GP Northern

David Northern Sr., executive director and CEO of the Housing Authority of Champaign County, poses for a photo Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in his office at the agency in Champaign.

Listen to this article

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 46-year-old Champaign resident David A. Northern Sr. chats with The News-Gazette’s Paul Wood. As the CEO and executive director of the Housing Authority of Champaign County, he is responsible for administrative and professional oversight in planning and directing at the agency.

What interests you most right now?

My interests include overcoming various obstacles both in my personal life and in the work environment. I strive to inspiring others by using my platform.

Where did you come from and how did you get here?

I was born and raised in Gary, Ind. I became the CEO of the Lake County Housing Authority. I was later recruited by an agency that saw potential in me, providing a different level of leadership than they experienced in the past.

You came to Ball State University with dreams of playing football. Had you been a star in high school? Were you in any other sports?

I was a lineman and running back and the captain of my football team in high school. I also started boxing in college. I was the Golden Gloves champion in ’93 in Indiana.

But you had injuries. That must have been disappointing.

I initially injured my knee in high school. I reinjured it in a car accident in college. The story behind me changing careers is built on the loss of one of my close friends and the fact that my knee injury prohibited me from succeeding at sports. One of my best friends was supposed to attend Ball State University and play football with me, but he was murdered. This discouraged me from pursuing the sport of football. Dealing with so many obstacles at the time, I chose to focus on my education rather than continuing to pursue football.

You struggled with educational shortcomings early on, but you were always good at math. I imagine that made an accounting degree natural.

Although I had poor performance in various areas of study and was labeled as having a learning disability, I was always strong in math and I was a hard worker. I feel that hard work beats talent every time. I was actually the first in my family to graduate with a four-year degree.

'Many strong leaders get accounting and other business degrees to help them get placed in CEO jobs.' Sounds like you had a life plan.

I had a life plan, but my goal was to always become a leader. I was a leader in football and other areas of my life as well. I really wanted to be in the FBI. I switched my major from criminal justice to accounting because the FBI hired more accounting majors than criminal justice majors.

How did you like being on the school board?

Being on the school board was a great opportunity to pass skill sets onto the children in the community. I was the first African American elected to the board, and I believe it was necessary for children to see diversity, inclusion and progression within their community.

Tell us about what’s the most important thing you’re doing now.

Being a role model and father figure to my children. It is important that I instill in them the essence of what is right and what is wrong.

Tell us about your two teenage children, Dasanie and David Jr., whom you call 'my motivation.'

While I was growing up, I didn’t have my father around, because he was incarcerated. I was raised by my grandmother, who instilled love in my heart. From then, I got married fairly young. Although this marriage failed, I fought for custody of my children. I won. This life transition enabled me to spend one on one time with my children and bond with them.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

Dubai. I would love to experience another culture, and from what I have seen, it seems like a fascinating place to go.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

I have a boxer named Diamond, and I love her.

What’s your favorite sports team?

My favorite sports teams are the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Dolphins.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

I would come back as an all-pro football player for the Miami Dolphins.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Tupac, Soul Asylum. These musicians created music that embodied the tough times I was experiencing in life.

What’s the happiest memory of your life?

When my children were born. Being featured in Ebony magazine’s 30 under 30 is also a highlight.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Stacey Dash, President Barack Obama and Sen. Kamala Harris. We would have seafood, because I am a pescatarian.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Martin Luther King impacted my life before I even had a life.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I dislike bullies. I also can improve on my OCD.

What’s your best piece of advice?

No matter what you do in life, make sure you are at the table. My favorite quote is, “Either you are at the table or you are on the menu.”

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

Hardees. I made $3.80 an hour.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

I found out I had a passion as a leader in the housing community. Although I was not qualified, per the job description, for the deputy director position in Lake County, I applied anyway and received the job. That is when I solidified my career in housing and community development.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I always pray. This helps me find answers on how to handle stressful situations. I also work out.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

I do learn from the poor decisions that I regret. I made it my practice to never regret for long and never to look back. George Halas said, ”Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it!” If I had to choose two regrets, not going to law school and disappointing my mother as a teenager.

Reporter

Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is pwood@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).