Our Black Leaders
The historical civil rights movement may have come and gone, but the effort for new civil rights continues.
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After Gerald Rocha accompanied his son to a basketball program at F. Niel Postlethwait Middle School in Camden, he began a six-year stint with Creative Mentoring, then co-founded the Delaware Youth Leadership Academy. Today he is working both with Big Brothers Big Sisters Delaware and Creative Mentoring to instill the leadership skills he helped develop through his Youth Leadership Academy. “I’m an advocate to anyone wishing to better the lives and futures of today’s youth,” says Rocha, who officially retired from a 20-year Air Force career this month. Rocha estimates that he has mentored more than 100 Dover-area youth, and now envisions mentees better equipped with the leadership skills necessary to live successful adult lives.
S. Renee Smith
By the time she was 18, “I already knew I’d be doing what I am now doing,” Smith says. What the model, TV talk show host, producer and entrepreneur does is “help people find their voice, image and confidence to get what they want out of life.” The author of “There is More Inside,” Smith works with multinational corporations, national organizations and entrepreneurs. Her latest initiative is the Value Proposition, “taking people to their place of pain,” which is key to understanding why they are where they are and what they need to do to transform their lives. “You have to understand the process before you can maximize your learning experience.”
Since joining the United Way of Delaware, Michelle Taylor sought to transform the agency from its traditional fundraising role to one having a more direct community impact. “Current economic forces have shifted our focus for the time being to a narrower one of simply working to provide food, shelters and help with basics like utility bills for the clients of our partner agencies,” Taylor says. Still, she is keeping United Way committed to its long-range goals in the areas of early childhood education, helping families save for and buy a home, developing a college-educated, entrepreneurial workforce, and increasing access to affordable health care. “With the help of our corporate partners, we’ve managed to connect more than 14,000 residents to health services,” she says.
Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery’s roots in segregated Gastonia, North Carolina, informed her vision for Delaware’s schools. “We were basically a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood that nevertheless understood the importance of a good education,” she says. “We were expected to do well, and considering school as anything other than cool was not a negotiable option.” Such values guide Lowery today. “We have to educate everyone, not just children, but parents and community leaders, too, if we are to be successful. We have to accept that not all parents are in a position to actively participate. Yet we must rely on those parents to at least instill and reinforce the importance of education for their children at home, regardless of economic status. We’ll teach the math and English when they get to class.”
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