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Real Role Models

Real Role Models
Successful African Americans Beyond Pop Culture

Profiles of twenty-three high-level Black professionals introduce African American youths to role models for career success beyond sports and entertainment.

February 2010
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182 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 | 15 b&w photos, 1 table |

All young people need good role models, and black youth especially need positive and real examples beyond the famous and wealthy people they see on SportsCenter highlights and MTV Cribs. While success as a celebrity athlete or entertainer may seem like an achievable dream, the reality is that young African Americans have a much greater chance of succeeding in the professions through education and hard work—and a mentor to show them the path. Real Role Models introduces high school and college-age African Americans to twenty-three black professionals who have achieved a high level of success in their chosen fields and who tell their stories to inspire young people to pursue a professional career and do the work necessary to achieve their dreams.

Some of the individuals profiled by Joah Spearman and Louis Harrison, Jr., include Leonard Pitts, Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist for the Miami Herald; Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of Vibe; and Dr. Tim George, Chief of Pediatric Neuroscience at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. They and other interviewees describe their backgrounds, career paths, and desire to give back by helping others reach their goals. Representing a wide range of occupations, these real role models prove to African American youths that a whole world of successful, rewarding careers awaits them.

The Real Role Models

  • Rufus Cormier, JD, Partner at the Baker Botts Law Firm, Houston, Texas
  • Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Washington, D.C.
  • Eric Motley, PhD, Managing Director of the Aspen Institute's Henry Crown Fellowship Program, Aspen, Colorado
  • James McIntyre, Spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Washington, D.C.
  • Tracie Hall, Assistant Dean and Librarian at Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois
  • Kimberlydawn Wisdom, MD, Surgeon General of the State of Michigan, Lansing, Michigan
  • Timothy George, MD, Chief of Pediatric Neuroscience at Dell Children's Medical Center, Austin, Texas
  • Victoria Holloway Barbosa, MD, Ethnic Dermatologist and Former Executive for L'Oreal, Chicago, Illinois
  • Bill Douglas, White House Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, Washington, D.C.
  • Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for the Miami Herald, Miami, Florida
  • Danyel Smith, Editor of Vibe Magazine, New York, New York
  • Ed Stewart, Managing Director of External Communications for Delta Airlines, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Lynn Tyson, Vice President of Investor Relations for Dell, Austin, Texas
  • Willie Miles, Jr., Founder and CEO of Miles Wealth Management, Houston, Texas
  • Horace Allen, Founder and CEO of TeamPact, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Deavra Daughtry, President and CEO of Excellent Care Management, Houston, Texas
  • Je'Caryous Johnson, Founder and CEO of I'm Ready Productions, Houston, Texas
  • Steve Jones, Cofounder of a graphic design company, Oakland, California
  • Isiah Warner, PhD, Chemistry Professor at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings, PhD, Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Bernard Muir, Athletic Director at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
  • Craig Littlepage, Athletic Director at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Beverly Kearney, Women's Track Coach at the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction by Louis Harrison, Jr., PhD
  • Part One: What They Are and Why We Need Them
    • Chapter 1. Why We Need Real Role Models
    • Chapter 2. Defining a Role Model
    • Chapter 3. They Are More Important than Ever
  • Part Two: Who They Are
    • Chapter 4. Moms: Our Personal Real Role Models
    • Chapter 5. Rufus Cormier, JD
    • Chapter 6. Melody Barnes
    • Chapter 7. Eric Motley, PhD
    • Chapter 8. James McIntyre
    • Chapter 9. Tracie Hall
    • Chapter 10. Civil Rights and Real Role Models
    • Chapter 11. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, MD
    • Chapter 12. Timothy George, MD
    • Chapter 13. Victoria Holloway Barbosa, MD
    • Chapter 14. Bill Douglas
    • Chapter 15. Leonard Pitts, Jr.
    • Chapter 16. Danyel Smith
    • Chapter 17. Are We Really "Keepin' It Real"?
    • Chapter 18. Ed Stewart
    • Chapter 19. Lynn Tyson
    • Chapter 20. Willie Miles, Jr.
    • Chapter 21. Horace Allen
    • Chapter 22. Deavra Daughtry
    • Chapter 23. Je'Caryous Johnson
    • Chapter 24. Do We Really Lack Real Role Models?
    • Chapter 25. Steve Jones
    • Chapter 26. Isiah Warner, PhD
    • Chapter 27. Gloria Ladson-Billings, PhD
    • Chapter 28. Bernard Muir and Craig Littlepage
    • Chapter 29. Beverly Kearney
  • Part Three: How They Do It
    • Chapter 30. Qualities of Real Role Models
    • Chapter 31. Self-Esteem Is Not Self-Taught
    • Chapter 32. Education: A Real Ticket to Success
    • Chapter 33. Being a Real Role Model
    • Chapter 34. Final Thoughts
  • About the Authors

Joah Spearman attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he became the first person in his immediate family to receive a four-year college degree in 2005. Currently, he lives in Austin, Texas, where he consults with companies and nonprofits on social media and is working on a book about the city's live music scene.

Louis Harrison, Jr., is Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education and the Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life was ended far too soon, the assassin's bullet couldn't shoot down his legacy, his dream, or, most of all, his desire for a day when we all would be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. The election of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president is a testament to that. Dr. King envisioned an America without racism and prejudice, but also without inequality. He often spoke of this ideal: a nation where every young black boy and girl, like their white counterparts, would grow up with ample opportunities to become successful people. We now know that holding even the world's most powerful job is within our reach if we set our minds to it.


This book grabs ahold of Dr. King's dream and channels that positive energy and boundless vision into a single concept: role models. It is not hard to believe that Dr. King would be pleased with some of today's black role models and the opportunities presented to today's black youth. And he would likely be displeased with others.


So in writing about black role models, we have tried to capture many of the experiences, perspectives, and thoughts of people who, like President Obama, are following in Dr. King's footsteps. Though they are not civil rights leaders or politicians, these men and women are trying to make a difference by making something of themselves professionally, modeling what it means to be successful, and reaching back to help others along the way.


In making something of themselves, they have advanced Dr. King's mission by becoming role models for future generations of African Americans, generations inspired by King and idolizing the Obamas. And they have done so while striving to make Dr. King's dream a reality not only for themselves, but also for black youth, who can learn from their struggles and follow in their footsteps.


We honor them as real role models.

I am not a role model.

Charles Barkley, former NBA MVP and Hall of Famer


In the past fifteen years, much has been written—everything from then-first lady Hillary Clinton's "it takes a village to raise a child" to Barkley's famous words above—about the importance of parents, teachers, and mentors in helping children become successful adults. In this book we have not looked primarily at what mix of adult interaction is appropriate in order for young people to become formidable adults. Nor have we concerned ourselves with the question whether athletes and entertainers should serve as role models, as Barkley would have us do. (In fact, many people in both professions prove themselves to be role models each day: Snoop Dogg sponsors a youth football league, Jay-Z raises awareness about the need for clean water in Africa, and Oprah Winfrey has inspired a generation of young black women.)


Instead, we focus on successful, and largely unknown, black professionals and what makes them real role models. We felt that it was important, for the black community as a whole as well as for other successful blacks, to discover what it means to be a real role model and which qualities of role models are worth emulating. We were especially interested in helping you—whether you are a high school student or a parent—get to know real role models who have gained little fame despite making a large difference in the lives of others.


And we aren't alone in seeing why real role models are so important. Trish Millines Dziko, the creator of, wrote, "Nearly every time the discussion of African American role models comes up, the people who are mentioned are athletes, entertainers, hip hop and rap artists 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."


It is no surprise that since many media outlets, from MTV to ESPN, glorify celebrities' lives, many young black people want to be the next Beyoncé or LeBron before they want to attend college or become a doctor or engineer. Put another way: while striving to achieve hoop dreams (or Hollywood dreams), many young blacks are having academic nightmares. Even Barkley himself, during an interview on CNN, said, "Most of our [black] role models are athletes and entertainers. We got to get black kids to be educated."


With those words, we come full circle. By sharing some amazing stories of people who used determination, hard work, and resilience to become successful, we hope to show you who should be considered a real role model. Today, even Charles Barkley agrees that real role models are necessary. And truth is, they can be found in many places besides basketball arenas, music studios, and movie sets. And the Oval Office is just one of the possibilities.



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