yard, he raised the naked baby to the starry night sky and told him, "Behold the only thing greater than yourself." It was a line from Roots, uttered by Omoro upon the birth of his son Kunta Kinte. Boddie said later that he did it because he wanted Michael to lead a special life.

When Vick exploded upon the college scene at Virginia Tech in the late 1990s, that tale and others from Vick's childhood flowed from sportswriters' laptops as they chronicled his rise from a rough-and-tumble neighborhood to stardom. Readers learned that Vick had played in the same dirt yard that his father had as a boy, and lived in the same downtrodden Ridley Circle Projects in Newport News. They learned that his father, who worked 12 hours a day to support the family, gave him his first football at age three. They learned that Michael found shelter from gangs and drugs at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Hampton Roads. When Vick announced that he was leaving Virginia Tech two years early for the NFL, he did so at the Boys & Girls Club, a nod to the haven and the people who had protected him.

Vick's rise from Newport News's east end to the NFL made for great copy, but his downfall was an even more compelling story, full of drama, moral questions and a cast of largely unknown characters. There were C. J. Reamon, the nephew of Vick's high school football coach, and Quanis Phillips, a high school teammate and Vick's closest friend. There was Davon Boddie, Vick's first cousin. There were also two older guys from the neighborhood, Tony Taylor and his cousin Adam (Wink) Harris, and Purnell Peace, another Newport News acquaintance. Boddie would inadvertently get the dogfighting investigation rolling when -- after his arrest last April for possession of marijuana with intent to sell -- he gave, as his home address, the Surry County house where the kennels were located. And Phillips, Taylor and Peace would all plead guilty in the dogfighting case and agree to testify against Vick, thus all but forcing their friend to enter his own guilty plea.

Experts say that ghetto loyalty also led Ray Lewis (above), Traylor and Jamal Lewis to become entangled in friends' crimes.

"In his struggling, formative years, Michael formed a bond with these guys," says James (Poo) Johnson, the assistant CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, who has known Vick since he was seven. "They grew up together wearing the same clothes, sharing bologna sandwiches and franks, doing everything together."

Vick often talked about wanting to get his family out of Bad Newz, the nickname he gave his hometown (and, later, his kennel and dogfighting ring), but for someone who talked of escape, he returned often to the old neighborhood. As a student at Virginia Tech, he drove home monthly, lured by the company of his friends. "Some of them weren't bad guys," Johnson says, "but they were opportunists."

Their big opportunity came when Vick was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft and given a contract worth $62 million over six years. (In 2004 he signed a 10-year, $130 million deal that briefly made him the highest-paid player in league history.) According to a Vick acquaintance, at times eight or more neighborhood friends would be at Vick's mansion near the Sugarloaf Country Club in Duluth, Ga., or at the home in Surry County. Not all lived with him, but a few became such regulars that they assumed a wide range of semiofficial jobs and roles. Harris, 35, was Vick's contact person for Nike and his driver in Atlanta, responsible for getting him to appointments and practice on time. Reamon, 33, handled Vick's endorsement deal with Atlanta-based airline AirTran and chauffeured Vick whenever he was in Virginia. Taylor, 34, oversaw the dog kennel and dogfighting operation in Virginia until 2004, when he was succeeded by Peace, 35. Phillips, 28, accompanied his close friend almost everywhere. He had free use of Vick's luxury cars -- a Maybach, a Bentley, an Escalade, a Mercedes -- and often sported the same jewelry as Vick and similar clothes.

"What people need to understand is that in a low-income community, you are going to always have people looking to get a break by latching onto someone with money," says Aaron Brooks, the former New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders quarterback, who is Vick's second cousin and grew up one row of apartments over in the Ridley Circle projects.

A typical day for Vick, according to several acquaintances, included being shuttled by Harris to and from the Falcons' practice facility in Flowery Branch. After practice Vick would engage his friends in marathon sessions of Madden NFL on PlayStation, some lasting five hours or more. It was a routine followed not just in Vick's rookie season, when he was 21, but also up through last season, his sixth in the league. "Brenda [Vick, Michael's mother] used to tell me every time she would go to Atlanta: He's got this big mansion down there in Atlanta, and [Michael] ain't no cook or housekeeper," James Boddie, Vick's grandfather, told The Washington Post last August. "So he's got a bunch of guys hanging around all the time, the girls running in and out. So [Brenda] went down there and cleaned house: 'Everybody just get out! Get out! Get out! You guys are just sucking up my son's money. You're really not doing nothing for him.' "

But when Brenda Vick left, the friends quickly returned. Vick became known around the NFL for his sizable entourage, which accompanied him everywhere. They could be seen spilling out of a massive limo before him or surrounding him as he moved through a club, his own Ridley Circle of protection.

Some members of Vick's entourage had checkered pasts. Davon Boddie had his drug arrest, for which he received a five-year suspended sentence. Reamon was arrested in 2006 for carrying a Glock through security at Newport News Airport. (The case is pending.) Taylor was arrested in 1996 for cocaine possession. (It was dismissed after a year of good behavior and the completion of a substance-abuse program.)

Harris was the only member of Vick's inner circle willing to talk to SI about his relationship with the ex-Falcons star. "I'm here to make a dollar for Mike and a dollar for me," he said. "I've always been a friend first. Business came second. My friendship with him has made me take more interest in his affairs."

Vick's friendships, however, also seemed to keep him from connecting with teammates. Dan Reeves, Vick's coach in Atlanta during his first three seasons, took note that Vick didn't bond with other players and warned him about his neighborhood associates after two friends were arrested for drug trafficking in Newport News in 2004 while driving a car registered to Vick. Karon Riley, a Falcons defensive end in 2003 and '04, noticed the same and says teammates often found it difficult to approach Vick. "I remember one day, we were hanging out and he was real friendly, asking me how I was doing," says Riley. "But then the next day, Mike walked past me and didn't even look at me."

Johnson, Vick's mentor at the Boys & Girls Club, watched Vick surround himself with buddies from his old neighborhood and grew worried. "I don't think Michael thought about the ramifications of what he was doing."

I can go through the NFL and show you thugs. I can go through the NBA and show you thugs," says Todd Boyd, a professor of race and popular culture at USC and the author of Young, Black, Rich & Famous. "Michael Vick is not a thug. And the majority of black athletes who are lucky enough to make it out of the ghetto are not thugs."

Why then do Vick and other athletes surround themselves with neighborhood associates -- even convicted criminals -- whose activities might threaten their careers? Why did Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis obstruct a murder investigation in 2000 in which his friends were the primary suspects? Why did Browns running back Jamal Lewis participate that same year in a drug deal spearheaded by one of his neighborhood chums? And why did former NBA player Robert Traylor launder money in 2004 for a drug-dealing cousin? Boyd and other experts who have studied the plight of black athletes say there are four primary reasons, all falling under the umbrella of ghetto loyalty.

• Indebtedness. "A lot of times if you grew up in a gang-infested area and you are a good athlete, you will get a pass [on participating in criminal activity] whereas others won't," says Jonathan (Spoon) Chaney, a former gang member in Long Beach, Calif., and onetime player in Snoop Dogg's entourage who now coaches youth basketball in Los Angeles. "But that comes with a price. Athletes, when they make it [to the pros], people say, 'We gave you a pass and now you owe us.' "

• Childhood Bonds. Michael Thompson, an offensive lineman for the Falcons in 2000 and '01, grew up in a poor neighborhood in Savannah. He and his mother were physically abused by his stepfather, and they ended up in a shelter for battered mothers and children. At times the only people he felt he could trust were his friends. "When I was hungry, I ate at their houses, or I would take a shower in their bathrooms. We were brothers and we shared everything," Thompson wrote in a letter to SI. "The fact that they were there before the college scholarship and the pro contract.... I felt I owed it to them."

Shortly after Thompson was drafted, a friend was murdered in Savannah. "[My friends] wanted me to come home and ride for some get-back, but I couldn't," Thompson wrote. "Because of that, they fell out with me for a long time, even to the point of threatening me with violence. But I still considered them brothers."

• Communal Pressure. "Don't forget where you came from" is a term every athlete to emerge from the ghetto has heard many times. "When my grandmother tells me that, she means to be humble, to remember when you didn't have anything and remember that all that you have could be gone at any time," says Golden State Warriors guard Baron Davis, who grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles. "But other people who say it mean, 'Hey, don't forget to take care of me.' "

"In the black community," says Boyd, "when someone succeeds, there is an assumption that they are going to go off and forget where they came from. Look at O.J. Simpson, the poster child for this. You have money, you are on television, and now you've forgotten us. America is a country based on individuals, but black people were brought to this country as a group. Thus, athletes are constantly in this position where they are moving between the group dynamic and the individual dynamic."

• Fear. Sent to a college where they are unlike all but a small fraction of the population, athletes seek refuge with friends back home, often returning to their old neighborhood or bringing friends to campus. Drafted into the pros and transplanted to a new city, they take neighborhood friends along. Possessing money for the first time, they fear being taken advantage of.

"When you're talking about pro athletes, you're talking about people who land in a place that is the extreme opposite of where they grew up," says Boyd. "To be safe, they surround themselves with what they know. Very qualified people might be trying to help them, but they say, 'I don't know you, but I've known this guy from my old neighborhood since I was five.' Athletes figure that they're better off with the devil they know than the devils they don't know."

Those who know Vick say that he felt a need to help longtime friends like Phillips, whom he bonded with as a child. He also wanted to give opportunities to men like Taylor and Peace, who had shared his childhood interests (video games, dogs, fishing, music) and would remind him not to forget where he came from. Putting them in charge of Bad Newz Kennels was one way (albeit a poorly chosen one) to do that. Most of all, those who know Vick say, the newness of Atlanta and his sudden riches scared him. When Andrew Young reached out to Vick in 2002, it was probably too late. "[Vick] helped build the Atlanta Falcons," Young says, "but he never had a chance to build his own intellectual and moral reserves."

There is much debate among officials from the NBA and the NFL, the leagues with the highest proportion of black players, over how to help athletes from the inner city acclimate to the world of professional sports. All agree that athletes often spend their high school and college years -- the time when most adults make great leaps socially and mentally -- in an athletic cocoon and end up ill-suited to combat the pressures that lead to ghetto loyalty.

One prominent NFL agent, who asked not to be named, said navigating through athletes' neighborhood friends now takes up so much of his time that he turns away clients he feels will be too tied to them. And even if an agent gives a client good advice, it is often ignored because it comes from someone who is not from the client's neighborhood. "I once had Warrick Dunn question some legal advice I gave him," says Cornwell. "I told him, 'I don't tell you how to tote the rock.' But very few people will talk to athletes that way for fear that they will get cut off."

The NFL has guidance programs for its athletes, and issues like the dangers of ghetto loyalty arise in the annual rookie symposiums held shortly after the draft. (After a player's rookie season, however, the responsibility falls to the team.) Thompson, the former Falcons lineman, played a key role in the NFL's rookie symposium in 2002. He spoke about his troubles navigating the wants of his neighborhood friends. Three years later he was in a Georgia prison, sentenced to seven years for attempted robbery. In the letter mailed from the Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo, Ga., Thompson was responding to a number of questions, among them, What advice would you give to young athletes from similar backgrounds as yours? He answered, "Please don't allow your neighborhood to swallow you."

Baron Davis knows exactly how he avoided being swallowed by his neighborhood. In the seventh grade, on the recommendation on an AAU basketball coach, he was recruited to the Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica, where his schoolmates included actress Kate Hudson and other children of privilege. "I was this kid begging other kids for 50 cents, but I was also learning what it was like to be around different people and was exposed to new things," Davis says. "I learned the world was bigger than where I grew up, that there were these people I could trust, people at Crossroads and then at UCLA who wanted to see me do well."

It changed how he viewed friendship and his responsibility to the people of Watts, and how he could best help them.

"I'll give them an opportunity," Davis says. "I'll invest in education for them, or if they are looking to get into some trade, I'll help them. If they keep showing improvement, I'll keep helping them. Money is a way to help, but opportunity is better than money."

Davis's inner circle consists of two childhood friends, Tremaine (Terminator) Ross and Kevin (Bean) Bradley; two friends from Crossroads, Chad Gordon and Cash Warren; and Rico Hines, a former teammate from UCLA. Bradley plays professional basketball in Iran; Gordon and Warren work for Davis's production company, Verso Entertainment; and Hines is an athletic-development assistant with the Warriors, a job that Davis helped him get.

Ross is the only one of the friends who could be an example of Davis's showing ghetto loyalty. Ross moved to Charlotte when Davis was drafted by the Hornets in 1999 and lived with him there. "It was his rookie year, and he needed that person he could trust," says Ross. "I kept him organized and focused, but we were not kids down there. I was showing him loyalty, but this was a grown-up relationship."

The difference in his relationship with Ross, Davis says, and that of many athletes and their neighborhood friends is that "Term never asked for one penny."

Davis had always encouraged Ross to get into music production, and they had a recording studio built in New Orleans after the Hornets moved there in 2002. When Davis was traded to Golden State, in '05, Ross moved back to Los Angeles, and Davis introduced him to several music industry executives. He now has a stable of young artists such as YaBoy, a Bay Area rapper. "Term moved over to the Westside [of Los Angeles], and it was hard for him. He was skeptical of everyone. Even Rico and Cash, he didn't trust them," Davis says. "But I encouraged him, and he took this leap and he ran with it. Now he has developed his own relationships and is making a living in the music business."

"I'm two years older than Baron," Ross says, "but he teaches me. He goes out and learns the business side from people, and then I learn it from him. I never thought I would be involved in the corporate side of anything. He gave me the power, the opportunity, to run a record label."

Davis still returns to his neighborhood, but only to visit his grandmother. He has people he keeps in touch with -- the manager of a Boys & Girls Club, an elementary school teacher -- and he donates to organizations he feels are doing good work in the area, but he gives no handouts.

"I feel obligated to my grandmother, and I feel obligated to empower people who are trying to impact the neighborhood in a positive way, but I don't feel obligated to individuals," Davis says. "[Athletes] who are always back in the hood, trying to keep it real, they are wasting time."

Davis's long-term plan for his friends is a bit quixotic -- hokey, even. He envisions them all owning homes in the same gated community, raising their kids together. His friends would all have their own jobs; whether he helped them get those jobs or not wouldn't matter. "They might not all be millionaires, but there is nothing wrong with making $70,000 or $80,000 a year."

It is not hard to imagine that Vick wanted something similar for his friends. But either he didn't know how to get them to that end or they weren't willing to settle for the opportunities that he afforded them. If and when Vick returns to football, it seems likely that his dilemma will remain the same. Adam (Wink) Harris, the neighborhood friend who used to drive Vick around Atlanta, suggests as much in response to a question about what he and the rest of Vick's Newport News pals will do now that Vick is no longer drawing an NFL paycheck and may be spending time in jail.

"We're not going anywhere," Harris says. "When it's time for Mike to sign again, we'll be there. It's not like there are a lot of great players coming out of college to replace Mike."

Copyright © 2007 CNN/Sports Illustrated.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Stats Speak for Themselves

Culture and race affect job opportunities

By: Furrah Qureshi
Posted: 11/9/07

I can't tell you how many people told me not to write about what I am about to write about. And so I just smiled at them; they had no idea they had all just given me an opening statement. But therein lies the exact problem with the problem, nobody will talk about it. I guess to some extent most of us try to ignore the problem, because it reflects on the ugliest part of the human condition, us.

American culture of today promulgates inequality. Racial roles weightily ascribe life choices to minorities.

Today, there is a notion that the only way for an African American to be successful is to become either a rapper or a sports star. Here's an example where the facts contradict the cultural perception. According to sociologist Jay Coakley there are "less than 3,500 African Americans…living as professional athletes" and "at the same time (1996) there are about 30,015 black physicians and 30,800 black lawyers." Of course, it is significantly easier to become a lawyer than a professional athlete, but that is the exact problem.

If the culture forces black students to believe they are better suited to be athletes than lawyers or doctors, doesn't that set them up for failure? Perpetuating the notion that an entire race of people should occupy one select field is ridiculous as well as detrimental because the chances for success are less likely, meaning failure is more likely, meaning, the culture is setting them up to fail.

In "Upward Mobility Through Sport?" D. Stanley Eitzen cites a survey conducted by The Study of Sport in Society showing that "two-thirds of African American males between the ages of 13 and 18 believe they can earn a living playing professional sports" (which is more than double that of white males in that age group). Furthermore, Eitzen points out that in the NFL in 1997, two-thirds of the players were black while only three head coaches were African American.

I read these facts and was deeply perturbed. There are two mediums to break down, the cycle of poverty, and the racial relation to the cycle of poverty.

With these disproportional statistics, the task seems so much more difficult. We're not just combating an economic issue; we have to combat a cultural issue.

Eitzen's point about the lack of African Americans in authoritative positions in sports is a potent one.

It reminds me of a friend of mine who's currently in high school and is an African American male with eyes for Cornell and Harvard, he totes a report card of strictly A's and frequents theater classes and all anyone ever says to him is, "way to act white." I of course know, that this is a joke, but what sort of message is this joke sending? That being intelligent and well rounded is a "white" thing? If being white is supposed to mean being smart that what does being black mean?

Here's my problem: I care about humans so much that I hate them.

I want to change things so much that I feel there is nothing I can do. I'm confronted with uselessness and futility and immense scorn of the two. None of which deters me though, I just keep writing articles, and keep hoping somebody is reading them.

I write this all thinking of one specific instance in my life. It was the first time my mind was plagued with the weight of socioeconomic inequality and the first time someone expected me to expect of them.

Last year, I was late for registering for the SATs and had to take them at another high school. I had to go to Norristown High School which has a substantial African American population and I was one of the two non-black people in the room, the other being the instructor. I felt a tap on my shoulder during the first break as a student asked me "What are you aiming for?"

"2300 I suppose."

"I'm going for a 2400" he said.

I smiled.

"Surprised?" he asked smirking.

"No, just impressed."

© Copyright 2007 The Triangle

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's long, but it's worth the read

Taking on Dr. James Watson: My Duty to Black People Everywhere
Feature Article - Wed, 31 Oct 2007

James Watson (Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
Dr. James Watson, the disgraced septuagenarian U.S. scientist and DNA pioneer, insulted black people everywhere when he said earlier this month that Black people were inferior to White people in all facets of human physiology and endeavor. While Dr. Watson’s blunt pillorying came as a surprise to many, I was not shocked at all: Black people deal with hundreds of Watsons on a daily basis, and whites, unquestionably because of the “advantage” of their skin color, especially in Europe, Australia and North America, have always had an easier life wherever they find themselves, purporting that such societal benefits translated to superior intelligence, capabilities and ingeniousness, as compared to black people.

I am constantly reminded by what the highly respected Tom Brokaw, the ex-anchor of NBC Nightly News, a nationally televised news broadcast in the U.S.A., said his last day as host of the show. His voice laden with emotion, Mr. Brokaw uttered some very somber words, iterating that for the 21 years that he served as anchor, not a day went by that he did not consider the fact that had the shade of his skin been a tad darker, he may not have gotten the job as anchor of NBC Nightly News!

A few years ago, a professor told my colleagues and me in an Ethics and Diversity class that he knew a white military officer who once asked a fellow white officer how the latter felt serving under Colin Powell, the celebrated black former military general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces. That Colin Powell was qualified to head all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces was not the point of contention between the two white officers, but the color of the general’s skin! This perverse and bigoted attitude by many white people is nothing new to blacks in the U.S.A. I shudder to even discuss the percentage of able-bodied black men regularly thrown into U.S. jails, some for whom justice was never served!

Now that Dr. Watson has shared with the rest of the world his spurious and scientifically bereft ideas about black people ― Dr. Watson must be lucky the “great burden” has not landed him in a sanitarium up to now ― I consider it my duty to remind/inform black people everywhere that the forays into the sciences and other disciplines by their progenitors, even amidst limited opportunities due to the color of their skin, resulted in some of the greatest technological breakthroughs known to man ― not only inventions chalked in the 19th and 20th centuries, but also the ones achieved in contemporary times. All black people everywhere thus owe it a duty to the next generation of black children to make sure black achievements in science, technology, medicine, among other fields of human endeavor, are espoused accurately, to counter the misinformation and stereotyping about blacks that have become pervasive in the white-controlled media outlets in the last several decades.

James Kessler, in his highly acclaimed book, “Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century,” in illuminating the achievements of many notable blacks, enjoins black parents and leaders to instill in young blacks the essence of achievement, not only in sports, music and movies, but also “in such diverse fields as anthropology and physics, mathematics and endocrinology.” Kessler continues: “Young children, both Black and White, should remember that many of the people mentioned in this book grew up under very difficult economic constraints, social injustices and racial prejudices, with very little encouragement from the outside. But they were individuals with enormous determination, sterling character, and sense of self-worth who struggled under intolerable conditions. These men and women devoted themselves to serious study and intellectual pursuits. They knew there was racism and prejudice in the society in which they lived, but they did not use this as an excuse for keeping away from books or building their own grammar and vocabulary.” I wish to discuss a few black men and women, who, through their relentless efforts in the midst of the worst prejudices of their time, jettisoned every horrific label and made it to the top of their professions.

George Washington Carver: Born in 1864 in Missouri toward the end of the U.S. Civil War, Carver and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate soldiers while he was just an infant. Although he was later found by his father, the young Carver would never see his mother again. Carver started formal education at 12, but since all schools were segregated at the time, he was forced to move to Newton County, Missouri, where he supported his education by working as a farm hand. At 30, Carver enrolled as the only black student at Simpson College in Iowa. Determined to study science, Carver transferred to Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) in 1891, where he earned a B.S. in 1894 and an M.S. in Bacterial Botany and Agriculture in 1897. Carver later became the first black professor at Iowa Agricultural College. Carver moved to Alabama in 1897, becoming the Director of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial College. It was at Tuskegee that Carver discovered more than three hundred uses for peanuts, and several hundred more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes. Single-handedly, Carver’s ideas transformed southern United States from a region that depended on a single crop (cotton) to one that embraced many different crops, leading to the revival of the South’s economy after the Civil War. In 1939, Carver fittingly received the Roosevelt medal for transforming agriculture in the South. And in 1943, Carver was honored with a national monument, the first such designation for a black man in the U.S.A.

Charles Drew: Because Drew was an exceptional athlete, most people assumed he would grow up to pursue a career in sports. Although Drew attended Amherst College on a sports scholarship, he was unable to raise enough money to go to medical school upon graduation in 1926. He therefore had to take up teaching at Morgan State University, Maryland, to raise enough money to enroll at the University Medical School in Canada. After medical school, Drew developed an interest in blood transfusions. While on a two-year Rockefeller Fellowship at Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital in New York, Drew made a remarkable discovery! At the time, blood could be stored for no more than 7 days, but Drew discovered that using plasma (blood from which cells have been removed) could prolong the viability of blood. Both revolutionary and timely, Drew’s innovation would help save the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers during the Second World War.

Lloyd Noel Ferguson: Born in 1918, Ferguson showed signs he was a gifted boy when, while in high school, he developed handy products such as moth repellent, silver polish and spot remover, products that he sold for cash. He later enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a B.S. in Chemistry in 1940 and a Ph.D. in 1943. While at Berkeley, he worked with a team to develop a hemoglobin type of compound that could both gain and lose oxygen. Ferguson’s research eventually led to the refining of this compound, which is now commonly used as a source of oxygen in submarines.

The Tuskegee Airmen: Because of prejudice and discrimination from their white counterparts, an all-Black aviation squadron was formed to fight the Germans during World War II. It was an all-volunteer group that thrived on discipline and dedication. The Tuskegee Airmen’s fighting force, named the 332nd Fighter Group, distinguished itself by not losing a single bomber during more than 200 combat missions and air raids over enemy territory, a record that still stands today! I hope you are reading this, Dr. Watson!! As a result of the bravery, dedication and adroitness of the Tuskegee Airmen, President Truman had no choice but to issue an executive order directing equal treatment for all in the U.S. military, which in time led to the end of racial bias in the U.S. Armed Forces. Today, there is a historic site dedicated to the valor of these black aviators.

George Carruthers: Born in Ohio in 1939, Carruthers grew up in Chicago, and by age 10 had built a telescope. Carruthers obtained a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1961, going on to earn an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering in 1962 and a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 1964. Carruthers is recognized for his work on ultraviolet light: He led a team that invented the far ultraviolet camera spectrograph. Carruthers also developed the first moon-based space observatory, an ultraviolet camera flown to the moon in 1972 by the Apollo 16 crew. He has further served as a principal investigator for many NASA- and U.S. Dept. of Defense-sponsored space equipment, which includes a 1986 equipment that captured a special image of Comet Halley.

Patricia Bath: Born in New York in 1942, Bath excelled academically, winning several awards while still in high school. At the tender age of 16, Bath was chosen to participate in a summer program offered by the National Science Foundation at Yeshiva University. And while at Yeshiva, the young Bath developed a mathematical formula for predicting cancer cell growth! Bath finished medical school at Howard University, Washington, D.C., in 1968 and served as an Ophthalmology Fellow at Columbia University in 1969 and 1970. Finding that blacks had twice as many ophthalmic problems as whites due to lack of access to good eye care, Bath established a new discipline called Community Ophthalmology, a field now practiced worldwide. In 1976, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, an organization that focuses on protecting, preserving and restoring the eyesight of all Americans, irrespective of personal circumstances. In 1981, Bath invented the revolutionary Laserphaco Probe, a device that uses a laser to destroy cataracts, as compared to the traditional but riskier method that had existed before the advent of the Laserphaco Probe.

Mark Dean: A vice-president of IBM Systems, Mark Dean earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1992 from Stanford University. Dean holds about 30 patents in the field of computers. One of Dean’s recent accomplishments was the development of the 1-Gigahertz chip, which holds a million transistors, revolutionizing the field of computer processors as a result. Important technologies Dean and his team are developing at IBM “include cellular systems structures (Blue Gene), digital visualization, DA tools, Linus optimizations for Pervasive, SMPs & Clusters, Settop Box integration, MXT, S/390 & PowerPC processors, super dense servers, formal verification methods and high speed low power circuits” (IBM Web site, 2007). Mark Dean has been inducted as a member of the National Academy of Engineering; has received the Black Engineer of the year Award; and has been inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame.

Mae C. Jemison: Born in 1956 in Alabama, Jemison earned a doctorate in medicine from Cornell University in 1981. She has worked in several fields, including “computer programming, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, computer magnetic disc production, and reproductive biology” (NASA Web site, 2007). Dr. Jemison once volunteered with the Peace Corps, serving in places such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. Selected for astronaut training by NASA in 1987, Dr. Jemison indeed became the first black woman to travel in a space shuttle to the International Space Station in 1992. “The eight-day mission was accomplished in 127 orbits of the Earth, and included 44 Japanese and U.S. life science and materials processing experiments. Dr. Jemison was a co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment flown on the mission. In completing her first space flight, Dr. Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space” (NASA Web site, 2007).

Philip Emeagwali: Called the “Bill Gates of Africa,” Emeagwali was born in Nigeria in 1957. By age 14, he was capable of performing 100 math exercises in 1 hour. He enrolled at Oregon State University at age 17, going on to earn a B.S. in Mathematics, two M.S. degrees from George Washington University, and a Ph.D. in Scientific Computing from the University of Michigan. Learning from the smartness exhibited by bees, Emeagwali would go on to design the world’s fastest computer, using 65,000 processors. This supercomputer has the capacity to perform computations at an astonishing 3.1 billion calculations per second! Additionally, Emeagwali discovered a process that makes oil fields more efficient, an innovation that has saved the U.S. millions of dollars each year. As a result of his inventions, Emeagwali was awarded the Gordon Bell Prize ― the Nobel Prize for computation! His computers are now being used to predict the fallouts from future global warming.

Francis Ampenyin Allotey: Born in Saltpond, Ghana, in 1932, Francis Allotey would later establish the Computer Science Dept. at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. He also served as the head of the Mathematics Dept. of the same university, after completing master’s and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton University in 1966. Dr. Allotey later achieved worldwide fame for his work on Soft X-Ray Spectroscopy, a process that became known as “Allotey Formalism,” earning him the Prince Phillip Gold Medal in 1973.

While this list of eminent black scientists and inventors is by no means exhaustive, considering the fact that there are many distinguished African and African-American scientists serving in important positions worldwide, I have chosen these few deceased and living scientists to accentuate the accomplishments of black people over time. It is now our duty as black people to instill the tenets of hard work, perseverance, dedication and fortitude in the next generation, which will go a long way to debunk the notion that blacks can only be successful in music, movie and sports careers. Dr. Watson has thrown down the gauntlet, and blacks everywhere need to pick it up and show Dr. Watson and his ilk that their pseudo-scientific observations about black people have no merit and therefore belong in the dustbin of history. On a lighter note, please join me in wishing Dr. Watson a happy retirement!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What happens when you open the door...

Wall St.'s Expanding Universe

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, October 30, 2007; A15

The real story on Wall Street isn't that E. Stanley O'Neal, whose grandfather was born a slave, is being shoved out of the top job at Merrill Lynch, the gargantuan investment bank. More important is the fact that . . . well, Tom Wolfe said it best in "The Bonfire of the Vanities," his romp through the world of hubris and high finance, with this description of the novel's protagonist:

"On Wall Street he and a few others -- how many? -- three hundred, four hundred, five hundred? -- had become precisely that . . . Masters of the Universe."

Actually, O'Neal rose to such heights that the number of his professional peers was nowhere near 300 -- more like three or four. That a black man who picked cotton as a child in Alabama could have spent the past five years as an Uber-Master of the Universe, running one of the world's leading financial institutions, is more significant than his downfall.

Granted, the downfall has been pretty spectacular. Merrill Lynch had to disclose last week that the company took a loss of $8.4 billion in the subprime mortgage meltdown -- much greater than the damage suffered by other huge investment firms such as Goldman Sachs.

Merrill's board of directors -- most of whose members were chosen by O'Neal -- has to share responsibility for that debacle; it's not as if the board was unaware of how O'Neal was investing the firm's money. Apparently, though, there was one thing that O'Neal failed to tell the board: that he had approached the chief executive of Wachovia Corp. about a possible merger of the two companies.

That's not the sort of thing you want your board to hear through the grapevine.

Yesterday, O'Neal was reportedly negotiating the terms of his departure. If you're worried he'll be destitute, dry your eyes. O'Neal has been one of the best-paid executives on Wall Street -- he took home around $48 million last year -- and the New York Times reports that he may get a severance package of at least $159 million.

That's crazy money, and most people don't get crazy money unless they're worth it. What I find striking about O'Neal's story is that it so thoroughly demolishes the racist assumption that some people will make: that the job was somehow handed to him because of some feel-good commitment to diversity.

Puh-leeze. Diversity is about leveling the playing field, opening doors and giving people a chance. By all accounts, O'Neal rose to the top the old-fashioned way -- fighting, scraping, biting, scratching.

He was hired as chief executive in 2002 to shake up what was seen as a complacent, slow-moving corporate culture. He did just that, cutting nearly 24,000 jobs, eliminating corporate perks and taking the company -- once known as "Mother Merrill" for its comfortable ambiance and its settled predictability -- into riskier and more lucrative arenas. Such as the subprime mortgage market.

O'Neal produced huge profits for the firm; last year, net income was a record $7.5 billion. On the job, at least, he made no attempt to be a nice guy. The Wall Street Journal reports that O'Neal would rake his executives over the coals if quarterly earnings reports showed that Goldman Sachs was outperforming Merrill in some area.

Now that O'Neal is on his way out, of course, people who worked for him are saying things to reporters -- he was aloof, he was brusque, he didn't tolerate strong-willed subordinates -- that they wouldn't have said to his face.

It's the classic high-flying modern Wall Street story -- you claw your way to the top, make a lot of money for your stockholders, make a lot of money for yourself, hold on as long as you can. O'Neal lasted five years in the top job at Merrill, which is about the average tenure of an American chief executive.

What's really significant is that there is a Stan O'Neal. And a Dick Parsons, the African American chief executive of Time Warner, rumored to be on his way out, too, after a long and profitable run. And a Ken Chenault, the African American CEO of American Express, who is staying put, far as I know. And a Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, widely acknowledged as the first African American billionaire.

Just two or three generations removed from slavery, they rose to control big chunks of the American economy. They attained Master of the Universe status by being smarter and tougher than their peers -- and now a much bigger cohort of black corporate executives is coming up behind them.

It just goes to show what happens when you open a door.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Brief Update

My apologies for not being able to put more time and thought into this site. The manuscript is fast approaching its deadline and I'm busy on that. However, I want to leave you with a question to ponder, it's a two-parter: 1) Do you think having real role models in the black community is more important today than past generations? If so, why? And if not, do you think the term 'role model' is losing its standing in the black community?

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Modest Effort to Find Role Models

Nearly every time the discussion of African American role models comes up, the people who are mentioned are athletes, entertainers, hip hop and rap artist or they are dead. It is important for all children to see that African Americans are present, and hold leadership positions in, every profession. It is absolutely necessary that African American children see people who look like them being successful in something other than sports and entertainment.

A new website ( ) site was started by Trish Millines Dziko to help solve the issue of the dearth of visible African American role models. There are many schools and community organizations that struggle to find African Americans to talk to student groups, mentor students, or just volunteer.This site is one woman's effort to do something about it.

Are you a Role Model? We’re looking for college students, professionals, people in leadership positions, and entrepreneurs to step up and show African American children that they can be somebody. It will take 10 minutes of your time. Only 10 minutes to take the first step towards having an impact on a child’s future. Only 10 minutes. Don’t miss the opportunity to change a life!

About Trish Millines Dziko:
Trish Millines Dziko is the co-founding Executive Director of the Technology Access Foundation ( TAF ) and the CEO of a small startup Nonprofit Information Systems ( NPIS ).

About the Technology Access Foundation:
The Technology Access Foundation ( ) has a mission to prepare underserved children of color for higher education and professional success by providing a rigorous and relevant K-12 curriculum.

About Nonprofit Information Systems:
Nonprofit Information Systems ( ) is a mission driven organization with a desire to provide affordable information technology tools and services that enable small and medium nonprofits to maximize their potential and build capacity. Started in 2006, Nonprofit Information Systems will release its first set of tools in January 2008.

Monday, October 1, 2007

No Price for Passion

I'm sure you've heard stories of NBA or NFL stars refusing to play until they were offered a more lucrative contract. In 2004, former NBA All-Star Latrell Sprewell refused a three-year, $21-million contract offer because he "had a family to feed."

I'm sure Sprewell could have ever imagined making $7 million per year playing the game he loved as a child, but once he made it to the NBA he, like others before and after him, became a different person altogether. A money-driven person.

Real Role Models isn't about becoming rich and famous. We're not profiling the 40 wealthiest African-American professionals and we're not interviewing anyone who has made it to the executive suite or limelight. Instead, we're reaching out to passion-driven people. It is my full belief that one's passion for what he or she does, not how much money is made doing it, makes that person more of a real role model.

In saying that, it has been a great pleasure to meet and speak with people like Lynn Tyson, who turned her passion for information into a career as one of the nation's top investor relations executives, and Leonard Pitts, who has written professionally for close to 30 years and still dreams of writing a fiction novel, and Je'Caryous Johnson, who turned his own zest for theatre into one of the top black-owned theatre production companies in the country.

From our conversations with these passionate individuals, we have learned that real role models can often reach the upper-echelons of wages in the business world, both corporate and entrepreneurial, but more importantly they have reached the upper-echelons of their respective professions, often times putting them in dream-like jobs.

There are likely millions of young children, black and non-black alike, who dream of being professional athletes. I can only hope they grow to become real role models, unlike Sprewell and a few other pro athletes who lost their childhood passion.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Book Update

Just a quick update...

I went to Austin for a week and met with our publisher/editor and had a very beneficial/worthwhile meeting. It's an honor and pleasure to have such a great person/publisher behind us (Texas Press).

I also spoke with some very interesting and successful individuals including Lynn Tyson, vp of investor relations for Dell, and Leonard Pitts, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald. These two have the very characteristics, experiences, and track records that indicate they are real role models.

Now, Louis and I are back on the grind and working to complete the manuscript and put together a one-of-a-kind book that profiles people all Americans, not just African-Americans,
would be proud to consider as role models for their children.



Thursday, September 13, 2007

Does an athlete need to be a role model?

Globe and Mail Update

That NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally got around to suspending Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell on Wednesday came as little surprise. That development was more a matter of when, not if.

The only real questions revolved around the timing of the suspension (now as opposed to earlier in the summer) and the terms (15 games, to be served as soon as Bell is cleared to play again, after completing his stay in Stage 2 of the NHL-NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program.

Bettman waited until now to hand down his ruling to let the process take its course — from the judicial dispensation of the case to the report from the doctors administering the substance abuse program. Bettman then met with Bell in New York on Monday to hear his side of the story, before suspending him under NHL by-law 17, which governs conduct deemed to be "dishonorable, prejudicial to or against the welfare of the league or the game of hockey."

Nor did Bettman mince words when assessing what would have to be considered a fairly modest penalty under the circumstances — and would have been much higher had he not been convinced that Bell is both contrite about his actions and legitimately on the road to recovery.

"Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary conduct off the ice as well as on it," thundered Bettman, in a prepared statement. "Mark Bell will serve jail time following the 2007-08 season after pleading to felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from an alcohol-related automobile accident that caused an injury. He also left the scene of the accident. Such conduct is a violation of our covenant with our fans, and to the game, and is prejudicial to the welfare of the league."

Bettman's phrasing is eerily reminiscent of the wording of commissioner Roger Goodell's statement when he suspended a couple of NFL miscreants (Pacman Jones and Chris Henry) last May. Goodell talked about the "integrity" of his league; how it was a "privilege to represent the NFL" and that its members must meet "the highest standards of conduct."

All of which sends a clear signal to professional athletes everywhere — that whatever standard of behavior was tolerated in the recent past by the NHL, NBA, NFL and major-league baseball, the rules are starting to change and that part of the "covenant" with their fans that Bettman alluded to is becoming good role models again.

Many decades ago, before the Internet became ubiquitous, before 24-hour sports talk radio came along, before endless highlight shows dominated the airwaves, athletes were put on a pedestal by an adoring public. It wasn't so much that they were necessarily better behaved than the current generation of athletes; it's just that their various foibles and missteps didn't make their way into the public eye nearly as often.

All that changed over time, as the nature of reporting evolved and the desire to sweep discretions under the rug disappeared. Simultaneously, more and more athletes were blunt about how they saw their responsibilities to the paying public — and that in their minds, being a role model wasn't part of the bargain. Charles Barkley, a smart and educated man, once famously said: "I don't believe professional athletes should be role models. I believe parents should be role models."

Given the way athletes behaved in Barkley's era and on into today, that wasn't bad advice. Nowadays, the sports pages are filled with accounts of transgressions large and small — for drugs, for cheating, for drunk driving, for domestic abuse and sometimes even for murder. Now that he can't play football, Jones is involved in professional wrestling. On Monday night's NFL telecast of the Cincinnati Bengals-Baltimore Ravens' game, there were numerous references to Henry's eight-game suspension, assessed for his multiple violations the NFL's personal conduct code as well.

It isn't hard to detect the pattern here. These commissioners have collectively decided that enough was enough. They were deathly sick of the black mark that so many of their players were leaving on their respective sports - and were determined to see the code-of-conduct pendulum swing back from the current extreme into a more moderate middle position.

A cynic might also add that these commissioners were businessmen first and thus must surely fear that a backlash could come from their all-important backers - television networks and million-dollar sponsors - if they couldn't do a better job of reining in their athletes, the so-called ambassadors of their sports.

Not only is their behaviour wrong it's also bad for business. That's a double whammy all the bad boys playing a child's game for big dollars better get their heads around and soon. These suspensions are a warning shot across the bow of the industry — and the penalties are only going to get stricter from here on in.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My mother is my real role model

I’ve always believed God places certain people in your life at certain times. I have been blessed with a great number of influential people throughout my life - from high school friends who let me be myself to mentors who have helped me make the most of myself. Throughout, there has been one person who has always been in my life. My mother.

Without insufficiently stating her impact and influence on the person I am and aspire to become, I must say my mother is the only role model I’ve ever had.

Often times, black youths, or for that matter any youths in disadvantaged or low-income environments, lack true role models. Instead, these children and young adults idolize professional athletes, entertainers and musicians. Not to denigrate these individuals and their contributions in the community, particularly in black and inner-city communities, but I was blessed with a truly one-of-a-kind role model in my own home and my life each and everyday.

My mother was always there to make sure her three boys would grow to become three successful men. As the youngest of that trio, I am proud to let her know I whole-heartedly believe she couldn’t have done a better job.

And this is not to say she is the only single mother of three (boys, especially). Nor is she the only woman to raise herself and her family out of welfare. However, my mother is the only mother I’ve ever had and has doubled as the most dedicated and hardworking person I have ever known.

Now I bring this up not to profile my mother, the setbacks she overcame, and the feats she accomplished, but more so to share the great many lessons she taught me. Among them are prioritizing, patience, and planning. Above all, these three Ps are the most important lessons my mother shared with me.

By priorities, I’m referring to the ability to set them and follow through with them. The significance of this life lesson cannot be understated. While my father was absent and halfway across the country doing God knows what, my mother made sure my brothers and I were being provided for. She went on the occasional date, had fun and made sure to spend time with friends, but mostly, my mom was either working overtime, putting a meal on the dinner table or shopping for bargains at the local Goodwill or K-Mart.

From this, I learned that only through efficient and careful prioritizing can one achieve anything worth being proud of.

Not because my mother pushed me, but because she encouraged me was I able to make education a priority in my life from a young age. Though no one in my family had a college degree, I always knew I’d graduate from a top-tier university. It was my priority.

Ten years after jotting down The University of Texas at Austin as one of my top-tier college prospects, albeit as a 7th grader, I was able to walk across the stage as a graduate of that same institution. With my mother watching, eyes watering and gleaming all at once.

Today, I continue setting goals and prioritizing my life to achieve them, but like prioritizing, one cannot achieve anything without a great amount of patience. Thankfully, again, I learned from the best.

For nearly 25 years, my mother strived to purchase her own home. She went from minimum wage to her currently salary, all the while with the same goal in mind. As many single mothers can attest to, she spent many of those years repairing credit mishaps of younger years passed and getting income stability. Still, many more of those years were spent waiting. Being patient.

Finally, at the youthful age of 45, the mother of three adult sons, has accomplished her greatest feat. She became a homeowner.

Following in the footsteps of my mother, I have learned the importance of being patient. Just recently, I contemplated a move back to Austin after just 12 months away before convincing myself to stay put in D.C. where, perhaps, bigger things await. If I only wait and find out. So here I am, being patient.

Will I be rewarded for my patience? So far all evidence points to yes. However, all the prioritizing and patience in the world can’t offset no or insufficient planning.

More times than I care to remember, I’ve seen capable members of the black community fail because of poor planning. The ambition, drive and talent may all be there, but the planning is weak. Where Tiger Woods had his father Earl to help him master his skills and reach his lofty goals, many other young men in the black community live without fathers to usher them from ambition to accomplishment. And many young black women lack the know-how to avoid the social ills that force them into all-too-familiar positions as child bearers instead of college students.

I, too, missed many of the lessons and comforts availed to those with fathers, but my mother never let me think I’d achieve anything without planning. Whether it was how I’d spend my grass-cutting money on or what I’d do with my after-school time, I did my best to keep my mother’s practices in mind.

Setting priorities, being patient and making a plan. My mother never said those words precisely, but she put them in practice every single day. As I continue growing and goal-setting, the examples and lessons she provided continue to serve as my life’s compass.

Creating a path, providing life lessons, and leading by example are the true qualities of a role model. We do not all have mothers and fathers. Some of us may even go without either. Still, as I mentioned earlier, God finds a way to put someone in your life who may be able to fill this role.

I’m sure a great many of you, like myself, owe your lives to your role models.

(As written for Diatribes by Joah on March 8, 2007)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book Progress Report

Friends and Colleagues (and Strangers),

Just writing in to tell you that the book is coming along nicely. Both Louis and I continue to be fully motivated and excited about what this book is becoming, slowly but surely. We truly believe this is a book that will help inspire young African Americans and it will move the needle forward for encouraging young students to pursue careers in the wide range of industries and avenues available to them, regardless of what popular culture and convention limits them to.

So far, Louis and I have interviewed esteemed professors, respected business executives, successful entrepreneurs, award-winning consultants and organization leaders. We look forward to continuing our progress and meeting other 'Real Role Models' in the process. Please feel free to email me and suggest any individuals you believe fit the profile of a real African-American role model.

Please continue to check in to the blog where I'll keep you updated and informed on what has inspired Louis and I to write this book.



P.S. Please keep the blog comments coming.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Parents are still the real heroes

Poll: Young People's Heroes Are Parents

Sunday August 19, 2007 7:31 PM


Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) - When it comes to those they most admire, young people do not look chiefly to the worlds of music, today's wars or history. Instead, they turn to their own families.

Asked to name their heroes, young Americans surveyed by The Associated Press and MTV make their parents the collective top pick. Twenty-nine percent choose their mothers, 21 percent name their fathers and 16 percent pick their parents without specifying which one. Allowed to choose as many heroes as they'd like, nearly half mention at least one of their folks.

``They're really hard workers, and they've done everything in their power to make sure my siblings and I have everything we've needed,'' said Stacy Runne, 21, of New Bern, N.C., now a student at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, N.J. ``They're just good people.''

Next in line as the poll's top heroes: 11 percent choose friends, 10 percent God, 8 percent their grandmother, 7 percent their brother and 5 percent a teacher or professor.

Jacquelynne Eccles, a University of Michigan psychology professor who has studied young people, says surveys she has helped conduct since 1980 have consistently found that parents are youths' most oft-named heroes.

``They're gradually moving out of the family, which is what they should be doing, but that doesn't mean that they feel less close to their family,'' Eccles said. ``Parents often take it personally and believe it's a rejection of the family, when in fact it's really a broadening out.''

Also getting frequent mentions as heroes are members of the U.S. military, firefighters and police officers, as well as boyfriends, sisters, grandfathers and coaches. Two percent choose themselves.

Martin Luther King is named by 4 percent, making the late civil rights leader the most frequently mentioned historical figure or celebrity. Winning 1 percent each are former Vice President Al Gore, television personality Oprah Winfrey, President Bush, golfer Tiger Woods, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and the late Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter.

For his heroes, Daniel Voss, 16, of Atkins, Iowa, included Jesus Christ, author J.K. Rowling, Thomas Jefferson and retired basketball star David Robinson.

``All those people have been very successful in their fields, but will engage in helping their communities and not letting fame get to their heads,'' Voss said.

Even comic book characters make the grade, with Superman and Spiderman each named by 1 percent and Batman close behind.

``Spiderman fights for the innocent, fights for justice and has moral quandaries,'' said Rick Montalvo, 14, soon to be a high school freshman in Chicago. ``He reflects the feelings we as human beings have ourselves.''


The AP-MTV poll was conducted by Knowledge Networks Inc. from April 16 to 23, and involved online interviews with 1,280 people aged 13 to 24. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Role Model? Not so much.

Too much, too fast for Michael Vick

Updated: August 20, 2007, 2:58 PM ET

There really isn't much left to say about Michael Vick now that he has accepted a plea agreement in the wake of his indictment on federal dogfighting charges. It will be interesting to see how harshly he is punished for his transgressions. It also will be intriguing to see if Vick has any semblance of an NFL career left once he finishes serving time in prison. What I'm wondering today, however, is if the next athlete with superstardom foisted upon them can learn anything from what happened to the Atlanta Falcons' two-time Pro Bowler.

The one aspect of Vick's story that hasn't received nearly enough attention is his celebrity. The man simply became too big too quickly, and that is one reason that he is in his current predicament. Keep in mind that this isn't just about money, posses and extremely poor decision-making. It's about a big-time talent with way too much hype and an inability to realize the responsibility that comes with that combination.

I have no interest in making excuses for Vick. He broke the law; he pays the price. But there's also a part of me that believes he would've been better off if so many people hadn't fallen in love with his potential. Even when the Atlanta Falcons handed him a 10-year, $130 million contract in December 2004, that money was based as much on his value as a marketing megastar as it was on his mesmerizing ability. That also happened to be the first serious mistake Falcons owner Arthur Blank made: He believed his star was mature enough to deliver on that kind of promise.

As it turned out, that commitment only gave Vick more reason to carry himself like an untouchable icon. He clearly had an air of invincibility because so many of his problems were downright silly. Whether he was drawing unneeded attention to himself for carrying a suspicious water bottle through Miami Airport or hanging out with sketchy friends who had the potential to ruin his name, he handled himself as if trouble was something he could elude with a timely juke and his trademark speed. Let's face it: The dogfighting charges were just one more example of how Vick believed he could do practically anything he wanted.

This situation can serve to educate other athletes -- and owners -- because there is an obvious danger in validating a player too early in their career. Some pro athletes can handle the responsibility of carrying themselves as professionals once they have financial security and instant celebrity. However, others allow that easy money and the accompanying fame to cloud their decision-making and jeopardize their opportunities. Vick clearly fell into the latter category.

Now it's apparent that more pro football players will have to learn how to package themselves as their careers take off. Though the NFL constantly tries to market teams over individuals, there is simply a greater likelihood that more young stars will draw more hype before their talent justifies it. Look at New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush. Even though he faced a scandal at the start of his career -- there were allegations that his family received improper benefits from sports marketers while he was at USC -- he's handled his fame well.

Bush managed to keep that controversy from damaging his reputation because he was prepared to handle the hype that surrounded him.

"Reggie was caught up in a scandal of his own, but he was a very polished young man," said David Carter, who serves as executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "You could see it from the way he handled himself in New Orleans and in the media. Unfortunately, the way we judge athletes sometimes is by how well they can manage controversy."

Carter already sees a trend: More athletes will look to develop the polish of a Bush while avoiding the ignorance of Vick. Carter said today's athletes must be more concerned with packaging themselves so they can better handle the trappings that come with fame.

"You see kids picking schools now based on what program can best prepare them for being in the limelight," Carter said. "In fact, it's pretty evident now that athletes don't start packaging themselves and building their brands on draft day anymore. It starts when they sign their letters of intent."

Of course, there are plenty of examples of current stars who can handle their fame, including quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Colts, Donovan McNabb of the Eagles and Tom Brady of the Patriots. But there are very few men who have had to deal with what Vick created. Unlike those other three players, Vick wasn't a polished player when he became the wealthiest man in football. He was an exceptionally gifted athlete who benefited greatly from the coddling supplied by an organization unwilling to address his flaws until it was too late.

See, what players like Manning, Brady and McNabb understand is that the bigger you become, the more cautious you must be. This lesson clearly never reached Vick and it cost him. Now that he's facing prison time, we can only wonder if he can fathom why his life tumbled out of control. The sad thing is that I doubt he can even apply that type of perspective at such a disturbing time.

But there will come a day when he'll try to make sense of this and I'd imagine his thoughts will drift to some of the points made here. The bottom line is that his career could have been different if he hadn't been given so much so soon. Vick is paying a hefty price for that now. Let's hope that somebody else with his kind of potential can learn something from his story.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for

Politicians or Rappers? Which are better role models?

First it was a New Zealand mayoral candidate, Len Brown, trying to stop Ice Cube from performing in the country because, "We don't need a gangsta rapper working against the future interests of our young. It's time to freeze out the Ice Cube. We don't want him. We don't need him. He is not welcome here." The Ice Cube concert went on as scheduled.

Then it was a Baltimore City Council candidate, Donald Dewar III, trying to stop a Lil' Wayne and Juelz Santana concert from happening in that city because, "
with all the crime and drugs, having anything like that that promotes it seems inappropriate." The concert went on as scheduled.

Thankfully, on both occasions both the law - contractually and free speech - prevailed. My concern is that the rappers (and their attorneys) seem to understand the law more than the men seeking official positions of public service. This is problematic.

We saw the same thing in the early '90s and in recent years with continued attacks on free speech. It amazes me how often politicians look, not to parents and teachers and government and big business, for answers to all of our societal problems, be it Columbine or Don Imus' rant, by attacking popular music.

It's popular for a reason. Perhaps the suburban kid in Montgomery County, Maryland, can't relate to what Lil' Wayne is rapping about, but I'm sure there's a kid in Baltimore that can. That's a reality. Rap music, or heavy metal for that reason, doesn't glamorize criminal lifestyles and street life anymore than movies like Scarface or the upcoming Denzel-Crowe flick, American Gangster. Why don't these politicians attack the movie stars?

Anyway, what I'm really trying to say is that these politicians, especially the aspiring ones, should think about why they really want to run for office. Is it to find something and someone to blame for problems in the community or is it to fix the problems in the community?

Lyrics aside, Ice Cube, Lil' Wayne, and Juelz Santana are making an honest living - just like any other musician - when they otherwise might be on the street truly hurting the community.

By pulling themselves up from nothing to having millions of fans, many of whom will be inspired - not necessarily by their lyrics, but by their accomplishments - I don't think it's a far stretch to say evidence indicates these rappers may be just as much worthy of role model consideration as these aspiring politicians who don't know the law.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Recess: Kindergarten to Capitol Hill

Recess is such a great concept. Most of us think of kindergarten or elementary school when we were allotted an hour or so a day, in between studies, to be kids. Well you're in luck if you were ever the kid who said your favorite part of the school day was recess.

As I walk around Washington, D.C. this month, I can't help but notice how much less traffic there is, on the sidewalks, on the Metro and on the roads. You know why? Because Congress, and just about everyone in D.C. that has a job that is closely linked to Capitol Hill, goes on vacation or leaves D.C. during the month. It's kind of like the American version of what the Greeks do every August.

I'm not sure if Sen. Barack Obama of Chicago or Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta are out playing in sandboxes or jumping rope, but you can be sure they're enjoying their time away from Washington. Washington is one of those cities where if you want to "be somebody" you have to "go, go, go" all the time, nonstop. Very much like Wall Street in New York.

That said, if you're looking for a role model that enjoys recess just as much as you do, look no further than Congress, where even the most-tenured public officials and staffers cherish their breaks. Only we're not talking about 2+2=4 and ABCs, but the U.S. Constitution and tax policy.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Untold tales of achievement


Untold tales of achievement

Too many African Americans have been left out of history books. Their deeds could be examples.

By Claude Lewis
Too bad African Americans are so often judged by their weakest representatives. It's especially tragic because the history of Americans of African descent is a fabulous one, steeped in stunning achievement.

You wouldn't know that from the way American culture represents American history. It is a travesty and a tragedy that African American successes largely have been left out of history books, while their failures have been prominently displayed on the nightly news and in bold headlines.

Undeniably, many young black males contribute to the grim statistics. Too many black men are associated with crime, drug trafficking, shootings and other antisocial behavior. But in spite of all the bad press, and no matter what the people who write history books and run the media want to write, African Americans have a long history of making a difference, a good difference.

The history of their accomplishments has too often been hidden, untold, or ignored. Often, people speak of black history as "the other side of the story," but no, it's not. It's part of The Story, the story of all of us. To speak of black history as somehow "alternative" is to insult achievers and innovators of all colors.

My bet is that the only aspect of black achievement most Americans know about is the sports-and-entertainment part. But in fact there is scarcely a discipline in America at which blacks have not excelled.

The black legacy in sports and entertainment is, of course, justly celebrated. From Jackie Robinson to Jim Brown to LeBron James, despite resistance, despite controversy, blacks have excelled. We hardly have to list the greats in each sport, they are so well-known.

In all the major sports, only the collusion of white owners and players kept blacks from competing and achieving. That includes boxing (Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman) and, more recently, the once-white enclaves of tennis (Serena and Venus Williams) and golf (Tiger Woods).

The world of music and dance is crowded with names like Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughn, Diana Ross, B.B. King, Sammy Davis Jr., Jennifer Hudson, and countless others.

But let's get beyond the obvious. The list of black inventions is nothing short of astonishing, particularly when posed against the black American experience, which has been shaped, in part, by a steady stream of deliberate disadvantage. Somehow, millions of blacks managed to succeed in spite of all that.

Blacks quietly excelled - one almost wants to write "quietly," but it wasn't quiet, it was simply not acknowledged - in the sciences, architecture, inventions, art, and many other fields.

Garrett A. Morgan created many indispensable devices, including a type of traffic signal and a type of hooded respirator similar to the gas masks used by firefighters and rescue teams like those who arrived at ground zero after the 9/11 catastrophe.

Elijah McCoy was a prolific inventor who obtained more than 50 patents. He is joined by Granville T. Woods, known as the "Black Edison." He was among those who developed the "third rail" used in the world's electric railroads. He held more than 60 patents; after his death in 1910, AT&T, General Electric and Westinghouse Brakes purchased the rights to many of his discoveries.

Jan Matzeliger was to shoes what Henry Ford was to cars. Matzeliger discovered a method of mass-producing shoes. His lasting machine made it possible to create footwear for people around the world.

Daniel Hale Williams performed one of the earliest recorded open-heart surgeries July 9, 1893. Work such as his has, in years since, helped save millions of lives. Solomon Fuller was a pioneering neuropathologist and psychiatrist who improved the lives of many suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Samuel L. Kountz was a pioneer in medicine who specialized in kidney transplants.

I cite the achievements in science just to make a point, but I could cite long lists in a lot of fields. Do you like ice cream? How about letting yourself speculate that an American of African descent helped invent it? How about Augustus Jackson, an African American often mentioned among the possible inventors of that frozen confection?

The simple point is that all people really need is opportunity. Once the doors open for them, they can excel, and it has nothing to do with color.

Claude Lewis ( is a longtime Philadelphia journalist.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Why America May Never Fall in Love With Soccer

David Beckham comes to America to help make soccer the "next big thing", but then something like this happens to one of our country's best soccer players while in a country that supposedly loves its soccer. Is this how they treat the players for the away team in Montenegro? Europe?

Updated: Aug. 8, 2007

UEFA will look into reports of 'monkey' chants

NYON, Switzerland -- European soccer's governing body is looking into reports of alleged racist taunting of American midfielder DaMarcus Beasley by fans in Montenegro during a Champions League qualifier.

The taunts occurred during Tuesday night's game, when he scored his first goal for Glasgow Rangers in a 1-0 victory over FK Zeta in Bijelo Polje, Montenegro. A small section of fans made "monkey chants'' aimed at Beasley and teammate Jean-Claude Darcheville, according to Rangers' Web site.

"We are aware of the case, and now we will first wait for several reports to come in,'' Robert Faulkner, a spokesman for the Union of European Football Associations, said Wednesday.

UEFA will examine reports from the referee, the match delegates and possibly the security officer.

"It happened to me a few years ago when PSV played Red Star in Belgrade, and I can't believe racist abuse is still in football,'' Beasley was quoted as saying on Rangers' Web site. "People can come to a match and jeer, but the racist thing just has to get out of football.''

The 25-year-old Beasley, who was loaned from PSV Eindhoven to Manchester City last season, joined Rangers in June.

Beasley, who made his competitive debut for Rangers in a Scottish Premier League game last weekend, scored on a 20-yard shot in the 81st minute. Rangers advanced 3-0 in the home-and-home, total-goals series and plays Red Star Belgrade or Estonia's Levadia Tallinn for a berth in the Champions League.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

All-Stars Not All Good

Michael Vick and Barry Bonds. If you've been paying any attention to the sports scene this summer, you're very familiar with those names. Vick, the Pro Bowl quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, and Bonds, the Hall-of-Fame-worthy leftfielder for the San Francisco Giants, have completely different reasons for being in the headlines, but the end result for both could be similar.

Vick is accused of being involved in a dogfighting scheme. One of his associates has already pleaded guilty and indicated he will provide evidence that could prove detrimental to Vick, both legally and professionally since the NFL's new commissioner Roger Goodell is determined to rid the NFL of criminal activity after years of legal woes. Goodell has already banned Vick from training camp for the indictment alone (nevermind that if Vick is found not-guilty he could sue the league).

Bonds is accused of using steroids to expedite (if not make possible altogether) his rise to baseball's greatest home run hitter ever. Ahead of fellow African-American sports great Hank Aaron who received death threats throughout 1973 and '74 while he was approaching Babe Ruth's record of 713 home runs. It's also important to note that Bonds, too, has a friend who has already been positively linked to his accusation; thankfully for Bonds, his friend has remained tight-lipped in prison (and most believe will remain so for a friendly payoff upon his release).

Regardless of what the reasons for Vick's alleged dogfighting "hobby" and Bonds' alleged steroid use (and perjury under a federal grand jury), it's unfortunate that these men are now more known for their legal troubles than their contributions to their respective teams' success.

I don't have the information necessary to predict the outcomes of each sports figure's legal circumstances, but I can say with all certainty that these stars have already begun the downward spiral from the galaxy's mountaintop they were once lifted into for nothing more than athletic prowess.

Too often, we elevate sports figures and other celebrities to role model status without justification outside of their talent on the hardwood or Astroturf. It's troubling that we can't give the same prestige to doctors, engineers, police officers, and other professionals who use their talents and abilities to improve their lives and the lives of others.

That said, I'm not surprised when a star athlete is negatively influenced by hanger-on friends that don't have his best interest in mind? And I don't act surprised when a sports star finds a way to work around the system to improve his chances for success on the field?

Instead, I think Vick and Bonds are prime examples of why it's so important to recognize the real role models in the African-American community. The people that earn the "role model" designation because of their hard work and commitment to a profession without expecting signing bonuses, MVP awards, and endorsement deals.

There are plenty of examples of real role models in professional sports, but part of me thinks the jury has already found Vick and Bonds guilty of false impersonation.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Helping Build a Business and Save Lives

Please help my friend Christien Oliver with his special business opportunity.

From Christien:

"I hope all is well. I am sending you this message because I dont have many friends and allies, and I need all 16 of them--including you--to help me with something big.
Two summers ago my Dad and I started an Internet company: What does the website do? We're basically the Ikea of water and wastewater contract opportunities. When a city/country needs a new drainage system they request quotes; usually from the 5 vendors they know of. We provide 24/7 access to water and wastewater contract opportunities from around the world to make the process a little more competitive. When your car needs new brake pads you usually get as many estimates as you can. applies the same thinking to the water and wastewater industries.
Aside from not selling furniture, we're different from Ikea in one other major way -- we are not a billion (or even a million) dollar company.
We want to grow our business, and help address the world water crisis in the process. So we entered into the "Boost Your Business" contest, where the grand prize winner will receive a cash prize to invest in their company.
(For more information about the contest please visit:
Over 900 small businesses entered the contest. Two weeks ago we were named one of the 20 semi-finalists.
Here's where you come in. The finalists will be selected via online voting starting this Wednesday, August 1st and ending Friday, August 31st. gets 15 million visitors a day, so I am not just asking you to vote. I am asking you to do four things:
1) Vote at for in the "Boost Your Business" Contest starting August 1 (Wednesday) early and often
2) Ask everyone you know to vote
3) Ask everyone you know to ask everyone they know to vote
4) Get the word out...
(e.g., mention the contest in your blog, post a link on your myspace page, join the forthcoming facebook group, endorse us in the signature of your emails, give a "shout out" at karaoke night)
For more information about, please visit:
Thanks in advance for your support. If you have any questions please contact me.

Christien D. Oliver, Executive Vice President
-Providing access to water and wastewater contract opportunities from around the world."