William Gillory left a housing project in New Orleans to achieve success as a laser researcher and counselor of corporations. Now he's telling underprivileged youths they can do it, too.
Gillory, former chairman of the University of Utah chemistry department, says his own experience drives his attempt to provide teenagers alternatives to despair, drug addiction and prison."What we try to do with inner-city youths is to provide them with an organized experience which will change their direction and their attitude. Then all the programs for integrating them into society will have some meaning," Gillory said.
Last summer Gillory and others counseled a group of Davis County teenagers in such things as economic independence and personal responsibility. The workshop, funded by a jobs bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., received rave reviews from the participants.
"There were a lot of things about myself I didn't know. After this was over with, I felt I am a better person. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to get in touch with themselves," said Shari, a Davis County teenager struggling to get her life together.
"I thought when I went into this program, I didn't have to do any of the work. I was wrong. I had to do most of the work, pushing myself to risk in the group. It has helped me to understand and expand my mind in all directions," said Cindy, another participant.
Gillory, 49, recalls his mother hammering on the notion that it was his obligation to rise above his circumstances. He heeded the message, obtaining a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley, performing National Science Foundation-funded research at the Sorbonne in Paris and publishing over 100 scholarly articles with such rarefied titles as "Laser-Infrared Photochemistry."
Winner of the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Award in West Germany, Gillory nevertheless found his "driven" academic life lacking. After seven years at the University of Utah, he called it quits in 1984.
"I discovered I didn't know anything about people," Gillory said. "I also discovered the real problem was that I didn't know anything about me."
"University systems are designed to teach people skills. What I discovered through my own personal change was that being successful in life involved more than learning skills. . . . More specifically, I became interested in helping produce an empowered individual who is capable of navigating life," he said.
Gillory took to the lecture circuit, finding himself in demand as a speaker and consultant on scientific creativity for such corporations as Union Carbide, Philip Morris, Martin Marietta, Varian Associates and the Hanford Research Center in Washington.
He was impressed by traits common to the circle of succeessful people he worked with. They made no excuses.
"The most fundamental theme in life is personal responsibility. At some point in life every individual has to see themselves as a non-victim in whatever circumstances they find themselves, in order to get any control of their own lives," Gillory said.
"This applies to a corporate president as well as to an inner-city kid," he said. "As long as people see themselves as victims of circumstance, or race or of any kind of discrimination, they can only operate out of a victim mode."
Gillory believes federal programs are doomed to failure as long as they propagate the notion that their clients are victims in need of aid. He calls on fellow blacks to abandon what he sees as dependency.
"Blacks as a people are not inclined as a people to take responsibility for the position they find themselves in in this country," Gillory said. "Until we do accept responsibility as a people, we keep ourselves in victimized roles. Law and outside-help systems can only create parity. True freedom and empowerment can only come from within us.
"If I give up being a victim because I'm a black person, what I'm doing is putting myself in the position to compete equally with anyone without respect to race, color or creed - I throw away my crutch," he said. "I have to stand on my own two feet."