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Return to Book Page. Louis Harrison Jr. 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 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.

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.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published February 1st by University of Texas Press. More Details Other Editions 4. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Real Role Models , please sign up. Lists with This Book.

Community Reviews. Showing Simmons, a brilliant marketer, has branched out to fashion design. How did he create a business based on rebellious black culture and make it as American as apple pie? Simmons's genius was to take an underground movement and turn it into the common language of American popular culture. Where did his understanding of the entrepreneurial system come from? There was never an interest in giving me a job, or even making a record deal, so we started our own company.

I wanted to be in the fashion business. Do you think anybody wanted to hire me or give me a job? I wanted to be in the advertising business. These things had to be forged with a little bit of resilience and vision. All I had was drug dealers, some numbers runners, and an occasional pimp. They were the entrepreneurs. Now all these young people have images. It's true that a lot of them are hardheaded and kind of twisted and unsophisticated. That's why they did it in the first place. You think if they spoke the King's English, if they went to school and were told, do what you're supposed to do, that they'd be doing what they're doing?.

They came from the street and they did what they had to do and they created what they've created. But Puffy's a much greater hero, a much greater inspiration," said Simmons. The same sophistication and education that guys like Parsons and Chenault have can come from some of our kids who will have enough experience to take on businesses that have smaller margins.

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We are spreading out. Do you know how many energy drinks are made by kids in the ghetto? And the education part of it, they all recognize it's necessary. For Simmons, the inner city is a font of entrepreneurial activity; the black entrepreneur is the true black revolutionary today, the inheritor of the legacy of Maroons and other renegades from slavery, the "bad nigger" characters in traditional black folklore and literature.

These figures stole the white man's secrets, penetrated the logic of the system, and then used these acquisitions to attempt to liberate black people.

Where once the means to our freedom was thought to be literacy, or reclaiming the principles of the Declaration of Independence, or utilizing the legal system-or taking up guns-for hip-hop entrepreneurs, the means, according to Simmons, is hardheaded capitalism, and the goal, massive profits. Is Simmons a visionary who has redefined the black entrepreneur as the new urban revolutionary? As he rightly argues, the black ghetto has always been full of entrepreneurs; moreover, success in that world doesn't even require a high school diploma or a college degree, opening up, as it does, economic opportunities otherwise closed to so many African Americans whose choices are limited because of their education.

We certainly need more entrepreneurs in the inner city, but not at the expense of education. In a highly technological world, formal education is the principal conduit out of poverty, just as it has been for our people since slavery and the days of Jim Crow. Our people's need to stay in school is even greater and more urgent today than it was back then, in harsher times under legal segregation. Simmons is correct that success in this world doesn't require a high school diploma.

But that also concerns me. Does the kind of success that Russell Simmons- and hip-hop-encourages also help our kids to get an education and expand their options? From Simmons's office in Midtown Manhattan, I went to see another African-American icon, one who uses his particular genius to seduce inner-city children into the love of learning and the value of school.

Maurice Ashley is the world's first and only black Grand Master in chess- a title held by only seven hundred people in history. Ashley is the Tiger Woods of chess. As with golf, we think of chess as a pastime of the upper middle class. Ashley was born into poverty in Jamaica, then grew up in the inner city in Brooklyn. Perhaps more than anyone else, he has helped to make chess black. I asked Ashley why chess, of all things, would be relevant to black people. It's much harder for inner-city kids to understand why they should learn something that seems to have no meaning for their future life.

But in chess, I'll show kids a move and five minutes later they can use it against their friend. In another five or ten minutes, they'll win the game and come back to me and say, show me something else, 'cause I just won that game and I wanna win again. It's self-reinforcing. By the time I was seven or eight, I could beat the other kids and I could compete with all the adults," Ashley said.

In America, he told me, "in tenth grade, when I was fourteen, I had a friend who played chess a lot. I thought, I'm better at games than all the rest of the kids, so I'm going to play this guy and beat him. He crushed me. It was ugly. Then one day when I was at the library, I came across a book on chess. It was love at first sight. That's when I discovered that reading could open your mind to the wonders of everything you wanted to know.

For the first time, I understood the power of books, because after I started reading them, I began crushing players I couldn't beat before.

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In , Ashley shook the chess world-and America-when his team from Harlem, the Raging Rooks, beat elite white private schools to become national champions. Stereotypically, black people weren't supposed to excel at intellectual activities, and these inner-city black kids had won a national chess tournament! This was news.


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Ashley realized that chess could be the lure to hook schoolchildren into attending school regularly and focusing on their classwork. Chess could be a "black thing," its mental rigor and discipline transferred into new study habits in every other school subject. By kids learning chess, grades-and graduation rates-would go up.

In , at the Mott Hall School in Harlem, he and businessman- philanthropist Dan Rose helped establish an educational program in which chess was an integral part of the curriculum.

It amazes me in the generation of fast food and video games that kids would have the patience for chess, so I asked Ashley if this is a problem. They sit and memorize and study so that when they get into actual competition they'll be ready The great thing about chess is that it's practical. I asked him if the kind of thing he's accomplishing with chess can be exported throughout the community.

Chess insists that you use your mind. You can't play the game without it. But success does too; that's what success is all about, having a direction I think we're approaching a time when kids' aspirations will be much, much higher than they were.

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We have a long way to go to put the structures in place that can finally bring about progress racewide, but we're closing in on the effort psychologically We have people striving in all walks of life. Ashley invited me to see another inner-city program, called HEAF, that is literally putting these ideas into practice. HEAF-the Harlem Educational Activities Fund-is dedicated to helping students who are being failed by their schools to get a solid education. The program takes kids from junior high school and gets them all the way through college, teaching them that education is their ticket out.

He summarized his philosophy of education this way:. It is the challenge.

The Source of Black Poverty Isn't Black Culture, It's American Culture

Anyone who doesn't see it or who doesn't address it is not living in the real world For Ashley and Rose, the long-term success of our people depends upon education, leading inevitably to a greater slice of the economic pie. And the economic pie is baked in the corporate world, symbolized by Wall Street-a world traditionally as "white" as chess.

Who would have believed just a few years ago that four of the world's largest corporations would be run by black men?