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.

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