Naperville career panelists aim to inspire black students

 
 
Updated 10/25/2016 9:30 AM
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  • Tiffany Sanders, an entrepreneur and psychologist with her own offices in Chicago and two suburbs, says a job like hers is best for students who like to be in charge and enjoy seeing their hard work pay off.

      Tiffany Sanders, an entrepreneur and psychologist with her own offices in Chicago and two suburbs, says a job like hers is best for students who like to be in charge and enjoy seeing their hard work pay off. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

  • Jeremy Christian, assistant principal at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville Unit District 203, introduces six members of a career fair panel intended to show black and other minority students examples of successful professionals who "look like them."

      Jeremy Christian, assistant principal at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville Unit District 203, introduces six members of a career fair panel intended to show black and other minority students examples of successful professionals who "look like them." Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

  • Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville has 69 black students out of 888 in the full student body, and nearly all of them attended a career fair Monday intended to show them accomplished professionals who set an example of success.

      Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville has 69 black students out of 888 in the full student body, and nearly all of them attended a career fair Monday intended to show them accomplished professionals who set an example of success. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

Six black professionals shared stories of how to succeed despite being different with an audience made up of their former selves -- nearly all of the 69 black students at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville.

Those students made up the vast majority of roughly 75 teens who snacked on pizza and cookies in the gym Monday while hearing what it takes to be a music producer, a secret service agent, an accountant, an entrepreneur, a psychologist and a government administrator.

It takes big dreams, hard work, dedication, education, sacrifice, preparation, communication and leadership, said panelists recruited by Assistant Principal Jeremy Christian and members of the SUCCESS parent organization led by Kim Henderson.

Black students are just as talented as any others, said panelist Lee Henderson, a Naperville Unit District 203 parent who is one of roughly 1 percent of partners at the accounting firm Ernst & Young who are black.

"The only thing that's lacking is opportunity and exposure," he said.

Monday's career fair aimed to provide exposure to a world of work that requires attributes like a college degree, a strong musical talent and/or a willingness to work odd hours -- and always a belief in one's own potential.

After seeing role models in professional fields, Henderson said he hoped the black students among Jefferson's student body of 888 and the others who joined them at the career fair would be able to "dream bigger."

Christian agreed. He said he worked with SUCCESS, which stands for School Using Coordinated Community Efforts to Strengthen Students, to put together the first career fair for minority students "to give them an opportunity to see career professionals in a different light and really provide them with a visual of what it takes to be successful."

Christian probed the panelists' expertise in succeeding in a career world where black professionals often aren't the norm.

Being different can be tricky, and Henderson likened the feeling to forgetting to wear pajamas on pajama day or school colors on spirit day. But thriving while different comes down to confidence, said panelists Vanessa McClendon, who works as a deputy area director for the Social Security Administration, and Tiffany Sanders, a psychologist who runs three of her own clinics, including one in Naperville.

"You get used to being one of few," Sanders said. "It's OK. Use that difference to elevate yourself."

Confidence is best when it applies to both abilities and appearance.

"Be proud of who you are. Be proud of how you look. Be proud of how smart you are and you will go far," McClendon said. "Different doesn't equal deficient."

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