Manchester Magazine Fall 2017 - Page 31

MU| F e a t u r e s J im Colon ’74 never forgets where he came from. Gary, Ind., in the 1960s and early ’70s was a particular place in a particular time, and it informs his particular and ongoing journey. The Manchester University trustee – retired now from Toyota, where he worked for 36 years and was most recently vice president for African-American business strategy – grew up in a working class family in a working class steel town, and he attended Manchester during a time of awakening social conscience. He has lived a life of service that owes much to both. “I would say internally it comes from a sense of wanting to help others. And also feeling a little bit fortunate,” Colon says of his devotion to community outreach. “I look at where I started, and for a kid that grows up in a steel town in northwest Indiana, you may or may not think that you’re gonna have an opportunity to do much beyond those borders, unless you expand your thoughts. So I consider myself so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be exposed to so many different things, and I try to deliver that message to others.” He’s done so in a variety of ways. In addition to his work with Toyota, Colon sat on the board of directors of The Black Star Project, a Chicago-based community organization committed to improving the quality of life for African-Americans and Latinos’ academic achievement. He’s served on the board of First Tee of South Los Angeles, an outreach group that uses golf to provide educational programs for largely African-American youths. For his work, he was named in 2013 as one of Los Angeles Most Influential African- American Movers And Shakers by the Los Angeles Wave Publishing Group. And he’s the recipient of honorary degrees from Grambling State University and Martin University. It’s all a product, again, of both place and time, which for Colon includes Manchester in the 1970s. A graduate of Gary Roosevelt High School, he initially attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, before transferring to Manchester in 1971 because he wanted to be closer to home, and because a counselor at Roosevelt had recommended Manchester. “You know how it is when you’re young and looking for someplace to go to school,” Colon recalls. “I think I kind of stumbled here into Manchester.” Like a lot of college campuses in the early ’70s, it was a time of transition. A year before Colon arrived, African-American students had staged a sit-in at Petersime Chapel to push for an intercultural center. “I did interact with people who were here at the time,” Colon says. “It was a time where there were many dialogues going on on college campuses all across the country – dialogues about equality, access, how people were going to interact with one another. And all of those dialogues weren’t always smooth dialogues. That especially might have been the case at Manchester – where producing not just graduates but graduates with a commitment to improving the world around them has always been a point of emphasis. “That’s part of the mission, developing people of ability and conviction,” Colon says. “I don’t think that always happens in the classroom. I think a lot of that is what we experience in a community of individuals where we’re all tied together. And how we see ourselves beyond those borders. “We’re only gonna be at a college campus, hopefully, a defined period of time. What are you gonna do with the rest of your time? What are you gonna do with the rest of your lives? What kind of impact do you want to have on others, and is that your main focus? How do you make your own neighborhood better, and how do you interact with other people and make sure people walk away with a positive experience?” Jim Colon, surely, has asked all those questions. And as both a Manchester graduate and a man of his time and place, he has answered them to the fullest extent of his ability. “(I try to say) ‘Hey, think about yourself in terms you probably never visualized,’” he says. “I think that message kind of resonates with young people. Just to challenge them to do more than you think you can today.” By Benjamin Smith “There were difficult discussions taking place in a world that was just changing so, so rapidly all the time. It was an interesting time.” Manchester | 31