Alvin Sykes has worked with members of Congress and the Department of Justice for decades to pass some of the most sweeping and influential civil rights legislation of the new millennium. He was also the subject of our most recent “Kansas City: Made By” series. After our interview, I had the privilege to listen to his words over and over again.
There was a lot of material to sift through, but some clear lessons did emerge:
1) Alvin Sykes was fired from a job as a janitor. Did that get him down? I don’t know. But it didn’t stop him from forming relationships with politicians from both sides of the aisle to get serious legislation through Congress. His focus on achieving compromises and balancing very different personalities and priorities is a skill that janitors rarely get to display.
2) His success story doubles as a cautionary tale. When he graduated from 8th grade, he discovered a school system that, even at that age, he saw would not serve him well. So he took his education into his own hands and went to the library instead of school. How many middle-schoolers do you know with that amount of initiative and discernment? He was the exception. How we educate our children is our destiny as a society. The more children we fail, the more we fail.
3) Alvin is not a naïve person. He never takes on cases he thinks are beyond his ability to help, and this is another reason for his huge impact. It’s a rare person who understands both the extent of his abilities and his limits.
He never delivered these lessons himself. The best teachers don’t have time to lecture, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.
His story speaks for itself.
Watch Alvin Sykes in action.
Post by Ben. Photo by Thomas Leuthard.