Post-it with the words "Believe in Yourself" written on it

Today, October 20, marks the celebration of the energy, spirit, and potential of young people across the nation. Research shows that young people benefit greatly from close, caring relationships with adults who serve as positive role models, but millions of youth lack supportive and sustained mentors. Establishing role models encourages youth to follow in the footsteps of responsible and exceptional individuals. To celebrate National Youth Confidence day, recognize a number of positive role models that hail from Illinois:

Miles Davis, born in Alton, Illinois, became a national music sensation for his experimental approach to jazz. He shaped modern improvisational music by following his melodic intuition and becoming a standard for future generations of musicians.

Walt Disney, the famous director, producer, animator, and screenwriter who created many children’s favorite characters, was born in Chicago. Disney spent his life starting his very own studios and creating ads for magazines, cinemas, and newspapers until he attracted the attention of renowned distributors. Disney is a shining example of the very words he believed: “All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Jane Addams, who is featured in the National Women’s History Museum, is an internationally-recognized peace activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She was the first American woman to receive this honor. She is known for helping found the Hull House in Chicago, the first settlement house in the United States. The house was intended for educated women to share their knowledge, from basic skills to arts and literature, with poorer people in the neighborhood.

George Ferris was born in Galesburg, Illinois, and you can probably guess his claim to fame. Ferris was an American engineer best known for inventing the Ferris Wheel. Tasked with creating a structure that rivaled the Eiffel Tower in magnificence, Ferris made plans to create a gigantic observation wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago. His name was added to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Alumni Hall of Fame in 1998.

Robin Williams is an American comedian and actor who portrayed many beloved characters, from inspirational English teacher John Keating to the quirky Mrs. Doubtfire. He was born in Chicago, and he was nominated multiple times for Academy Awards in addition to receiving an Oscar for his performance in Good Will Hunting. Williams was also active with a number of charities, making significant philanthropic contributions to a variety of communities.

Gwendolyn Brooks, a highly-regarded 20th century American poet, was the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. Her work reflects the civil rights movement, highlighting racial identity and the struggle of equality through poetic technique. Though born in Kansas, Brooks moved to Chicago as a child and developed her craft in the Prairie State, working as the poet laureate of Illinois.


Each of these individuals share a personal relationship to Illinois. Though their lives and their work led them each to different acclamations, their residency in the state ties them together and makes them great role models for youth in the Land of Lincoln.