HistoryMakers visit region to inspire youth

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September 26, 2014 – Carmen McCollum

Robert Blackwell Sr. remembers a time as a youngster growing up in Philadelphia when businessmen did not look like him.

The 77-year-old entrepreneur spoke to dozens of juniors and seniors at Hammond High School and told them his parents worked hard to raise him and his four brothers. Blackwell remembers a time when he told a high school counselor he wanted to go into business.

Blackwell did well in school and at football, and a stint in the army got him into college. He began his career at IBM in 1966 as a systems engineer designing applications for government institutions, hospitals and universities. In 1989, Blackwell was director of IBM’s Global Services Operation in the Midwest managing more than 250 people and generating more than $300 million in revenue for the company. Blackwell, who lives in Beverly Shores, retired in 1992 and started Blackwell Global Consulting, a management and information technology company, which he continues to operate.

Blackwell is a member of the HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African-American video oral history archive. More than 400 black leaders are visiting schools in 61 cities across the country as part of the 5th Annual Back-to-School with the HistoryMakers program on Friday.

Blackwell advised students to figure out what they wanted to do in life and work toward that goal. “I attribute my road to success to my mother and father. They insisted that I be independent and that I work,” he said.

Blackwell also talked about soft skills that students need, such as being on time and being willing to work. He told students he would not hire anyone who was not willing to be at work early and willing to stay late, if necessary.

Hammond High School football player and senior Santiago Andrade, 17, was impressed with what Blackwell had to say and wasn’t afraid to go up and talk to him about the importance of leadership.

“I wanted him to tell us more about leadership,” Andrade said. “It’s like a prerequisite for success. A lot of kids need to learn how to be a leader. I believe a leader is someone you can look up to who spreads his or her knowledge by teaching others.”

Senior Ebony Faye, 16, asked Blackwell whether he was happy. Faye said not everyone who is successful is happy. “I was curious to know how he felt about that and whether success had brought him happiness,” she said.

Blackwell told students he is very happy. He said he has been married to his wife, Marjilee, for 56 years and has four adult children, all of whom are successful entrepreneurs.