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Young Aurora African-American leaders focus of new documentary

In new documentary 'Trailblazers' seven young Aurorans discuss culture influences struggles their plans for future. Pictured: Rodney Boyd Jomar MendozCandace

In the new documentary, "Trailblazers," seven young Aurorans discuss culture, influences, struggles and their plans for the future. Pictured: Rodney Boyd, Jomar Mendoza, Candace Moore, Jamario Taylor, Kimberly Harris, Carlise Smith, Kyle Welton | City of Aurora

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Watch ‘The Trailblazers’

“The Trailblazers — A Documentary About Seven Young African-Americans,” produced and directed by Columbia College student Alexander Perez, can be seen on YouTube: youtube/ejJbRh6_Ykw

The documentary is sponsored by the African-American Heritage Advisory Board and the City of Aurora.

“Trailblazers” follows “El Futuro!: A Documentary of Aurora’s Emerging Latino Leaders,” which debuted during Hispanic Heritage Month in September 2013.

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Updated: March 26, 2014 6:16AM

Fifty years after Civil Rights leaders dismantled Jim Crow laws and set the nation on a path toward racial equality, there are students in Aurora — leaders in their own right — breaking barriers.

They’re still in the 20s, but included among their ranks are the first African-American female valedictorian at East Aurora High, the first African-American graduation speaker at Neuqua Valley, future politicians and policy experts. These “Trailblazers” represent the best of Aurora, where 10 percent of the city’s population identifies as African-American.

In a new documentary produced and directed by Alexander Perez, an intern in the City of Aurora Communications Department, young Aurora leaders talk challenges, inspiration and what it means to be black in the state’s second largest city.

‘It wasn’t the norm to succeed’

Jamario Taylor , East Aurora graduate, Western Illinois University student

From his first breath, life for Jamario was a challenge.

“Being born a crack baby, I was already against the odds. I wasn’t supposed to be able to breathe on my own, walk, run, jump.”

During part of middle and high school, Jamario’s family was homeless.

“[I remember] just staying strong for my mother. It was a constant battle, trying to be the baby of the family but still stretch my wings out large enough to protect my whole family. …Growing up, it wasn’t the norm to succeed.”

Fast forward 20 years, Jamario, a student at Western Illinois University, is one of the top high jumpers in the nation.

His goal now? Jamario plans to represent the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — “and hopefully bring back a nice shiny piece of metal.”

‘I battled…
back and forth’

Carlise Smith , Waubonsie Valley graduate, Columbia College student

Carlise, born to a white mother and African-American father, had to “deal with looking black on the outside, but people telling me I didn’t act black on the inside.”

“It was one of those things that I battled with back and forth. Did I have to choose? Did I have to act a certain way to be considered black or be considered white?”

That identity struggle was one of Carlise’s biggest challenges growing up. Today, she’s pursuing a career in entertainment, is inspired by Oprah, and in turn, wants to inspire others.

“Our people really struggle with the thought that they can go higher, that they can do more… that they can be the president of the United States,” Carlise said. “It’s more than just passing grades and making it by.”

is power’

Kim Harris , East Aurora graduate, Syracuse University graduate, Princeton University master’s graduate

Harris was the first African-American female valedictorian at East Aurora High School.

“The saying goes — knowledge is power. It’s cliché, but it’s true. The more that we understand about ourselves, our communities, and the way our country operates, the more power we have to actually change [it],” Kim said.

Kim finished her bachelor’s degree in public policy, political science and journalism from Syracuse University, and most recently, got her master’s in Public Affairs from Princeton University.

Now back in Aurora, Kim is doing public policy work for the city of Wheaton and serving as webmaster at her church. She had long-term plans of becoming a mayor or city manager and wants to put her talents to use to help black-owned businesses in Aurora.

a journey’

Candace Moore , West Aurora graduate, Loyola University graduate, Loyola University of Law School graduate

From high school to practicing Illinois attorney “has truly been a journey” for Candace Moore. The challenges she faced have dictated her course in life, she said.

“In high school, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was a struggle because it hit her all of a sudden.”

Candace’s mother was college educated, but single parenting wasn’t easy. “We still struggled with poverty. We still struggled with the welfare system… It’s funny sometimes when you look back at those situations, you’re like, ‘Wow. We were pretty poor,’” Candace said. “But parents have this sort of great way of making you feel like you’re worth a million bucks, that you have a million bucks.”

After her mother passed, Candace fought in the court system for custody of her sisters.

‘Future Fortune 500 leader’

Jomar Mendoza , West Aurora graduate, Indiana University-Purdue University student

Back in 2010, Jomar Mendoza was homecoming king, president of National Honor Society and ranked top 25 in his class. Since then, he hasn’t stopped studying. Today, Jomar is pursuing a mechanical engineering and mathematics at Indiana Unviersity-Purdue University. Next up, he plans to get his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, concentrating in fluid dynamics.

After that, Jomar wants to get a second master’s degree in business administration.

“I want to obtain a vice presidency or higher at a Fortune 500 company and give back to the community in major ways.”


Kyle Welton , Waubonsie Valley graduate, College of DuPage student

Like older brothers Adam and Josh, Kyle is a true entertainer.

When he’s not studying music production, Kyle is using music as a tool to spread the gospel.

“I want to impact lives forever. Go to different nations, to different countries, go to different schools and to truly impact their lives through music, through art,” Kyle said. “It’s more about spreading this Kingdom.”

Kyle plans to marry Carlise, also featured in the documentary, in June.

a voice’

Rodney Boyd , Nequa Valley graduate, Morehouse College student

Rodney Boyd was the first African-American to give the graduation speech at Neuqua Valley High, according to Aurora Director of Communications Clayton Muhammad.

Today, he’s still intent on using that voice.

Rodney is set to graduate this spring from Morehouse College with a degree in computer science. Next up, he plans to go to graduate school and become a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

“Giving back to the community and being a voice is extremely important to me.”

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