Velton W. Showell III - Reaching Back to Help Others is Just Part of the Job

While he was an undergraduate at Rutgers, Velton W. Showell III learned an important lesson that had nothing to do with his studies. An African-American professor told Showell that he was one of “the lucky ones,” Showell recalled, to attend college, and that his work didn’t end with getting good grades.

“The professor said that getting a college education comes with the obligation to set the example for those who come after me,” Showell said, “to pull someone up who may not make it without my help.”

Showell has followed through on both ends of the bargain. He has charted a successful career path in his 15 years with Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, from management trainee to his current position as director of sales and marketing for Hyatt’s national sales office in Omaha, Nebraska. He has also served as a mentor, confidant and example for other African-Americans at Hyatt, and those seeking to enter the industry.

Showell says that when he graduated Rutgers in 1983 with a degree in economics, “the employment environment was not conducive to getting the kind of position that I wanted.” He sought a position where he could use his minor in personnel and human resources, but companies told him that he would need a prior knowledge of the corporate structure to be successful in such a position.

A friend of his was in the Hyatt management trainee program at the time, and helped Showell get a slot. The program taught Showell all aspects of Hyatt operations, from housekeeping to administration. Showell proceeded to move through the ranks, including positions as sales manager at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC, and sales director at Hyatt Regency hotels in Oakland and Indianapolis, before taking on his current role two years ago.

As manager of one of five Hyatt national sales offices, Showell uses his human resources skills in overseeing a 38-person staff. But he also draws upon his vast sales experience. “The first thing a person sells is himself or herself, after that the product is introduced,” he explained. He feels that while knowledge of the product is important, it’s crucial to be able to understand a client’s needs, and to be able to point out aspects of the product that answer them.

Showell said that even though Hyatt is much smaller than hoteliers such as Marriott, Weston and Hilton, its consistency from unit to unit allows it to “maintain a standard across the board” that places Hyatt in the same category as the larger chains. Hyatt advertises in minority print media, learning in the late 80s to depict minorities in those ads as customers and decision-makers, not just hired help. “If you saw a person of color in an ad prior to that,” he said, “they were cleaning or serving, always in the background, never a patron.”

Showell is also active in helping Hyatt diversify its upper management ranks. He is part of the company’s Focus 2000 program to recruit candidates for decision-making positions, and will attend the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners conference this month in Las Vegas to interview college students.

While Showell is proud of his career progression and corporate honors (director of Hyatt’s 1993 sales team of the year, nominee for 1994 sales director of the year), he is equally proud of the chances he’s had to work with younger people moving up the ladder. “I can advise them on a lot of the things I’ve gone through, through my prior experience,” he said. While there are still challenges at Hyatt he’s looking forward to tackling, Showell continues to remember the words of that Rutgers professor. “He told us to never forget where we came from, and to reach back to help someone else. If I can accomplish that, I would be very happy.”

Black Meetings and Tourism November 1998
Photo Credit: www.blackmeetingsandtourism.com

Arnold Pinkney

Behind every great man is –– a great man. For the brothers Stokes, Jesse Jackson, the late Hubert Humphrey and Governor Richard Celeste there was strategist and confidant Arnold Pinkney, guiding them to political breakthroughs and historic successes. For subsequent generations of Cleveland political leaders, there was savvy observer Arnold Pinkney, using his experience to open doors and steer them clear of the pitfalls. For Arnold Pinkney himself, political mastermind, insurance entrepreneur and educator, there was David Pinkney, his political mentor, his father.

Born in Youngstown at the height of the Depression, Arnold Pinkney grew up in an atmosphere of political involvement. His father, a steelworker, was an actively dedicated member of the Republican Party and his mother, a domestic worker, served as precinct committeeman. For blacks in the post-Depression years, political action translated into jobs. Pinkney’s early exposure to the world of politics led him to excel academically in civics and history. “Because my father was a Republican and we lived in a blue-collar neighborhood I was always in the minority,” he remembers. “Since we were black it put me in a small minority. I had the opportunity to argue for candidates who had no other supporters but me,” he recalls with a laugh. “‘It made debate challenging.”

Pinkney credits his father with instilling in him the will and the discipline to achieve. Daily, while gathered around the table for the evening meal, Arnold and his older brother and two sisters discussed school and current events. After the supper dishes were done, the Pinkney children went to their homework. The elder Pinkney insisted upon it. Arnold’s father also taught him about self-discipline when it came to high-school athletics. ”When I started in sports my father insisted that I maintain a certain grade average. He insisted that I go to sleep at a certain time at night and on the weekend. He said ‘If you are going to participate in sports you are going to be mentally and physically prepared.'”

That preparation served Pinkney well throughout high school and college, where his charisma and natural leadership abilities placed him at the helm of various scholastic and athletic organizations. Those same qualities came into play again when he took a job selling insurance for Great Lakes Mutual Life, a black-owned and operated firm. His experience as a door-to-door representative allowed him to meet new people every day. “It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people. I ran into councilmen and I ran into their wives…. I was always looking for a meal, so when someone invited me I was there for the meal.” His smile grows wider as he recalls this period in his life, “I planned it that way, to get there about the time they were eating dinner.”

His time with Great Lakes was a fruitful one leading to a management position with the company and ultimately to his career as an independent broker. Early on, Pinkney’s gift for relationship-building and his drive to be involved led him to work at the grass-roots level for the election of people like Jean Capers and Carl Stokes. However, the greatest influence in his fledgling political career was the Honorable Judge Charles White, who asked him to run his 1966 campaign for Common Pleas Court. “I said, ‘I’ve never run a campaign before. What does a campaign manager do?’ He laid out the things he wanted me to do.” Pinkney then brought his organizational and strategic talents to bear, talents honed by hundreds of hours of football strategy. Ultimately, Judge White won his countywide campaign and Pinkney gained a reputation for excellence and efficiency as a campaign manager.

Throughout his career Pinkney has always had a strong support base, his wife Betty and daughter Traci. “Without them as partners, advisors and confidants I could not have accomplished what I have,” he says. “They provided me with a loving, orderly home environment that kept me on the right track. They have always been there for me.”

Pinkney’s stint on the Cleveland Board of Education left him with an abiding dedication to quality education for all. His concern for the youth of Cleveland is still very much a part of his life. He believes the lessons of familial support and involvement that he learned at his father’s knee are the key to the future for today’s youth. “Do what has to be done,” he stresses. “Become an advocate for the children in the school system. No political considerations, no business considerations, just for the children.

Reflections Magazine 1993
Photo Credits: mulpix.com; www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com

Louis Stokes

The name of Louis Stokes is synonymous with integrity, forthrightness and honesty. That is no small accomplishment in an era during which our nation’s leaders have exhibited such an alarmingly high rate of scandal and embarrassment. If nothing else, Louis Stokes is a survivor, and survival is a trait he learned at an early age.

Stokes was born in Cleveland and spent most of his youth in the Outhwaite Homes housing project. Although his mother, a widow, had only an eighth-grade education and worked long hours as a domestic in the homes of Cleveland’s upper crust, Louise Stokes impressed upon her sons, Louis and younger brother Carl, the importance of education. “I never really understood why she kept saying ‘Get an education, get something in your head so you won’t have to work with your hands like I do,”’ Stokes remembers. “My mother was ill on one occasion, moaning in pain while lying on the bed. I went over and took both of her hands in mine. And as I held them, I felt these hard calloused hands from scrubbing people’s floors. And for the first time I understood what she was trying to say.”

Stokes recalls the teachers at Central High School who influenced him the most. “I remember a teacher by the name of Christopherson, who was tough on all of us,” he says. “But he had a way of challenging us to live up to our greatest potential. A black woman teacher by the name of Mrs. Thomas and a couple of other teachers wanted to know about my plans to go to college. I explained that I had no plans to go. My mother couldn’t afford it; she was just hoping I would graduate high school and get a job. Mrs. Thomas urged me to go because they all felt I had great future if I could attend college.”

While in high school, Stokes became fascinated by the exploits of a flamboyant but dedicated attorney- Clarence Darrow. Darrow’s accomplishments – including his arguments in such sensational cases as the Scottsboro Boys, biology teacher John Scopes, and the Detroit, Michigan, black dentist who fired a gun to disperse an all-white crowd incensed by his moving into their neighborhood – inspired Stokes to pursue a career in law so that he could defend his people in court.

Stokes’s first opportunity to practice law came soon after he passed the bar in 1954. John A. Carmack, the owner of a large real estate concern in Cleveland, engaged the young attorney on salary for his company. Shortly after Carl Stokes passed the bar, the two brothers hung their own shingle, forming the law firm of Stokes and Stokes in offices at East 106th Street and St. Clair Ave. When Carl took a position in the City of Cleveland’s prosecutor’s office, an exciting opportunity opened up for Louis. ”Norman S. Minor asked me if I would be willing to come into his law firm,” Stokes recalls. “I agreed, and we then moved to East 55th, where we opened the firm of Minor, Stokes and Stokes. We went into business with Minor, who was probably the greatest criminal lawyer ever known in the state of Ohio.”

Stokes’s entry into politics included the changing of his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat so he could vote for his brother. Louis Stokes worked on the political campaigns of people such as Perry B. Jackson, Mildred Madison, Sara Harper, Virgil Brown, Lloyd O. Brown, and his brother Carl. He credits his brother as being his chief mentor in the political arena.

The Lucas vs. Rhodes congressional redistricting case proved pivotal to Stokes’ career. In this case, handled by Louis Stokes and lawyers under his direction, the United States Supreme Court ordered the Ohio State Legislature to carve out a congressional district that met constitutional muster. The result was a district that was sixty-five percent black, which opened the door for the election of Ohio’s first black congressman. But Carl Stokes, for whom the lawsuit had been brought, was now mayor of Cleveland and no longer interested in going to Congress. At Carl’s urging, Louis tossed his hat into the ring. In 1968, his first time ever as a candidate, Louis Stokes was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 21st Congressional District of the State of Ohio.

As the 103rd Congress now takes shape, Louis Stokes remains a formidable figure on Capitol Hill. The senior member of the Ohio delegation, Stokes has used his political acumen to benefit all Greater Clevelanders. The lessons of hard work and excellence he learned from his mother, his teachers and mentors have paid off handsomely for a generation of Americans.

Reflections Magazine 1993
Photo Credit: www.dispatch.com