As a high-level human resources director, University of Illinois graduate Joyce Ingram keeps in mind the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King:
"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
As a child, shortly after King's death, she marched with her mother in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., singing, "We Shall Overcome."
She has overcome.
The first African-American women to earn both a law degree and a master's degree in labor and industrial relations (now labor and employment relations) from the UI, Ingram has headed up human resources at major corporations and now serves as assistant vice president and head of human resources at Florida State University.
A UI College of Law mentor, Professor George Bell recalls his former student's "perseverance and unflagging optimism" when she worked as a legal aid attorney for Land of Lincoln Legal Foundation in Mattoon.
"She has such a positive, optimistic attitude on life that she believes failure is just an opportunity to learn and to succeed," Bell said.
She faced pressures both financial and societal as an impoverished student entering what in 1977 was a white male profession, Bell said.
Ingram still remembers how she managed to earn both degrees in record time: "I had to start earning money right away because I needed it."
Now taking care of her mother as well as running personnel functions at a large university, Ingram said her law school experiences were crucial even though she doesn't practice law.
"I follow federal and state laws and regulations every day in my work," she notes.
Ingram came from a historically black college, Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., with 600 to 900 students, to the mostly white 36,000-student Urbana campus.
"I had to make a lot of adjustments," said Ingram, who couldn't find employment with her undergraduate history degree.
In a speech she made in honor of King, she spoke of her life with her mother and brother, and how values instilled in her helped with her life and career.
Before joining Florida State University, where she supervises 63 employees, she was in industry with Fisher Controls in Iowa and Quaker Oats/PepsiCo, and was in a director-level role in human resources.
Nell Madigan, associate dean at the School of Labor and Employment Relations, said Ingram is devoted to her alma mater and returns here often. (Her brother lives in Danville.)
"She has been very loyal to the university, serving on (the school's) alumni board and winning a distinguished alumni award from the school. We also have a room named for her here at the school," Madigan said.
She earned the 2002 Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award. In 2008, the room was dedicated in her name.