Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Pursuit of Happyness: Chris Gardner

Born February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Christopher Gardner never knew his father. He lived with his mother, Bettye Jean Gardner, whom he adored, and, when necessary, in foster homes. Despite a life of hardship and emotional scarring, his mother provided him with strong "spiritual genetics" and taught him some of the greatest lessons of his life, which he follows to this day.

She convinced him that in spite of where he came from, he could attain whatever goals he set for himself by saying, "If you want to, one day you could make a million dollars." Gardner believed this to be fact, and knew he would have to find a career he could be passionate about, and one that would allow him to "be world-class at something."

Though hard working and tenacious, a series of circumstances in the early 1980’s left him homeless in San Francisco and the sole guardian of his toddler son. Though unwilling to give up Chris, Jr. or his dream of financial independence, and without connections or a college degree, he still somehow earned a spot in a stockbroker training program. Often spending his nights in a church shelter or the bathroom at a train station in Oakland, Gardner ended up the sole trainee offered a job at Dean Witter Reynolds in 1981.

Today, he’s the CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, a company he founded with offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The amazing story of his life was published as an autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, and is the inspiration for the new movie of the same name starring Will Smith.

Having surmounted acute obstacles on his road to success, Gardner is an avid motivational speaker, addressing the keys to self-empowerment, beating odds, and breaking cycles. He is also a passionate philanthropist committed to many charitable organizations. He has two children and resides in Chicago and New York. Here, he reflects on the film about his life.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lean On Me: Joe Clark

Many bemoan the American public school classroom as a place where young people cannot learn, where drugs are more prevalent than textbooks, where violence and vandalism make corridors look like war zones. For a myriad of reasons, the sad fact that many American public schools are waging a losing battle to complete their mission of training future generations to lead America.
In September 1982, during the first day of class at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, a student was stabbed. In 1983, things would be different. The school's new principal, Joe Clark, would be the reason why.

A former Army drill instructor, Joe Clark sees education as a mission. He worked while attending high school to support his mother and siblings. He then went on to get his B.A. from William Paterson College and a Master's Degree from Seton Hall University. The feisty and polsyllabic-speaker Clark was made for the helm of Eastside High. After two years of his leadership, the formerly raucous institution was declared a model school by New Jersey's governor. Clark himself was named one of the nation's ten "Principals of Leadership" in 1986.

Clark thwarts those who believe that the learning process is disrupted by tough discipline. Instead of offering sympathy, Clark held high expectations for students, challenging them to develop habits for success and confronting them when they failed to perform. On a single day during his first week at Eastside, Clark expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, drug possession, profanity or abusing teachers. He explains, "If there is no discipline, there is anarchy. Good citizenship demands attention to responsibilities as well as rights."

Clark won acclaim for his achievements in a Time cover story, two 60 minutes profiles, ad appearances on television news and talk shows, all over the world. President Reagan named him a model educator and offered him a White House post as policy advisor (Clark turned him down.) Clark was the subject of the Warner Brothers film, "Lean On Me", starring two-time Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman as Joe Clark. After seven years as principal of Eastside High, he resigned in 1990 and began speaking on the country's lecture circuit. He is a nominee for the National Association of Campus activities 1996 Speaker of the Year Award.

He began his latest crusade in August 1995, when he was appointed director of Essex County Detention House, a juvenile Detention center in Newark, N.J. He says he accepted this challenging position because he is committed to Newark, where he grew up. " I will stay until I have brought about the change, " Clark says. "I can't think of anything more noble."

Through his book Laying Down The Law, his speeches, and his activities as director of Essex County Detention Center -- Clark shares his strategies and success stories with teachers, school boards, parents, businessmen and students. His message is one of pride in self. He believes that "every day, pride in self and school must be reinforced. Every day, the value of academics must be demonstrated." And every day, Joe Clark demonstrates, through his own shining example, how commitment to youth can make America's future leaders better citizens and better people.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Men of Honor: Chief Carl Brashear

Carl Brashear was the first African American Master Diver in the U.S. Navy, despite a crippling injury.He was born in Tonneyville, Kentucky on January 19, 1931 to a sharecropper family and raised in Sonora, Kentucky.

Master Chief Brashear joined the Navy in February 1948 at the age of 17.Confined to the galley, like most Blacks and Filipinos of the era, Master Chief Brashear decided to make deep-sea diving his profession which was unheard of for a Black American sailor at the time.He was admitted to the Navy Dive School and overcame a seventh grade education to have a notable career as a navy diver. In 1966, he was badly injured in an accident during the recovery of a nuclear warhead in the Mediterranean. Surgeons had to amputate his left leg below his knee.

Master Chief Brashear refused to submit to medical survey boards in an attempt to retire him as unfit for duty. He demonstrated that he could still dive and perform other duties. In 1970, Master Chief Carl Brashear qualified as the first Black master diver in the history of the U.S. Navy.In 1998, he became one of only seven enlisted men to be enshrined in the naval archives.Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Maxie Brashear, USN (Ret.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Marva Collins Story: Marva Collins

Marva Collins grew up in Atmore, Alabama at a time when segregation was the rule. Black people were not permitted to use the public library, and her schools had few books, and no indoor plumbing. Nonetheless, her family instilled in her an awareness of the family’s historical excellence and helped develop her strong desire for learning, achievement and independence. After graduating from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia, she taught school in Alabama for two years. She moved to Chicago and taught in Chicago’s public school system for fourteen years.

Her experiences in that system, coupled with her dissatisfaction with the quality of education that her two youngest children were receiving in prestigious private schools, convinced her that children deserved better than what was passing for acceptable education. That conviction led to her decision to open her own school on the second floor of her home. She took the $5,000 balance in her school pension fund and began her educational program with an enrollment of her own two children and four other neighborhood youngsters.

Thus, Westside preparatory School was founded in 1975 in Garfield Park, a Chicago inner-city area. During the first year, Marva took in learning disabled, problem children and even one child who had been labeled by Chicago public school authorities as borderline retarded. At the end of the first year, every child scored at least five grades higher proving that the previous labels placed on these children were misguided. The CBS program, 60 Minutes, visited her school for the second time in 1996. That little girl who had been labeled as border line retarded, graduated in 1976 from college Summa Cum Laude. It was documented on the 60 Minutes programs in 1996. Marva’s graduates have entered some of the nation’s finest colleges and universities, such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, to mention just a few. And, they have become physicians, lawyers, engineers, educators, and entered other professions.

Ms. Collins has received many accolades in recognition of her outstanding work with children. She was featured on Good Morning, America, 20/20, Fox News, and many more programs too numerous to list. A made-for-television movie titled, The Marva Collins Story starred Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman first aired in1 1982, and is still presented on television. Some of her awards include:

- The Jefferson Award for Benefiting the Disadvantaged
- The Humanitarian Award for Excellence
- Legendary Women of the World Award
- Many honorary doctoral degrees from universities such as
Amherst, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, and Clark University
- The prestigious National Humanities Medal from President Bush in 2004

She has turned the responsibilities of running her school over to her daughter, Cynthia B. Collins, who was one of the first students in the Westside Preparatory School. Today, Marva Collins trains teachers in her educational program and methodology. Her curriculum is based on classical literature, and other subject material that contain ideas, lofty thoughts, and abstract concepts. The purpose is to teach children the values that hold societies together and that present to students thoughts that may be interpreted differently. Fourth graders in her school, for example, read Plato’s dialogue, The Republic. In it, Plato asks, “What is justice?” Justice has different meaning, according to one’s viewpoint or interpretations. The students are encouraged to express their own opinion. And, as any observer of Ms. Collins classes will attest, the children are eager to participate in classroom discussions, and their verbal skills are outstanding as are their reasoning abilities. Her students are taught to appreciate the nuances of language, how to analyze and challenge what they read, and to express their opinions. They learn to contrast their own ideas with the differing ones as expressed by the other students.

Ms. Collins has spoken to many major corporations including The National Girl Scouts, The National Retailers Association, The National Dairy Association, The European Division of IBM, Xerox Corporation, The Million Dollar Roundtable, The Young President’s Organization (YPO), The National Bankers’ Association, Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and she has trained executives of Long John Silvers. Corporations have accurately discerned that the same skills Ms. Collins develops in her students are applicable in successful business entities.