2014 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

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Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Drue Jennings

Argentine High School, 1964

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Noble Prentis Elementary, Arrowhead Middle

Drue JenningsDrue Jennings’ life has been guided by the lessons and spirit of perseverance that he learned in junior high and high school.

As an athlete at Argentine Junior/Senior High, his coaches pushed him beyond his comfort zone and taught him the definition of dedication. His classroom teachers challenged him and encouraged him to never give up. These lessons combined, gave him the tools he needed to be successful.

Jennings is the former president, CEO and chairman of Kansas City Power & Light. He joined the company in 1974 as an attorney and spent the next 27 years moving up the ladder, retiring as chairman of the board. After leaving KCP&L, he served as interim athletic director at the University of Kansas in 2003 before joining the law firm of Shughart Thomson & Kilroy where he stayed for eight years.

During high school, Jennings didn’t dream about going to college because he thought it was financially out of his reach. But his athletic prowess in football paid off. He received a full scholarship to KU. A year out of college, he applied to law school and received a scholarship based on his letterman status in football.

During his years moving up the ladder at KCP&L, he often heard the voices of his teachers in his head, telling him how to construct a paragraph, how to calculate rates or what the chemical reactions are for different substances.

Early in his career, Jennings began giving back to his community through volunteer service on a number of boards. The experience was not only rewarding, but it also taught him boardsmanship skills, which were later of value to him as he was advancing up the career ladder. Next to his children and grandchildren, he said community service is the most vital thing he has ever done.

He spent four years as board chair for the KU Endowment Association, and currently serves on the Bloch School Foundation Board. He is board vice-chair of MRI Global and serves on the KU Edwards Campus Advisory Board, plus others.

“All of us have the obligation to give back,” he said.


2014 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Lloyd Freeman

Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, 2000

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Frank Rushton Elementary and Rosedale Middle School

Lloyd FreemanIt was Lloyd Freeman’s 4th grade teacher who saw something special in him. She had him tested and he was placed in the Talented and Gifted Program. It was through this program that he began to develop analytical and critical thinking skills – skills that would eventually lead to his successful career in the field of law.

Freeman is an attorney with Archer & Greiner in Haddonfield, N.J. He practices commercial and civil litigation in state and federal courts in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He loves the competitive nature of law. He said going to court gives him such an adrenaline rush that he feels like a gladiator in a suit.

His involvement and success in forensics at Sumner Academy further developed those analytical skills, as well as his research, analysis, and persuasion abilities. In fact, the knowledge he gained from a number of his Sumner classes – including humanities and literature –built a solid foundation for him to draw from today.

College was never NOT an option for Freeman. He said it was part of the culture at Sumner Academy. And though it was costly, he knew he had a good chance to get scholarship support – and he did. He earned a full scholarship to Howard University and another to attend law school at Rutgers University.

He counts among his greatest accomplishments: passing the state bar in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania at the same time, and being named Young Lawyer of the Year in 2010 by the New Jersey Bar Association.

His professional and community involvement is an important part of his life today. He is a Board Chairman for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a board member for the American Red Cross, and past membership chair for the Urban League of Philadelphia. He is most proud of his work to provide financial assistance and mentorship to college-bound students through the Tripod Foundation, which he co-founded, and the Burlington-Camden Achievement Foundation. Through these organizations he has helped provide more than $100,000 in scholarship funding to students.

His advice for today’s students is: Dare to dream.


2014 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Phil S. Dixon

Wyandotte High School, 1974

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Dunbar Elementary and Northeast Junior High

Phil DixonPhil Dixon believes the keys to success in his life have come from preparation, dedication, education and focus.

Dixon is a Negro Leagues Baseball author, speaker and historian. For more than 30 years, he has appeared on numerous television and radio programs nationwide speaking about the Negro League and its players. He has interviewed more than 500 Negro Leagues players, family members and those affiliated with its history.

He has seen a great deal of success in his life. So far he has published nine books. But he admits that he has failed as many times as he has succeeded. In fact, one of his first books, “The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History, 1867-1955” was turned down 100 times before it was published. Once published, it went on to win the Macmillan-Society for American Baseball Research award for excellence in baseball research, and the Casey Award for the Best Baseball Book of 1992. His love of history is something that he garnered from his mom, (a 1932 graduate of Western University, Quindaro, Kansas) who always encouraged him to watch history as it unfolds, and not just read about it in books.

The basic principles of writing that he uses in his work are ones that he learned from his 7th grade teacher, Patricia Caruthers. His homeroom teacher at Northeast, Harold Foster, shared his love of baseball with Dixon. A number of his teachers motivated him to strive for excellence and didn’t accept excuses for low achievement. At Wyandotte High School, he was a drum major; he remembers that being his first leadership role in his life, and it set the stage for many others.

He grew up playing and loving baseball, and collecting baseball cards. By the age of 20 he had amassed more than 100,000 baseball cards. But he admits that his most valuable card has always been his library card.

He has continued to give back to his community over the years. He spent more than 30 years coaching baseball and volunteering for the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) league. The organization awarded him with the Josh Gibson Division Baseball Coach of the Year award.

Currently, Dixon is undergoing a 90-city “Our Town” tour, traveling and speaking in 90 cities where the Kansas City Monarchs played, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the team’s first world championship in 1924.


2014 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

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Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Dr. Simone Ellis

Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, 2001

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Claude Huyck Elementary and Arrowhead Middle

Simone EllisSimone Ellis wants students to dream big and then look at their dreams and dream even bigger. She has had big dreams all of her life, and has worked hard to make them a reality.

Ellis decided her career path when she was in the 2nd grade. An unplanned shadowing experience at the dentist’s office ignited a spark in her. She knew then that she wanted to become a dentist. As she made her way through school, her dream grew bigger: open her own dental practice.

She made both dreams come true. Today, she owns Smile Design Studios in Missouri City, Texas. She loves helping families and being a part of their lives. And she likes having the flexibility of owning her own business.

She credits her career success to her parents who nurtured her along the way and let her know that failure was not an option. She also had a number of teachers who gave her reasons to believe in herself. Her 1st grade teacher at Claude Huyck Elementary posted a banner in the classroom that said, “I Can Kids.” She wanted her students to know that they CAN do anything. She thrived at Sumner Academy because of the inspirational environment that invested her in learning.

She said, “It’s one thing to teach somebody, but it’s another thing to inspire them.”

She started setting goals for herself at a young age, and she mapped out a plan to reach those goals. She continues that practice today.

Community service is an important part of Ellis’ life. She is president of the Houston Minority Dental Association. She partners with the local YMCA for special events, providing dental education and toothbrushes to children and families. On her 30th birthday, she provided a free day of dental services to Houston families. She also helps mentor young people by providing job shadowing opportunities. The experience has been a full circle one for her.

Even though she has achieved a great amount of success in her career, she continues to dream big dreams. Her next goal is to open a second practice.


2014 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Wesley Burt

Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, 1999

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Noble Prentis Elementary and Argentine Middle

Wesley BurtWesley Burt has seen his work come to life on the big screen and in the gaming industry. His character drawings have been featured in film series including the Transformers and GI Joe, and in popular video game projects like Lord of the Rings: Online and League of Legends. He is a concept artist and illustrator who has taken what he loves and turned it into a career.

For the past 10 years he has worked with the team at Massive Black Inc., a studio based in San Francisco that develops artwork and animation for the entertainment industry.

Burt grew up in a family where art was prevalent. His dad was a graphic designer and his mom, an art teacher. He loved art in school, and he also was drawn to comic books. He remembers attending comic book conventions each year at the Reardon Convention Center. He would study some of art and make his own sketches, picking up some of the techniques from his favorite ones.

In high school, he worked toward earning a scholarship to art school. He credits his art teachers at Sumner Academy who worked with him on special projects during planning periods and after school, to help him build his portfolio. A two-week summer program through the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation the summer before his senior year was a stepping stone to his full scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Art.

He jumpstarted his career while he was in college. He posted some of his work online through Internet forums and was able to secure some freelance work as a result.

“I was only a couple of years into college and I was spending my summers drawing gladiators for a video game company, making double what my friends were making for doing service jobs,” he recalled.

Many would say his talent has helped him achieve his success, but he said it’s dedication and hard work.

Most recently he was recognized by agIdeas, a highly respected design program in Australia, as a top designer in his field – worldwide. He has received several Spectrum Awards, which are considered the most respected and prestigious creative awards for the fantastical illustration industry.