20 Questions

(PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)

Joe Jordan

By Bonnie Blackburn
Growing up “dirt poor” as the youngest of 10 children, Joe Jordan could have gotten lost in the shuffle, particularly after his mother, Laura Mae Jordan, passed away when he was just 11 years old. But his father, the late Willie Jordan, and his nine older siblings made sure young Joe wouldn’t lack for role models of hard work, compassion and strong character.

Indeed, Jordan embraced those lessons and now, as executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs, he’s a role model himself for other underprivileged children in Fort Wayne — showing that hard work, determination and collaboration are the keys to a successful future.

What was it like growing up in Fort Wayne?
We were dirt poor. But it was great. I was the youngest of 10 children. I must have enjoyed it because I’m still here.


What strengths do you bring to this job?
I’m very passionate. I believe in our kids. I believe every kid is special. I’m also open to collaboration. I’m open to other people’s opinions. I have a very collaborative spirit. We all have to work together, the staff, the stakeholders and the board.


OK, then, what are your weaknesses?
Sometimes I’m overly passionate. I try to do too much. I don’t know how to say no.


How do you feel about being a role model for so many children?
It’s a privilege to be a role model. The responsibility is huge. It’s something I don’t take lightly. I know that whether I want to be or not, I am a role model. I’m very careful of the people who have supported me: I don’t ever want to let them down.


Who are your role models?
My brothers and sisters. My brother Charles is a master motivator. My brother Willie taught me the values of patience and tolerance. My brother Lafayette taught me the value of hard work. My brother Walter taught me about relationships and nurturing. My brother Art taught me the value of friendship. My brother Douglas taught me the value of personal conviction. My sister Suezette, she taught me the value of family. She became my mother after my mom died. My sister Diane is a nurturer … and my sister Lauretta is a genius. She has the ability to communicate with everybody. I am a total sum of my family.


Who else do you admire?
Ian and Mimi Rolland. These people exemplify what servant leadership is all about. That’s what they do, and they are definitely two people who are role models for this community.


You have a picture of you and President (then candidate) Barack Obama on the wall. What was it like meeting him?
It was amazing! I’ve met people like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — but there was something special about Barack. And then I met Bill Clinton the next week. I got the chance to meet two of the leaders of the world!


What’s your favorite children’s book?
The Harry Potter series. We’ve started a reading group, and we really want the boys to be reading.


Are you slowly going deaf from the noise all those kids make?
No! I love the noise of the children. I go upstairs (in the club) to hear them! The kids are my motivation.


Describe the typical child who comes to the Boys and Girls Club.
He’s coming from a single parent home. Lives below the poverty line. Struggling academically. Feeling a little hopeless. Our mission is to build up those kids who need us the most.


How is the economy affecting those children?
It’s affecting the kids, no doubt. You’ve got one or more parent out of work, a lot of stress in the household. And who is going to bear the brunt of that? It’s the kids.


What are some misconceptions about the Boys and Girls Club and how are you countering them?
I don’t think we’ve done enough to tell our story. People think we’re just a drop-off site where kids play basketball and shoot pool. But we have five core (programs) that support our goals of self (empowerment) and academic success. We focus on academics/career, leadership/character, arts, healthy choices and recreation/fitness.


What scares you?
This awesome privilege to be a role model scares me. I never want to let these kids down. I don’t want to let my son down.


What’s the worst advice you ever got?
Take a drink, smoke a blunt to deal with issues. I thank God that I had the intestinal fortitude not to do it.


If you had one super power, what would it be?
The gift of empowerment. It’s so important to value yourself. When you do, you make the right choices. When you don’t, you make bad choices.


Who was your favorite teacher?
Dr. Norma Friedman at Indiana Tech. She’s an outstanding lady. She not only taught you, she motivated you. She made you feel she was in tune with your own personal development.


If you could wave a magic wand and remove a societal ill, what would it be and why?
Classism, sexism, racism — those “isms” that divide us as people have really hurt us as a country. I would wipe those “isms” away.


What makes you see red?
Disrespectful kids. Showing disrespect to their elders is disturbing. Foul language, not speaking to their elders, dropping their pants down. And people blaming others for their own problems.


What’s your favorite memory?
Sundays eating dinner with family. Another is when I walked across     that stage getting my college degree, thinking there’s a lot of people saying “Oh, those kids won’t make anything of themselves” because we were really poor. When you tell me I can’t do something, I want to prove you wrong.


What makes you proud?
I have a lot to be proud of. My son and my family. I’m proud to be part of this organization and the national movement (of Boys and Girls clubs). We’re part of 4,000 clubs serving 4.8 million kids. I’m proud to be a part of that. I’m proud that I’m leading a life of significance. I want my life to be of significance. I’m proud I’m able to look back on my life and know … that I’ve increased the quality of life for our city, our state and our country.

Posted: Fri, 12/30/2011 - 10:33 am
Last updated: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 3:11 pm