Creagh, Milton 1957–
Milton Creagh 1957–
As a teenager Milton Creagh listened religiously to the speeches and sermons of Martin Luther King and Adam Clayton Powell. Then, as a college student, Milton Creagh’s own presentation powerfully affected former President Gerald Ford. Perhaps most importantly, Milton Creagh’s words continue to influence and positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of students worldwide each year.
Milton Creagh was born on November 12, 1957, in New Bern, North Carolina. Although his family was living in Waynesboro, Mississippi, there were not any hospitals for African Americans nearby. His mother, Flarizell, had several complications with the pregnancy and returned to her family’s hometown for her delivery. Several years later, the Creaghs left Mississippi and moved to Chicago, joining the migration of many African-American families from the agricultural south to the industrialized north in search of better opportunities.
Creagh thus spent the majority of his childhood in Chicago. After completing elementary school at the all-black Amos Alonzo Stag Elementary School, Creagh took advantage of the permission transfer option within the Chicago Public School District to attend the predominantly-white Nicholas Senn High School on the opposite side of town. While busing was not yet in existence, Chicago allowed students who maintained a specified grade point average to attend any school within the system. Creagh told Contemporary Black Biography that he chose Nicholas Senn for several reasons. For one, his older sister had been valedictorian of her elementary and high school classes and he no longer wanted to be compared with her. Moreover, an African-American elementary school teacher had once commented to him and other high-potential classmates that: “You may think you are smart, but if you ever went to school with white kids you would find out that you aren’t that smart and you wouldn’t be able to compete with them.” Given that he did not know any Caucasians, Creagh wanted to determine for himself the validity of that statement and to understand if this difference actually existed. Once in high school, he quickly discovered that his teacher was wrong, and high school proved to be much easier than elementary school.
As a high school football player and national merit scholar finalist, Creagh was inundated with scholarship offers during his senior year. In hindsight his high
Born Milton L. Creagh on November 12, 1957, in New Bern, NC. Mother Flarizell Creagh (school teacher), father Milton Creagh Sr. (USPS truck driver). Divorced, two daughters, Andrea and Alexis, stepdaughter Adrienne, adopted son Lonnie. Education: BA, cum laude, Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, FL, 1979. Religion: Methodist.
Career: First National Bank of Chicago, 1979; assistant manager, residential installation, Southern Bell; host, “Let’s Talk About It,” WRBD-AM; staff manager, consumer affairs, Southern Bell; staff manager, coordinator, diversity program, Southern Bell; host, “Atlanta Teen Talk,” WPBA-TV 30; host, “In Effect,” WPBA-TV 30; assistant professor, Corporate Politics, Florida A&M University, 1986-88; founder, Milton Creagh and Associates, 1987-present.
Selected Memberships: Cascade Methodist Church.
Selected Awards: National President, Pre-Alumni Council, United Negro College Fund; Golden Rule Award, JC Penney; United States Congressional Proclamation, 1989; Golden Eagle Award, BellSouth Services; FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award, 1991; two-time participant, Kellogg Foundation Expert in Residence Program.
Addresses: P.O. Box 830126, Stone Mountain, GA 30083
school choice proved critical in his college decision. Feeling awkward among both African-American and white students, Creagh decided to matriculate into the historically black Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. There, he realized, “the smart kids would be black, the dumb kids would be black, the cool kids would be black, the geeks would be black, and I would fit in with somebody.”
Moreover, he also felt comfortable in the United Methodist environment of the school, for this was the faith in which he had been raised. When he arrived on campus in the fall of 1975 to begin his freshman year, the new president of the college was Dr. Oswald Bronson, his own pastor as a young child.
Creagh played football for two years at Bethune Cookman before injuring his knees. As a result he turned his attention to his studies and to student politics. In this environment, his talents as an orator began to shine. He actually had developed an interest in public speaking as a child, whether accidentally or because “God ordained it,” he will never be sure. As he recounted to CBB, when he was 11 or 12 years old, his father purchased a new sound system and sternly dictated that no one could touch it. However, Creagh knew that his system was “just about the best sound system on the block,” and he could not resist the temptation to use it. Having easily ascertained that he had approximately ninety minutes each afternoon when both of his parents were gone, he and a close friend would dash home each day after school, turn on the music, and sing. This was the time, after all, when the Jackson Five had just released their first album, and thus Creagh, like many children his age, dreamed of being a singer as well.
As might be expected, one afternoon Creagh’s father discovered the boys listening to his stereo system. Instead of punishing his son, Milton Sr. instead gave his son three albums: a compilation of Martin Luther King’s speeches, a collection of John F. Kennedy’s speeches, and sermons by Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. While he noted in his discussion with CBB that he was not as influenced by Kennedy— “I couldn’t get that Boston accent too well”—he was captivated by the speeches of the other two men. Memorizing the words of these orators, Creagh developed his own speaking skills and later found himself invited to speak at local elementary schools and at youth day presentations at area churches.
Creagh believed that his first job, when he was approximately seven years old, also played a critical role in determining his life’s calling. At that time he worked for Dr. James Buckner, a dentist who lived in the neighborhood. Dr. Buckner had no children and Creagh assisted him with household chores and collecting the trash that was forever strewn along his corner lot. In addition to his dental profession, Dr. Buckner also served as a leading figure within Operation Breadbasket, the Chicago arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which Martin Luther King, Jr., had ordered Jesse Jackson to establish. On one occasion, Martin Luther King, Reverend Abernathy, and other key SCLC leaders were scheduled to attend a meeting at the Buckners’ home. Filled with stories about “the great men,” Creagh was instructed to set up the chairs for the meeting, each of which had the name of one of these leaders taped to the back. While he missed the telephone call inviting him to meet these men, Creagh did find the chance to sit in Martin Luther King’s chair. That moment, he told CBB, remains a great motivator for him. In fact, he plans to write a memoir and title it Sitting in Martin’s Chair.
As previously mentioned, it was during his college years that Creagh’s speaking talent began to blossom. Elected national president of the pre-alumni council of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) during his junior year, he began to speak extensively at other UNCF schools. His topics were often inspirational, revolving around his own experiences on campus and his belief that the legacy of black colleges involved students giving back to their community. That year he was also invited to speak at a program in Daytona Beach where he shared the dais with various Florida politicians and Former President Gerald Ford. As Creagh remembered, only he and Ford received standing ovations. Afterwards, Creagh met with Ford who encouraged and questioned him. Bob Barrett, a top administrative aide to Ford at that time, followed up this meeting with a letter, informing Creagh that the former president was highly impressed and wished to assist him with his career.
This encounter would not prove to be the only one between Ford and Creagh. During a visit with his family in Chicago, Creagh received a telephone call from Barrett inviting him to have coffee with the former president, who also happened to be in Chicago. As he told CBB, “it was just mind-boggling that the president wanted to talk to me. It was a real important part of my life.” Frequently viewed a “geek or a nerd” in school, forever teased because he was so bowlegged, and never popular while in high school, he nonetheless “had confidence in myself regarding school stuff, but for the president to send me a letter telling me I’m one of the most impressive people he has ever met … was mind-boggling.”
In 1979 Creagh graduated from college and began working at the First National Bank of Chicago. He had obtained the job in part through Gerald Ford’s connections and forever felt uncomfortable with his colleagues because of this association. As he recalled, it brought back too many painful memories of elementary school. After six months, then, Creagh resigned from the bank and accepted a position with Southern Bell in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He remained in this corporate role for more than nine years and assumed a variety of positions, from assistant manager of residential installation to staff manager for Southern Bell’s first diversity program, based out of Atlanta, Georgia.
During his tenure with Southern Bell Creagh took advantage of speaking opportunities. While in Ft. Lauderdale he hosted his first radio show, “Let’s Talk About It,” on WRBD-AM, the only African-American radio station in Ft. Lauderdale at that time. His discussions focused on community development and particularly on citizen involvement in the community. He also became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This role provoked his Southern Bell manager at the time to inform him that he did not feel comfortable having Creagh speak out on behalf of the NAACP while employed by Southern Bell. Creagh realized that his time in corporate America would eventually have to end.
Creagh remained with Southern Bell for several more years, however, as he accepted a managerial position focusing on diversity training out of Southern Bell’s Atlanta facility. Approximately four years later he was heavily recruited by Florida A&M’s School of Business and Industry in Tallahassee, Florida, and eventually joined their faculty in 1986. While there Creagh taught courses on corporate politics. He also participated in a hands-on program at the school in which students managed their own companies. This experience instilled in him the “bug for entrepreneurship,” and during his vacation time he began to plan his own company. In 1987 he was offered a significant consulting contract, and Milton Creagh and Associates became a reality.
Creagh initially offered corporate training programs focused on managing a multicultural workforce, team-building, and teamwork. As he became more involved with his business clients, he found himself increasingly questioned, by managers and individual contributors alike, on ways to handle employees’ personal issues as they impacted the workplace. Most of the domestic issues, he further realized, concerned drugs and alcohol abuse. Adept at motivational training but less informed about substance abuse issues, he felt compelled to research these topics to fully serve his clients.
Simultaneously the Parent Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE) in Atlanta contacted Creagh and requested his assistance. PRIDE had drug prevention training programs geared to suburban, white, upper middle class communities, and its leadership had determined that they were not as readily accepted or as powerful in the minority, inner city, and rural communities that PRIDE sought to serve. Consequently Creagh’s initial involvement with PRIDE centered on redesigning the training modules.
From his first programs with PRIDE to his role as host of a parent-to-parent program, informing parents of how they could help to protect their children from substance abuse, Creagh’s command of the subject and the demand for his presence by schools across the country exponentially. In fact, Creagh emerged as a leading spokesperson on these issues and spoke to more junior high school and high school students than anybody else in the country. Energized by his youthful audiences, in 2000, Creagh spoke to between 300,000 and 400,000 students in between 600 and 700 schools. Creagh remains fascinated by how so many things from his childhood “have forwarded themselves into my doing what I do for a living. My question always is: How did my dad know that I would have that kind of ability?”
Creagh’s popularity is unquestioned, and it is not because he skirts the hard core issues. Whether speaking to youths or adults, Creagh challenges his audiences to tackle the problems of drugs, alcohol, and violence. Not only does he explore how these issues affect children, but he also examines how the adults in their lives can help these youths to develop responsibility. Through his words, wisdom, compassion, and insight, he reminds to these children of their own significance, that they are not alone in having families ravaged by drugs, alcohol, and violence, and that there are people who can help them.
Driven by the need to reach as many children as possible, Creagh expanded his rostrum beyond the school auditorium and devoted considerable time to conveying his message across the airwaves and through the medium of television as well. Following his early show in Ft. Lauderdale, for instance, he hosted a radio show in Atlanta entitled, “Atlanta Teen Talk,” which later evolved into a television show by the same name on a local PBS station, WPBA-TV 30. He also hosted a dance talk show for teenagers on WPBA known as “In Effect.” Perhaps most prestigiously, he became host of a national PBS series, “Parenting Works!” Based out of KQED, a large PBS station in San Francisco, California, this series of half-hour segments was an upbeat, comedie talk show creatively written to give parents new ideas for facing everyday situations. He has also participated with Focus on the Family in the making of a drug prevention docu-drama, “MASQUERADE: Unveiling Our Deadly Dance with Drugs and Alcohol,” and has made a CD-ROM for Mothers Against Drunk Driving which teaches parents how to discuss drinking with their children. He has even played the role of Sham in Pumpkin Man, a children’s Halloween movie co-starring Denise Crosby. In 2000 he filmed a pilot program for television, which he hopes will be picked up by a major network.
Forever in search of new means through which to spread his message, Creagh has also explored musical approaches. He calls his musical style “message songs” for youth; it features Creagh talking while a beat plays behind him. He also records love songs which stress that “love does not mean just jumping into bed.” Some of his music has already been released in Europe, including the soundtrack for an updated version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Not surprisingly, Milton Creagh is a self-proclaimed workaholic. In addition to the exhausting demands of his lecture schedule, he somehow finds time to devote additional energy to his first love, writing. He has, for example, authored War: The Uncensored Truth, a book promoting drug awareness. Refusing to be pigeonholed as a motivational author, he also writes comedies and murder mysteries. He recently finished a fictional piece, Drummajor, a coming-of-age story about two college roommates who develop a friendship despite their unique differences. He prides himself that it is a novel which focuses on the black male experience unconnected to the world of “gang-banging and drug dealing.” He also has written four other books which he has not yet sent to a publisher.
In essence, Creagh defines himself as “kid-oriented.” As a motivational and inspirational speaker, Creagh remains one of the most highly-demanded speakers for teen audiences. Regularly, school officials report an atypically fervent reaction to Creagh’s speeches among their students. Although weary of the travel which takes him far from his own two young daughters, Andrea and Alexis, he accepts the costs of his job. While he staunchly belongs to his family from Friday until Monday, during the week he proudly belongs to the kids of America.
War: The Uncensored Truth.
Business Wire, February 13, 1997. PR Newswire, November 11, 1998, p. 1053; April 13, 1999, p. 8847.
Additional information was obtained on-line at FV-FLinks, HeraldNet, September 27, 1998, personal papers of Milton Creagh, and a personal interview conducted with Contemporary Black Biography on November 13, 2000.
—Lisa S. Weitzman
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