Northern civil rights leaders like Jim McIntosh and Ermon Jones transformed American society by maintaining standards of personal and professional excellence between 1940 and 1970. McIntosh was the first African American elected as the Student Body President at Villanova University. He was an exceptional basketball player whose charisma and intellect carried him to a distinguished career in the FBI. His investigations into Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes were models that continue to educate new agents today. Ermon Jones also excelled on the basketball court as a youngster, but his academic success at Morgan State University open doors to his career as an engineer at Fort Monmouth, the main installation for the United States Army Materiel Command and coordinating site for the Army’s command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) efforts. Jones eventually served as the Chief of the Equal Employment Opportunity office at the fort.
Both men’s pursuit of excellence in every area of their lives relied on constant work and clear measures of productivity. Young professionals nationwide need to know more career-oriented role models to understand how to achieve success today. Too many recent college graduates have been trained to find the quickest, easiest strategies for immediate project completion. There is little sense of their company’s broader mission or its organizational tactics. The ennui of filing paperwork and repeating cycles of monotonous activity kill new associates’ enthusiasm and creativity to produce new growth. From fresh recruits to seasoned managers, the process of maintaining high energy for achievement has been undermined for decades.
As early as fifth grade, educators struggle to keep the classroom full of vigor so that every student will eagerly anticipate the tasks of the day. By eleventh grade, the stakes of academic excellence increase as students and their families perceive that the opportunity of university education may escape their grasp due to years of inadequate work habits. Too often, high school seniors engage a mad dash to catch up with their peers who understood the process before starting junior high school. Inevitably, the latecomers fall short. Their SAT scores rarely rise above 1900. If they manage to matriculate, they struggle to graduate within six years. The survivors of the gauntlet carry their scars into office life where excellence becomes ever less relevant. It is a system that betrays everything McIntosh and Jones worked to accomplish.
Part of the frustration throughout the process comes from an unclear sense of goals. Clear benchmarks with specific rewards for high performance can combine with an environment that emphasizes creativity to undo the damage corporate offices and school systems have done for four decades. Even in the most desperate communities, a sense of the possible provides a blueprint for achievement. Norristown, Pennsylvania, and Freehold, New Jersey, earned 7 billion and 5 billion USD in 2007 – small suburbs with working-class households. Newark, New Jersey; Jackson, Mississippi; and Cleveland, Ohio, earned 8 billion, 6 billion, and 15 billion USD, respectively. Atlanta, Georgia, and New Orleans, Louisiana earned 21 billion and 10 billion. Detroit, Michigan – now facing bankruptcy and total reorganization – earned 32 billion that year. Everyone in these communities has the opportunity to participate in a process to generate and distribute this massive wealth more equitably. Senior citizens and anchor institutions (banks, realtors, large companies) must pool their resources to better engage local immigrants, civil rights organizations, and youth groups. Make a phone call or send an email to advance this process today.
Dr. Walter Greason is the keynote speaker for the Norristown Men of Excellence inaugural awards banquet on December 7, 2013, and the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).