November 13, 2008

Jim Ellis, who inspired movie ‘Pride,’ to visit SIUC

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The inspiration behind the 2007 movie “Pride” brings his message of perseverance and success in the face of discrimination to Southern Illinois University Carbondale at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 18, in the Student Center Auditorium.

The annual Michael and Nancy Glassman Distinguished Lecture, free and open to the public, is part of the University Honors Program Lecture Series.

Jim Ellis founded the Philadelphia Department of Recreation (PDR) Swim Team in 1971 -- it was the first black swim team in the country. Though segregation was officially illegal then, discrimination was commonplace. Ellis himself did not allow discrimination to prevent him from swimming and serving as a lifeguard in Pittsburgh, where he grew up, and he used his experience to inspire youth in Philadelphia.

Ellis’ swim team produced an impressive number of highly successful swimmers, including All-American swimmers and national qualifiers. Michael Norment, the first black swimmer on the United States national team, is a former Ellis swim team member.

The International Swimming Hall of Fame recognized Ellis with the President’s Award in 2007. The award wasn’t just for his success as a swim coach. As the ISHOF states in its description of the award to Ellis, he served as a role model for black youths. He taught them to counter racism with community pride and hard work rather than with anger -- an approach his swim team proves successful. He also expanded the horizons of those youths on his swim team, bringing them into contact with other parts of the country and people of other backgrounds and lifestyles.

His lecture, “Instilling Pride -- One Lap at a Time,” gives the history of the PDR swim team as Ellis explains how he used his positive approach to transform inner-city youths. A reception and DVD signing follows the lecture. Terrence Howard (“Iron Man,” “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”) played the role of Ellis in the movie “Pride.” The movie was nominated for an ESPY Award as the Best Sports Movie, and actor Howard and director Sunu Gonera were nominated for Image Awards.

An endowment from Nancy Kreftmeyer Glassman makes the annual Michael and Nancy Glassman Distinguished Lecture possible. The Glassmans are both SIUC alumni and met while they were both students here.