Kevin E. Hooks is the president and CEO at the Las Vegas Urban League, a non-profit founded in 2004 that helps provide equal opportunities for low-income people. Hooks has been a member of the Urban League family for over 20 years and was also instrumental in founding the National Urban League Young Professionals auxiliary group. He was one of the youngest members of the National Board of Trustees for the Urban League as well. A recent graduate of the inaugural Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, Hooks prides himself on being a staunch role model for his son and a community leader.
Rolling out recently spoke with Hooks to get his take on fatherhood and what the experience has taught him about himself.
What legacy are you leaving for your children and the children of your community?
As the father of an incredibly precocious son, I like to “wax poetic” about raising a king. I am constantly saying things like, “My ceiling is your floor … I expect you to change the world.” The legacy that I am striving to leave is one of achievement and firsts. I have spent my entire career creating things inside the hallowed walls of corporate America that did not exist prior to my arrival. The value of being the first to do something is immeasurable and I want my son to embrace the challenge of continuing this tradition. As the CEO of the Las Vegas Urban League and a community leader, I want to leave the same legacy of achievement to all children. Knowing that I have carved a path on the road less traveled for others to follow is my greatest joy.
How would you describe your fatherhood culture?
My mother and father struggled with alcoholism and never achieved professional success. As a result of their many challenges and personal struggles, we rarely had the basic necessities. Normalcy consisted of past due utility bills, often resulting in no water or electricity. It was not unusual for us to quell hunger pains with sleep and long for school so that we could take advantage of the free lunch program. In spite of it all, I learned so much of who I am as a father from my parents. Their subtle admonishments and nuanced expectations are the hallmarks of my fatherhood culture. I would describe it as modernized old-school. While my son has never experienced an old-school whooping, he has experienced the “I brought you into this word …” disciplinary tactics that ensure the relevant behavior is never repeated.
From a father’s perspective, what two books would you recommend every child read?
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was recommended to me by a mentor years ago and it literally changed my life. The way Richard Bach illustrates the “never quit” attitude is mystifying, and the lessons instilled are eternal. Most importantly, it is easy to consume and offers lessons for all ages. The second book I would recommend is the Bible — cliché, I know. I read the Bible multiple times as a child preacher and it continues to impact my life today.
Why is it important to expose children to education and valuable skills?
Like most, I am a proud father. I dream of my child succeeding in all aspects of life. I am convinced that education is the only way to ensure the level of success that I envision for him. When my son was 8 years old he tested into the Johns Hopkins Junior Scholars Program. The program has been invaluable in exposing my son to educational experiences including chess challenges, a trip to Iceland to study climate change and other young people who have similar natural intellectual skills.
Which fatherhood experiences have taught you the most about yourself?
After 17 hours of labor and a day of recovery, my son and his mom finally came home. About 3:00 a.m., I was awakened by a sound that would eventually become all too familiar — my son crying. I jumped out of bed, assured his leery mother that I had everything under control and ran into my screaming son’s room. It was at that moment that I realized he needed a diaper change and I had never changed a diaper in my life. As I began pleading with my newborn and searching my memory bank for any hint of how to navigate this diaper situation, I was stunned by my paternal resolve. As I returned to bed with a proud sense of accomplishment set against the backdrop of the silence that my diaper work elicited, I smiled as the following Bible verse danced in my head …”I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”
Name one life lesson that no one taught you, but should have.
Ron Brown, Secretary of Treasury under President Bill Clinton, once said, “… the price of leadership is loneliness.” While the quote stuck with me, it lacked the personal experience necessary to appreciate the statement’s truth. There are haunting internal voices that challenge your very constitution when leadership’s loneliness sets in. I have had many sleepless nights because this lesson was learned the hard way rather than experienced with the guiding hand of a caring teacher.
Share one of your fondest memories with your father.
My father was a steelworker. He left every morning at 5:15 to go and spend the next 12 hours bending steel. It was the days of three television channels and my favorite show was Timothy the Church Mouse (I was 7 or 8). I loved when my father would sneak into my room, put a dollar on the bed (he called it “a charlie”) and say, “I’ll call you in time for the church mouse.” At 6:30 a.m., like clockwork, the phone would ring. I remember running, trying to catch it on the first ring so that I could boast, “I’m already awake daddy!” My father would say, “… you up?” and then, “… I left you a charlie …” Growing up in subsidized housing and barely having enough, I remember being amazed that my father cared about a little television show. I now realize that my father did it all because of his love for me and that is everything to me.