Gordon Taylor Gives Back and Looks Forward By M. Yvonne Taylor, University Marketing
If you haven’t heard the name Gordon Taylor yet, you will soon. This recent Texas State graduate, who was named this year’s LBJ Outstanding Senior Student, is just that dynamic.
Raised in Pearland, Texas, Taylor first came to Texas State to play basketball. Although he was offered scholarships to schools in Colorado and Oklahoma, as well as Drake University in Iowa, he chose Texas State initially because “I wanted to be able to play in front of my parents,” he says. He hadn’t heard much about university before he visited campus, but was captivated by what he saw. “The rivers helped out too,” he says.
Taylor was a student-athlete for three years, becoming a member of Phi Eta Sigma, the National Honor Society, his freshman year, and making the dean’s list six times. He also was honored twice with the Brightest Star of Texas Award, which recognizes students who have excelled in both academics and extracurricular activities.
Although he left basketball behind to become more involved in student government — he served as an Associated Student Government senator in 2008, was a campaign manager in the 2009 election, and became chief of staff in 2009 — Taylor says he wouldn’t trade what he learned playing the sport for anything. “Basketball really taught me to be a man,” the senior explains. “It taught me discipline and time management. You can’t procrastinate on other work when you’re playing because you have so much to do.
“Basketball really taught me to focus.”
Discipline, drive, teamwork and focus are all terms that could be used to describe success on the basketball court, and they also describe Gordon Taylor’s way of life. He’s never without his notepad, where he records ideas and things to do. When he finds inspiration or hears something that he thinks is a good idea — no matter who said it or where it came from — he jots it down.
One idea he filed away was inspired by the 2008 broadcast “Black in America,” a CNN series that chronicled the struggles and successes of present-day African Americans. Taylor watched the program, and an idea came him to found a nonprofit organization.
“I thought about the needs of the black community, African American males in particular, and how you can’t do anything by yourself. You need a group to help you,” he explains. So Taylor talked to Judson Robinson, president and CEO of the Houston Area Urban League, and got some advice about starting an “inner circle of accountability partners.”
He and nine other young men got together to create the first FOCUSED group. Initially formed as a peer-networking and accountability group for African American males, the group quickly realized that many young men in America face similar challenges, regardless of ethnicity, and decided to open membership to all interested young men.
The men discuss their interests, majors and goals and match up based on like life plans. Once they match, they become accountability partners for each other, setting up career and life strategies and checking in with each other to help keep each other on track.
What began with 10 young men has grown to 40 in just a year — and spread all over the country. Though the home base for FOCUSED is here at Texas State, chapters have already sprung up at campuses such as Stanford, Northwestern, Ohio State, Howard, Morehouse and Cornell, just to name a few.
The idea has clearly resonated with young men. Although other groups foster camaraderie or emotional support, FOCUSED specifically fills a strong career networking and peer mentoring need of young men.
The Domino Effect of Relationships
The strength of FOCUSED is based on the simple belief that combined effort and support are much more powerful than individual effort. This belief in the importance of building connections between people came, in part, from Taylor’s father, he explains. “My dad taught me the power of networking. I always get business cards from people and follow up with people. You never know when something that one person knows might help someone else.”
Senior Lecturer Nancy Wilson can attest to Taylor’s networking prowess. Wilson was Taylor’s World Literature instructor his first semester on campus. He stood out in the class, even garnering an invitation to Wilson’s home for his first Thanksgiving away from his family. “He would come and talk to me after class, and he was so intellectually curious, bright and with the work ethic to match,” Wilson states. “After Gordon spent time with my crazy family, we were like kin.”
Wilson, who has maintained a relationship with Taylor throughout his career at Texas State, says that she has “watched him come into his own.” She believes that the founding of FOCUSED is “exactly the right thing at the right time with the right person to helm it.
“Gordon has all of this talent coupled with humility,” says Wilson, “and it all springs from this altruistic place.”
Says Taylor, “I believe in the giving back factor. Giving back is more satisfying than monetary reward because when you see what your effort has done for someone else and then you see what that person goes on to do — nothing is better than that.”
Eye on the Future
As an INROAD intern, Taylor worked two summers in a row implementing SAP software for the clients of Deloitte, a Houston-based international accounting and consulting firm. His internship led to a job offer as a business technology analyst upon his graduation from Texas State in May 2010.
And, of course, the founder of FOCUSED already has mapped out his five-, 10- and 15-year career plans. “In five years, I hope to be on my way to an MBA at Northwestern University or MIT,” he says, crediting his former finance professor Ha Chin Yi for helping him realize both the importance of finance in business and everyday life as well as the importance of getting another degree. “And in 10 years, I want to become a manager.” In 15, he says, “I want to be a partner at Deloitte or start my own firm.”
Says Wilson, “Gordon is the kind of person you want education to help create — to help people take the gifts that they are given and do good work.”
And there’s no doubt that Gordon plans to continue doing just that. “I can’t wait to give back if I’m blessed with money in my career, because of everything that was given to me.”