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Role models found in family


Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and Will Smith are celebrities and, some would argue, role models for youngsters.

But the likelihood that most youths would have an opportunity to seek advice from them is close to nil.

That is one of the reasons it is important that children emulate positive people within their families, said Carolyn Jordan Alexander, adviser to the Black Student Union at Atholton High School.

"Too many young people don't know their history, and if children could identify with those who came before them, they wouldn't do negative things," she said.

Alexander and her husband, Robert Alexander Jr., organized a Black History Month program at the high school last week, highlighted by students' speeches about family members who have set positive examples for others to follow.

Using the theme "Together, We Make America Work," 14 students of diverse ethnic backgrounds told stories about mothers, uncles and cousins who overcame obstacles to achieve great things.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, also addressed the theme, telling the audience that all people - no matter their skin color - must work together to improve the country.

He explained that a person shouldn't be afraid to stand up for what's right, even in the face of danger. He added that people also should speak for themselves and not look to a "clique" to represent them.

Cummings told the youngsters that they should strive to achieve their goals no matter what circumstances they face.

"If a poor black boy from Baltimore that had parents who did not have a college education ... could graduate Phi Beta Kappa and become a U.S. congressman, then each of you can achieve your goals," he said.

Before the program got under way, some of the students discussed their stories in an interview.

Tubi Retta, a 16-year-old junior at Atholton, said she was proud of her uncle, Befacdu Tamrat, an aeronautical engineer who works for Boeing.

She said Tamrat, who was born in Ethiopia, helped design a plane that lands at a lower speed, allowing for shorter runways.

"I think it shows African-Americans can take on any roles and inspire others to do the same," she said.

Although Tubi enjoys math and science, she said she is not likely to follow in her uncle's footsteps.

"I like law and may attend UCLA," she said.

Cory Alexander's uncle, Edward Alexander, a chemistry professor at San Diego Mesa College, has had a positive effect on her life.

"He discovered new organic compounds that make it easier for chemists to do their jobs," said the 16-year-old 11th-grader, who hopes to work in the field of law.

In a letter written to his niece, Edward Alexander said the new organic compounds are "significant because, by studying them, scientists have gained new information on how organic matter can be bonded together."

Cory said she is proud to be related to such a distinguished man.

"He's been listed in Who's Who in America, American Men of Science and Who's Who in Black America," she said.

Bachar Satchell, a sophomore at Atholton, is proud to say he is a descendant of abolitionist Nat Turner.

"He's a great-cousin, and he was an abolitionist in the early 1800s who formed a rebellion against slavery," said Satchell, 15, who hopes to join the military or law enforcement after high school.

"The fact that he lived when the odds were against him serves as a good example to me," he said.

Christian Dixon, a 17-year-old senior, has to look no further than his home for a good role model. His mother was raised in a single-parent home with three siblings, but still graduated from high school.

While growing up, Christian's mother helped run the household while his grandmother went to work.

"It [his mother's experience] tells me that no matter what, you have to complete your goals in life," he said, adding that he hopes to attend a four-year university and become a child psychologist or counselor.

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