Friday, December 11, 2009

Still searching for real role models...

I just read Tiger Woods' statement that he will be taking a leave of absence from golf in light of his ongoing media storm stemming from his infidelity. This proves to all of us that athletes and celebrities are not beyond human and must not be put on pedestals of kings.

It's tough to write this because I have long been an avid fan of Tiger's. He's the best sports figure we've had since Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls. He's built a worthwhile foundation and has inspired millions of kids to play the game of golf. But this news is tough to take in stride.

That's surely why Tiger is taking a break and it's definitely why we must continue to search for and identify real role models beyond fame and riches.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Real Role Models available for pre-order on Amazon

Real Role Models: Successful African Americans Beyond Pop Culture (University of Texas Press) is now available on Amazon for pre-order. The paperback version ($19.95) and the hardback edition ($45.00) of the book will be available online and in stores throughout Black History Month 2010.

When Dr. Louis Harrison, Jr., and I set out to write this book our primary focus was on interviewing people whose stories of success could truly impact and inspire young people, with a particular emphasis on young African Americans. With those profiled in this book - including Melody Barnes, Domestic Policy Adviser to President Obama, Bev Kearney, women's track and field coach at Univ. of Texas, and Leonard Pitts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist - we believe we have captured a unique, well-rounded and first-of-its-kind collection of role models, even beyond the Black community.

On behalf of Louis and myself, we thank you for supporting our efforts to inspire young African Americans through this book and please let us know if there are any particular individuals, organizations or schools that would be particularly interested in hearing more about Real Role Models.

Best regards,

Joah Spearman

Monday, November 2, 2009

Real Role Models of the future @ I4RC

The Institute for Responsible Citizenship is an organization based in Washington, D.C., that I am extremely proud to support. One of the participants was the first person in his family to attend college and now he's a Rhodes Scholar, another is Truman Scholar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

NY Times: Ravens’ Foxworth Is Building Home Museum to the Civil Rights Movement

September 15, 2009

Ravens’ Foxworth Is Building Home Museum to the Civil Rights Movement

PIKESVILLE, Md. — With each step down his basement stairs, Domonique Foxworth descends into his own private bomb shelter. Above ground, he earns millions covering the N.F.L.’s top receivers for the Baltimore Ravens. Below it in his cellar, he seeks different company.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has a dream in the cover of an autographed memoir. Malcolm X defies a detractor in a typed letter from 1963. Rosa Parks sits, Tommie Smith clenches and Thurgood Marshall reasons in framed and signed artifacts that form Foxworth’s growing museum of the civil rights movement.

“Other players around the league, their basements are all jerseys of themselves and their friends in the N.F.L. and the N.B.A.,” Foxworth said. “I feel more comfortable with these people around me.”

Later, looking at the collection, he said: “Not often, but on occasion I feel guilty. I have all this because I run real fast and I tackle people. I recognize why I’ve been able to do this. It’s not all because of me or my family or my teammates or my coaches. It’s more because of the faces on the walls in my basement.”

Foxworth’s face would not fit on the N.F.L.’s current Mount Blushmore of Michael Vick, Donte’ Stallworth, Pacman Jones and others. At 26, he has never started a full season. He swallows books whole, is weighing potential business schools and plans to “gobble up degrees” before he retires.

Not just a hobby, Foxworth’s passion for civil rights will inform his handling of the league’s coming labor negotiations, in which he will participate as a member of the union’s executive committee. He candidly, some would say audaciously, vows to speak for forgotten fans and stadium workers “who would be hurt by a lockout more than the players,” he said.

Foxworth has watched the occasional interviewer stop cold when he acknowledges growing up outside Baltimore decidedly middle class. (“They’re like, ‘Where’s the strife?’, and the story mysteriously never runs,” he said.) As he tries to live his N.F.L. life far differently from the public’s image of it, speaking to middle schools and starting nonprofit charities, every now and then he grounds himself. Underground.

“This is the Little Rock Nine,” Foxworth said, pointing to an autographed print of the black students who in 1957 were blocked from attending a segregated school in Arkansas. “All this stuff is really powerful to me. It motivates me. Football and community work and just day to day. To not waste.”

Foxworth’s father, Lorinzo, attended an all-black elementary school in Charlotte, N.C., before joining the Army and raising two sons with his wife, Karen. In bouncing from post to post, the family made sure to tour the local university — Indiana, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, West Point. Perhaps that is why Lorinzo Foxworth, now retired and pursuing a doctorate in business training and development, speaks of his younger son’s “matriculation through life.”

Lorinzo Foxworth said: “But he has a sixth sense we couldn’t impact. He always had a knack for asking the question of why? How does it work? How did it start? And it all ends with something he wants to impact, to manifest in things that matter to him.”

Domonique left high school near Baltimore midway through his senior year in 2001 so he could begin classes early at the University of Maryland. He entered with an interest in computer engineering but was turned on to history and earned a degree in American studies three years later. He did so despite starring on the football team; he was then drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round in 2005.

Blocked by the Pro Bowl cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dre’ Bly, Foxworth never developed a consistent role in Denver and was traded to the Atlanta Falcons before last season. He was so quick on man-to-man coverage that the Ravens bought him away as a free agent with a four-year contract worth a guaranteed $16.5 million, and potentially $27.2 million, to tighten what was already one of the N.F.L.’s stingiest defenses.

Foxworth did not splurge on a Lamborghini. He still drives the Range Rover from his draft year. He did call Mark Mitchell, a collector and dealer of African-American memorabilia based in Fairfax, Va., to do his own kind of splurging.

“Professional athletes really have an interest in African-American history, not just for themselves but to pass it along to their families,” said Mitchell, whose clients include the former Washington Redskins Art Monk and Charles Mann and the basketball player Chris Webber. “I find them very intelligent, curious. They’re almost stunned — honored, in a way, to hold in their hands a letter from Frederick Douglass. They have respect for the people who helped bring about the world they live in. You think of athletes as privileged, in a corner by themselves, but they have a curiosity that would surprise people.”

Foxworth’s curiosity will help guide his own playbook for the union-league negotiations; he will be the youngest member of the players’ 11-man executive committee. He said he understood his responsibility to secure the best collective bargaining agreement for his fellow players. Yet he refuses to forget the thousands of strangers — parking attendants, restaurant owners, souvenir hawkers and more — who would be financially devastated by a prolonged lockout.

“It’s not us against the league, who gets the most money — that’s pretty juvenile,” Foxworth said. “We don’t get hurt, we hurt people around us. Obviously it’ll hurt the billionaire owners a bit. It’ll hurt some players who may not get their chance for a life-changing payday. But by and large, the people that we hurt most are just regular people. I just want to introduce that there’s a third party that doesn’t have a voice. Someone needs to remind both of us that this isn’t a game.”

Few people would recognize Foxworth anywhere but his native Baltimore, if there. He is only 5 feet 11 inches and 180 pounds. He avoids telling people he meets what he does for a living because of what he called “the default image that people have of football players, the default story of the life.”

He added, “If I can have a regular conversation on a plane about life and general things, I would much rather do that than have him ask me what it’s like to cover Randy Moss.”

Foxworth says he has no specific plans for retirement, his body tapped but his mind just reaching stride. Get a doctorate or two, he said. Maybe build recreation centers with academic bents. Keep adding to his museum, which he considers less hobby than homage. He wants a Medgar Evers piece. Bobby Kennedy.

Too bad the walls will never include one long-lost item that Foxworth’s father still recalls. When Domonique was 8, just starting Pop Warner football, he walked into his parents’ bedroom with a shockingly good picture he had drawn. It wasn’t Junior Seau or Jerry Rice. It was a parachute.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama: "Our kids can't all aspire to be the next Lebron or Lil' Wayne"

Excerpt: "They might think they've got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can't all aspire to be the next LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Can You Help Us Help African-American Students?

Friends and Colleagues,

Real Role Models is set to be published next January. Neither Louis nor myself have written this book to make an impact on our wallets, instead believing the biggest impact of this book will be in transforming the lives of Black students around the country, particularly those in impoverished and inner-city settings.

That said, I am asking you to read the note below from Ian Smith, a colleague of mine who runs a foundation that helps underprivileged Black students get a college education, and consider helping us reach our target audience.



This is an excellent book. I started reading it and could not put it down, seriously. The message this book tells is exceptional. The testimonies from the selected role models will relate to whoever reads this book. The way you used modern people like Charles Barkley and Jay-Z to Kirk Franklin to make certain points will engage younger people to keep reading. Not only that, but there is a need for REAL ROLE MODELS in today's society. Recently, I conducted a leadership workshop and I asked two groups of 13-18 year old students who they thought were leaders. All except maybe 1 or 2 students mentioned athletes and entertainers as leaders instead of themselves, their parents or some of the more influential people in the world like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our youth today, many value the works of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant more than the works of Dr. King, Malcolm X, Madame C.J. Walker and even Barack Obama. The young people don't understand there is more to life than sports, until it's too late. The huge amount of crime being committed today is unbelievable. I believe this book comes in good timing and hopefully will find some of these young people who is in dire need of some positive influence. Mr. Joah Spearman, thanks for co-authoring this book, its wonderful. I commend you and your colleague for the works of this book, I just hope it reaches the youth before its too late.

Ian Smith


If, after reading this note, you think of anyone whom you think would consider recommending the book Ian describes above to a school principal, after-school program leader, nonprofit organization director, business executive, church pastor, coach or community leader...please LET ME KNOW!

My best email is

Thank you so much.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Congratulations Louis!

(He's not a self-promoter, but I'll do it for him!)

Harrison Honored for Outreach to Underserved Populations

Dr. Louis Harrison, Jr., was honored with the 2009 E.B. Henderson Award at the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance’s (AAHPERD) National Convention and Exposition on April 4.

The prestigious award is presented annually by the AAHPERD Social Justice and Diversity Committee to one member in higher education who, through numerous years of proven service, dedication, scholarship and mentorship has increased involvement of ethnic minorities and underserved populations in AAHPERD.

Harrison is an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Texas at Austin. His research has focused on the influences of race related self-schemata and African American racial identity on physical activity choices and performance. The purpose of this line of research has been to investigate factors that influence sport and physical activity participation, as well as identity development patterns of African Americans. Due to his work, physical activity scholars and health professionals have gained a deeper understanding of the racial labels ascribed to particular sports and physical activities and to how these labels affect participation, persistence, effort and performance. Scholars now have a guide that allows them to help underserved minorities develop a physically active.

The award commemorates Edwin Bancroft Henderson (1883-1977), an athlete, basketball pioneer, physical educator, civil rights advocate and author who for three quarters of a century preached racial unity through sports. Henderson is widely recognized by sports scholars and basketball historians as the first person to introduce the game of basketball to African Americans on a large-scale basis. One of his major scholarly contributions was “The Negro in Sports,” written in 1939. It was from this work that sports legend Arthur Ashe built his three volume series on the African American athlete.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NFL Players Being Led By Successful Black Lawyer

DeMaurice Smith, a partner with powerful Washington law firm Patton Boggs, was recently named Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, the union representing all players in the most-lucrative league in professional sports. Smith is a Washington, D.C., native and spent many years in the D.C. legal system after graduating from the University of Virginia's law school in 1989. He has close ties to Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama and is expected to bring a fresh perspective and grounded leadership to the union during a potentially tumultuous time as the NFL's owners and players have yet to reach a contract agreement past 2009, known as a Collective Bargaining Agreement. Aside from his legal work, Smith is also on the Board of Directors for the Good Samaritan Foundation, a D.C.-based organization co-founded by former Washington Redskins player and Hall of Famer Art Monk to assist in fulfilling the educational and social needs of inner city youth.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Role Model for Young Men and Women Alike

When CNN's Jack Cafferty is raving about you, you know something must be going right for you. That's Michelle Obama these days. Sure, her husband, Barack, became the first Black man to become President of the United States with a awe-inspiring mix of composure, charisma and political savvy, but it's his wife who has wowed Washington with everything from her hospitality to her fashion sense. This is a real role model if I've ever seen one.

A woman who knows her strengths as an individual and professional - she was a senior official at the University of Chicago before going on hiatus to campaign for her husband - and, more importantly, knows the power that comes from her current job as First Lady. Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan each had her own areas of focus and pet projects, but from Michelle we get the sense that the role of First Lady has never been so broad and inspiring. She's a mother of two young daughters, but she's also an adviser to her husband, not far removed from being a state senator in Illinois.

Real Role Models doesn't profile the First Lady, nor any other famous Black professionals, but it goes without saying that she is amongst a select group of nationally-captivating people, the kind of person who not only inspires young black girls, but also black women and not only black women, but women in general. And, I know I'm not the only man who watches her in admiration and awe. Wondering how Barack ever got so lucky. Being her husband, not the president, has to be the most important job in his life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Secret to Steelers Coach Tomlin's Success: Take Notes

Secret to Steelers Coach Tomlin's Success: Take Notes
The New York Times
January 26, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. — Sometimes in the off-season, he creeps down to the basement in the middle of the night and pulls an old Franklin Planner from the stacks. Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin — reluctant intellectual — goes back to school then, flipping through the meticulous notes he has kept since he was a youngster, line after line bringing back the memories of what he did in a practice, of how a coach handled a wayward player, of the goals he hoped to accomplish that season.

For years, Tomlin tried to shield his smarts from view. When the “My Child is an Honor Roll Student” bumper stickers arrived in the mail, Tomlin threw them in the garbage before his mother could put them on the car. It was weird, he thought, when his friends first realized in 11th grade that he had gotten straight A’s. Even at William and Mary, an elite college just a few dozen miles from his home in Newport News, Va., he playfully mocked one of his best friends as Poem Boy, only to quote Robert Frost in his news conference after the Steelers won the American Football Conference championship last week.

But those notes in the basement serve as a road map of Tomlin’s meteoric career rise and inform his decisions still. The 1996 volume is a particular favorite because Tomlin was a graduate assistant at the University of Memphis, with the ideal fly-on-the-wall vantage point to observe coaches while bearing few responsibilities. Nobody, save perhaps Tomlin himself, could have imagined that a dozen years later — only two years after he met much of the N.F.L. while pushing his baby’s stroller through the league’s annual meeting — Tomlin would become the youngest Super Bowl head coach in league history.

“Shocked is not a word that I would use,” Tomlin, 36, said of landing the Steelers job in the first place. “I’ve always been extremely competitive. I’m a big dreamer, I guess. I’ve been known to be pushy.”

Tomlin has never lacked for self-assurance. When he told his mother he was forsaking law school to take his first $12,000-a-year coaching job — a decision she thought was insane — he told her coolly that he had a plan. Tomlin’s father, Ed, played in the Canadian Football League, but Tomlin had little relationship with him after his parents separated when he was a baby.

The lure of football came, instead, from neighborhood coaches. Athletics were viewed as a way out of a sometimes difficult neighborhood, Tomlin said, so the coaches became the disciplinarians, the guidance counselors. He wanted to be among them, even if he didn’t need sports to escape. He was a wisp of a high school wide receiver, but he was also quietly stowing recruiting letters from Ivy League programs.

Tomlin wanted to be known as a jock then, not a smart kid, something he knows sounds silly now. But perhaps that was why he could always command a room, able to make the biology students and the offensive linemen equally comfortable.

“He would walk through the door at 10 o’clock at night and light up the room,” said Pete Tsipas, the owner of Paul’s Deli, a student hangout at William and Mary where Tomlin worked the door. “Fifteen years later, he still knows everybody’s name.”

At William and Mary, Tomlin bulked up and became a downfield receiving threat, establishing a team record by averaging 20.2 yards a catch. But football also provided Tomlin an opportunity for the perfect melding of the academic and athletic, and perhaps the underpinnings of his coaching style: he memorized his opponents’ biographies, the better to trash-talk them. Tomlin calls himself a flatliner now, projecting only cool dressed in black on the Steelers’ sideline. But back then, he was emotional — even a little cocky.

“Confidence was never a problem with Mike,” said Minnesota Vikings safety Darren Sharper, a college teammate who was later coached by Tomlin when he was the Vikings’ defensive coordinator. “He would talk trash not only to players, but to coaches. It was a comedy every day. He is always ready to go, trying to get guys to compete.”

Tomlin and his friend and fellow receiver Terry Hammons were fans of NFL Films, and in one they noticed that the great Cleveland running back Jim Brown behaved oddly near the sidelines before games, to unnerve opponents.

“We had such delusions of our own grandeur, we would do these weird drills, we’d get dressed up to our waist, go out with our shirts off, do some push-ups and then start doing ball drills,” said Hammons, who was Poem Boy and is now a lawyer in London.

Hammons calls Tomlin socially intelligent, possessing a knack for knowing what spurs others on. He was the guy singing “It’s a Beautiful Morning” in the bitter cold of an off-season workout. And years later, after Steelers running back Willie Parker complained about play-calling, Tomlin noted in a news conference that Parker wasn’t complaining last season, when he led the league in rushing for most of the year. The zinger delivered, Tomlin made Parker a game captain a few days later.

In college, Tomlin became a voracious student of the voluminous William and Mary playbook and game film, and he offered his suggestions to Coach Jimmye Laycock. For all his chattiness on the field, Tomlin was a deliberate thinker, given, a sociology professor said, to hanging back in an argument so he could analyze data — the thoughtful approach he takes today when talking to reporters.

From his first coaching job, with the wide receivers at Virginia Military Institute, the notebooks filled up quickly, Tomlin’s career buoyed by his amalgamation of smarts and swagger. At the University of Cincinnati — his fifth career stop in five years — the secondary he took over went from being ranked 111th in the nation in pass defense to 61st in his first season. Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin, then coaching in Tampa Bay, heard about him while they were looking for a defensive backs coach.

After putting Tomlin through a 15-hour interview, Kiffin called the veteran safety John Lynch to tell him about Tomlin’s preparedness and poise, about Tomlin’s attention to technique and his plans for motivation. “Monte said, ‘I have good news and bad news,’ ” Lynch recalled. “He said, ‘I got a heck of a secondary coach.’ I said, ‘What’s the bad news?’ ‘You’re a year older than him.’ ”

Tomlin, then 28, was used to the uneasiness his youth created. When the Buccaneers held a brief minicamp early in Tomlin’s tenure, he had known the players for two weeks. But he presented Lynch, a perennial All-Pro, a tape of 75 plays he thought he could improve on from the year before.

“At first, I thought, What’s up with this guy?” Lynch said. “But then I started reading the detail. He’d show a play, then have a long paragraph about what he thought I could do better. I learned a lot from him right away. That sold me on him.”

The Steelers were a veteran team one season removed from a Super Bowl title when Tomlin got the job Jan. 22, 2007, at age 34. The players were watching him closely. Tomlin ran an intentionally savage training camp to make the point that he was in charge and to help him determine the hardest workers.

Now the Steelers credit him for delegating authority to his assistants, rather than interfering with play-calling, and for easing up on some players as he has grown more comfortable with them.

“I like the head-scratching,” Tomlin said. “I go out of my way to not put them at ease. There’s nothing wrong with being in a permanent state of arousal and not finding a comfort zone.”

That wisdom is undoubtedly jotted in one of his notebooks, which will stretch a little longer for this season. There is no hiding how smart Tomlin is now, but that was never the whole book on him.

A few weeks after he became the Steelers’ coach, Tomlin invited Hammons, a Pittsburgh native and lifelong Steelers fan, to his first minicamp. Tomlin showed him the five Lombardi Trophies. He introduced him to the team’s chairman, Dan Rooney. Hammons was overwhelmed.

“We get out on the practice field, and he’d come over to me and say: ‘You know what, Terry? I could blow this whistle and all of the Pittsburgh Steelers would come running over. Do you want me to blow this whistle, Terry?’ ” Hammons said. “And he just laughs and walks away.”