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ANN CONWAY

Role Call for Interested Citizens : Adult Mentors Take Pride in the Debuts of 18 Young Charges

October 24, 1994|ANN CONWAY

For Richard Oliver, a Tootsie Roll will never again be just a piece of candy.

"Every time I have a talk with my role model, he gives me one of these," Oliver, 14, said on Saturday, waving a Tootsie Roll as he chatted at the "Following in the Footsteps of Role Models" gala at the Sequoia Conference Center in Buena Park.

"He told me that every time he passes on knowledge to me, it's like passing on something sweet."

And how sweet it was at the 25th anniversary bash for Interested Citizens of Orange County, a black civic organization that provides educational and cultural opportunities for senior citizens and youth.

Eighteen young men took their places beside adult role models to demonstrate their commitment toward becoming solid citizens. And as many role models stood next to their charges to pledge support.

Randy Jordan, Oliver's role model, said he hopes to teach him that "perseverance and work pay off."

"He needs to keep and own the entrepreneurial spirit," added Jordan, a minister who also publishes the Black Orange, a magazine he calls "glue" for Orange County's black population. "And when times get tough, he needs always to turn to God."

Oliver's interest in advertising is what led the Interested Citizens group to match him up with Jordan.

"I want to go into advertising because I have some good ideas," said Oliver, who lives in Santa Ana with his parents, Everlena and Gale Oliver. "Like, if I was trying to sell some great tennis shoes, I'd have a 5-foot-3 basketball player like Spud Webb of the Sacramento Kings jumping real high, makin' dunks , in those shoes."

Said Everlena Oliver: "I like this program because it gives the boys a chance to see what is real in life, rather than what they have seen glamorized on television."

*

Before the young men made their "Beautillion" debuts before a 300-strong crowd, they socialized backstage with the young women who would escort them.

It's usually the other way around at presentation galas. Women make debuts and young men do the escorting.

And that was the problem 12 years ago when Harriet Tyler, founder of the Interested Citizens group, wanted to do something special for the black community.

"For many years our pageant had centered on girls," said Tyler, who lives in Orange. "And suddenly, there were so many other groups introducing young ladies we needed to think of a better idea. Someone suggested we introduce young men and it's been a successful program for us."

The group's role-model concept was established five years ago. "There are so many of these young boys who do not have fathers in the home that we decided to follow the Big Brother concept," Tyler said. "We ask the boys what they hope to do later in life. And then we try to match them up with someone in that field. I am so proud tonight!"

Role model Eugene Wheeler, a health administrator who is president of 100 Black Men of Orange County, was proud to be there. "(100 Black Men) aims to provide enhancement for the quality of life in the black community here," he said. "We are men with resources and influence who have a commitment to give something back to the community, to participate. This is a great occasion."

Recently, Wheeler invited Jeremy Sears, his charge, to come to work with him. "He worked behind my desk, learned about our computer system, what we do," Wheeler said. "It was great--one of my best days. And my co-workers were inspired."

After the young men performed a march to the song "Soul Army," they performed in a talent show and then--resplendent in black tie--made their debuts before their families and friends.

"The best part of tonight is being able to walk around and feel like an important person," said Kevin McLemore, 15.

Jeffrey Brown, 16, agreed. "You get to learn things--what to do, what not to do," he said. "And it feels so good."

Also being presented were: Andre Allen; Eddie Baugh; Brian Bell; Cameron Brown; Anton Elder (grandson of Harriet Tyler); Rashad Ellis; Milton Fields; Michael Lawyer; Jonathan Mayfield; Wesley Oliver (brother of Richard Oliver); Terrence Peterson; Edward Prezzie; Christopher Robinson; and Aaron Tucker.

Mildred Smith was gala chairwoman. Yvonne Wooderts was co-chairwoman. Lewis Reed is chairman of Interested Citizens.

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