This 'n' That

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Who Is Richard Parsons?

There was Michael Jordan. There is Shaquille O'Neal, Koby Bryant, Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, to name a few of the African American icons of sports. Each one of them is idolized and looked up to by millions of young African Americans, male and female. The good news is that a small percentage of aspiring, young African American athletes are capable of reaching their goal of emulating, say, Lebron James, who has become a major NBA superstar with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the tender age of 19. He is not the first, but he is among the very few who command salaries into the mega-millions.

To achieve such a status at such a young age in any sport is near a super human feat. That is to say, next to impossible. To those who have done so, congratulations. The bad news is that a larger percentage of young, African American athletes who set out to achieve superstar status in any sport, in particular basketball, fail.

Most have devoted more time and energy to get to a level of a Koby Bryant or Lebron James than they have to academics. Hence, what are they left with after failure? Without a college degree, and barely a high school diploma, and no job skills to speak of, most end up impoverished economic and social outcasts. If only these young, African Americans had looked to Richard Parsons as a person to emulate instead.

Richard Parsons, chairman and CEO of Time-Warner, one of the largest corporations in the world. Richard Parsons, attorney, admired and mentored by Nelson Rockefeller. Richard Parsons, with virtually no banking experience, turned a savings bank from failure to success. Richard Parsons, an intellectually talented man of high character, aspirations and achievement, happens to be African American.

Yet, This 'n' That would bet its last dollar that not a single young, African American, male or female, knows of his existence. Let alone what he does for a living. The media and its skewed focus on African American sports figures, must accept much of the blame for not holding just as bright a light on Richard Parsons as it does on Shaquille O'Neal. Still, some of the responsibility must fall on our educators. It is of the utmost importance to begin to affect African American children as soon as they become aware, somewhat, of what is happening in the world. It is the time when they are most impressionable. Kindergarten would be a good place to begin to inform them of people like Richard Parsons as a person to admire and emulate.

This is not to say that African American sports icons ought not to exist or receive media attention. It is to say that if more emphasis was placed on academic success early in the lives of their youthful admirers, we might not have witnessed the shameful poverty of some African Americans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now is as good a time as any to begin anew. Convince, persuade young African Americans to focus on the books, rather than the ball. Apparently, Richard Parsons did.