Corey Flournoy grew up in a rough part of Chicago, and only grudgingly went off to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences when it was the only public magnet high school to accept him.
Now Flournoy, 20, is the national president of the FFA, once known as Future Farmers of America--the group’s first urban president and its first black president.
In his old neighborhood, an 11-year-old was killed this summer by members of his own gang, who wanted him out of the way after he accidentally killed a girl when he shot at members of a rival gang.
“I know that it could have been either of my children,” said Flournoy’s mother, Barbara Flournoy, who raised him with another son and a foster daughter.
Flournoy’s background inspires other students, FFA spokesman Bill Stagg says.
“Corey has shown them that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can excel and succeed in the FFA,” Stagg said.
A sophomore at the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, Flournoy got involved in the FFA because in high school, enrollment was required. Less than 5% of the FFA’s members are black, he says.
“I figured if I had to pay $7.50 for dues, I might as well be active.” He began to travel on FFA projects, evaluating dairy cattle, judging beef carcasses and tasting milk samples, and spent six weeks working on a farm.
He was named president Nov. 12 at the FFA convention, selected from a pool of 39 candidates after a grueling, months-long process that included interviews and tests.
At the convention, his mother put her camera away after the lesser officers were announced, sure he would leave in disappointment.
Then his name was called.
“I kept hearing someone yelling ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ ” she said. “Someone told me it was me.”
After this semester, Flournoy will take a year off for his FFA duties, which include meetings with officers of agricultural companies, a possible meeting with President Clinton and a trip to Japan.
Nevertheless, Flournoy still doesn’t want to be a farmer. He’s studying agricultural economics with an eye toward marketing, but he really wants to found his own motivational company.