Monday, September 22, 2008

Book of Role Models Aims to Inspire Youth

Last week, I interviewed a successful African American male business owner for an online magazine. He has surpassed many obstacles, including a stay in the foster care system as a teenager. Today, he operates a successful franchise and is the owner of a real estate company. In addition to asking him about his life growing up and the absence of his biological father and the impact it had on him, I asked him his thoughts on the staggering drop out rate in the black community. His response?

He said that once black professionals “make it” they forget about their community and where they came from – that they’re too busy in their ‘cliques’ to help one another out. He passionately shared, [and I’m paraphrasing] “Where are the professionals in the community that our black youth can look up to? Of course we have fire fighters and policemen, but where are the lawyers, doctors and other professionals? Why don’t they come back to the inner city schools and share their story of success? Why don’t they adopt a classroom for a year?”

He summed it up by sharing that many of the youth who drop out don’t have role models to look up to - something to aspire to – and that’s critical if we’re going to solve this crisis.

His suggestion of black professionals adopting urban classrooms is indeed a novel idea. If you’re a teacher residing in the Peoria, Illinois area and are looking for black professionals to adopt your classroom, you’re in luck.

Rita Ali, the Executive Director of Diversity at Illinois Central College has published the book, Role Models: Profiles of Successful African-American Professionals in Peoria, Illinois. This book contains profiles of 126 professionals from judges to lawyers and teachers to successful business men and women. They share their stories in hopes to inspire today’s youth.

Sure, this book is a great idea, but I became even more excited when I read that many of those profiled have agreed to serve as role models in some way.

Snippets from the article by Dave Haney via

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.
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.

[Bold emphasis mine] 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.
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.”

The book will be available at Illinois Central College bookstore starting September 25th for $20. All proceeds will benefit youth programs in the Peoria area.


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