Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A book worth buying

Area African-American role models abound
New book profiles 126 professionals; hopes to inspire local youths
September 19, 2008

PEORIA — "Value your education; volunteer, mentor advocate and participate. Be fair, be open to diverse ideas, and maintain good humor and a sense of integrity. Don't sell yourself short - but don't take yourself too seriously. Above all: do well, no matter what."

Certainly words to live by or to follow.

They belong to Lorene King, an academic skills specialist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, just one of 126 local African-American professionals living in Peoria and who are profiled in a book to be released next week, published by Illinois Central College.

Called "Role Models: Profiles of Successful African-American Professionals in Peoria, Illinois," the work is the brainchild of Rita Ali, ICC's executive director of diversity, who started a similar venture several years ago wanting to learn success stories of those she admired in the community.

"The book has changed me, inspired me more than ever, learning from other people's experiences," said Ali, who gave credit for the inspiration to one of her own role models, Romeo B. Garrett, Bradley University's first black professor, a key civil rights figure locally and author of "The History of the Negro in Peoria" and "Famous First Facts About Negroes."

The 268-page book highlights several who work for Caterpillar Inc., the city of Peoria, four judges, lots of doctors, an artist, several in the medical field, teachers and professors. Each individual shares a little about his occupation, personal life, his influences or inspiration, accomplishments and community involvement. The subjects also offer a bit of career advice.

There's executive directors, vice presidents of companies, department heads, managers and coaches. Combined, their annual salaries total more than $12 million. There's many names that are recognizable among the community and several that are not.

But more important than who is in the book is the inspiration to be shared with Peoria's youth.

Among the common links most of the 126 contributors share is having some sort of mentor, a caring adult, "someone who they looked up to," Ali said.

As one profiled in the book put it, "there's kids who say they don't have a positive role model in their home, in their neighborhood or in their life; their role models are those in (professional sports) - the untouchables," Ali recalled, "but these people - these role models - live right here in the community."

"The people in this book are real, they are accessible . . . These outstanding Americans are a true reflection of the depth and breadth of incredible talent within the city of Peoria," Ali writes in the book's introduction.

What's more, many of those profiled in the book have offered to serve as a role model in some way, either for the short-term or long-term, Ali said. "The book is serving as the hook-up," a vehicle to bridge the gap of need of the children and what the mentors can provide.

As to why 126 profiles: "There was no magic number, it was going to be 100 but we just kept getting such a good response that we kept going." Plans already are in the works for a sequel as well as a similar book that will profile African-American para-professionals, those in the skilled trades, and another highlighting entrepreneurs, which Ali hopes to have released this spring.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Real Role Models - An Update

Friends and Colleagues,

As promised, here's an update on Real Role Models.

We finished a draft version of the manuscript in April.
The early reviews were both flattering and overwhelmingly favorable.
We're putting final touches on the manuscript.
The book should be out early in '09.

That's pretty much it. But the long of it is that we've been working hard to continue thinking of how we can make RRM speak to and for those young Black students that we are so desperately trying to reach. I posted the video by John Hope Bryant below to help paint the picture of exactly what we're up against in terms of the lack of motivation and inspiration that has hindered so many young Blacks, males in particular, from reaching their potential and how many of us, not at all just Louis and I, are striving for the same thing.

We can make a difference. We can help others reach their potential. We can all be real role models.

Reaching out to Reading is Fundamental, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Teach for America, the Boys and Girls Club, and other organizations that look out for young Black students is just one way we're hoping to get RRM into the hands of those who can be impacted the most. Of course, one way would've been to have Sen. Barack Obama plug the book during his speech last Thursday...

Speaking of that speech, when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president it was an incredibly moving and powerful night. I am not ashamed to admit I teared up. I, too, was one of those kids that dreamed of being the president when I was five or six years old.

But, I found myself thinking, what about those Black kids growing up without such ambition or aspirations? What about kids who don't have a mom waking them up at 4:30 a.m. to work on their schoolwork? What about the kids who don't have grandparents to care for and help raise them? What about the kids who think that drug dealer, basketball player or rapper are their only options?

Part of me is worried that Obama's "celebrity" treatment makes him more like Jay-Z than Thomas Jefferson, but his career path and education stifle that thought. Still, part of me worries that having a Black man as president may mean one more profession to add to that list of drug dealer, NBA player, rapper, instead of doing what RRM intends to do: inspire and motivate young Black students to realize the opportunities before them and work hard to reach their potential. I hope Obama's candidacy reaches far beyond the New York Times headline of "first Black president" and into the heart and minds of millions of Black boys and girls who need hope and inspiration.

Some of us are not going to become Jay-Z or Barack Obama or Kobe Bryant. Some of us will be accountants and engineers and small business owners and teachers.

This is not to say that we can not all be rich and famous. This is simply to say that all of us have to realize true success is not measured by money or time on TV or, Obama would probably admit, votes. We can all be successful in our own right if we work hard, set goals and strive to make a positive impact, especially in our communities, as a certain Senator did in Chicago several years ago.

So, when I say we're working hard to make sure RRM speaks to and for young Black students, I mean we are striving to make sure that when a 15-year-old high school sophomore in Fifth Ward, Houston or an 18-year-old senior in Anacostia, D.C. picks up this book, they see more than some words about two dozen or so Black people who made a lot of money or got a lot of degrees or won a lot of awards. Or got a lot of votes.

We're hoping they see their own potential through this book. We're hoping they see themselves, through the paths made by those before them, as real role models. We're hoping.

Relevant Information, Timely Effort and Strong Leadership

A friend of mine works for Operation HOPE and I find this video message by the organization's founder, John Hope Bryant, to be extremely relevant, timely and sound.