Black History Month is one of this nation's most treasured traditions. We honor those exceptional individuals whose meaningful accomplishments have cemented their place not just in African-American history, but all of American history. But black history can not be condensed into one month, or even one lifetime. It is ever-present and ever-growing, being made by everyday people on an everyday basis. These men and women may never get the public recognition that their forebears did, yet that does not marginalize the meaningfulness of their actions.
Ryan Pompey is one of those people. He is a native of Newark, NJ—a city that has had its fair share of struggles, yet thankfully has a true role model of a mayor who continues to lead the city through adversity. Ryan has similarly strived to move beyond adversity in his own life, achieving his dreams of becoming a graphic designer and an entrepreneur. He did this by following the blueprint of his role models: his favorite artist/designer, Paul Rand (creator of some of the most famous corporate logos of all time), and his favorite musical artist, Jay-Z (creator of his own Blueprint, three separate times).
But Ryan's desire to foster improvement does not end with himself. He wants to make a difference in others' lives as well. To enact this change, he mentors at-risk youth as part of ArtReach, an annual program run by the Newark-based organization City Without Walls. Unlike other youth-centric programs, ArtReach focuses on the underserved demographic of older teens—generally juniors and seniors in high school—who come from mostly underprivileged backgrounds. It pairs these kids with artist mentors like Ryan, who help them build a commitment to excellence through art. The program has received the prestigious "Citation Of Excellence" from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and its participants have consistently used their ArtReach experience to enhance applications for college and employment.
"I make black history everyday by following my dreams and helping others recognize their own," Ryan says. "I live to inspire and leave behind a legacy through art." The US Marine Corps commends Ryan for his contributions to the greater good, and for his dedication to elevating the lives of those around him.
To sum up his thoughts on the importance of always pursuing your dreams, Ryan left us with a quote from the great Langston Hughes:
"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly."