McDonough native featured in ESPN spot

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Johnny Jackson


His bedroom is essentially the same as he left it, when he graduated from Henry County High School in 1985. However, much has changed in the McDonough native's life since then.

He has authored four books, so far, and is known globally by a single quotation seen on the back of a Starbucks coffee cup. He has lectured as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Hong Kong, and plans to return to the East next month to speak to students in Taiwan.

Renford Reese, 42, has amassed a list of accomplishments so notable that the ESPN television network is featuring him in a series, called "Realizing The Dream." Reportedly, the series, airing in February and March, includes accounts from 13 people whose work benefits black Americans.

"I was humbled that they would feature me for something as significant as Black History Month," Reese said. "I was humbled by it. And then the other thing was ... I thought it would be great for my university, Cal Poly Pomona."

He was recently contacted by the U.S. State Department to represent the United States in Taiwan, where he will have 10 different speaking engagements, between March 15 and 19, according to Stacey Rose-Blass, of the State Department.

Reese will speak to students and faculty members about black history month and the significance of Barack Obama becoming the United States' first African-American president.

Reese, a political science professor at Cal Poly Pomona, in Pomona, Calif., is a noted author, whose books have covered topics about race and cultural apathy. His latest book, "American Bravado," was published in 2007, and included words that were eventually re-published in 2008 by Starbucks Coffee Company. The words read: "Insensitivity makes arrogance ugly; empathy is what makes humility beautiful."

Reese said he strives to live a life of empathy, relating to those who could benefit from his experiences and education. Last spring, he mentored 20 young adult parolees, aged 18 to 25, and helped provide them life-skills training, academic and career development, through a 10-week reintegration program in California, where he now lives.

He said the program was his part in "reaching back" and helping uplift the community. "If not us, who?" Reese said. "We've got the computers, and we've got the resources. My objective was to create a model that can be used other places. It's a program designed to reintegrate these young men back into society."

Reese said he began mentoring only after he felt comfortable in his own abilities to help guide others. "At first, you want to be the best you can be at your profession," he said. "You have to stay committed to what your profession is. You can't mentor until you reach a certain level of competency in your own profession. I can reach down now to young people, and also to peers, to show them my route to success."

Reese's father, Earnest Reese, said he is not surprised by his son's success.

"Early on, I saw something in him," his father said. "He was always a good student, always focused, and always sensible."

In high school, the young Reese was a member of the band and president of the student body. The straight-A student also lettered in four major sports, including football, which earned him a spot on the Vanderbilt University Commodores football squad.

While at Vanderbilt, he earned a bachelors degree in political science and a masters degree in public policy. He went on to earn a doctoral degree from the University of Southern California in public policy.

"He's been socially conscious all of his life," said his father. "He's just a driven individual, and I'm extremely proud of him. I've got a lot of faith in his potential and what he might do later on, on a larger scale."

His son directs the Colors Flags Program at Cal Poly Pomona, a program Reese started in an effort to dismantle existing language barriers in cultural melting pots like California.

"It's all in an effort to penetrate what I call 'the bubble of mistrust' -- this imaginary space between individuals," Reese said. "We value diversity, but we can't even say hello to our neighbors in their own language."

The program serves 140,000 students in the Golden State, and teaches them basic phrases in up to 25 languages.

Reese speaks several languages, himself, including Mandarin Chinese and some Cantonese. He said he often began lectures speaking Chinese, during his five-month tenure at the University of Hong Kong, where he taught American Studies as a Fulbright Scholar.