The Power of… CONVICTION

Jesse Hill, Jr.


“When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

CONVICTION. Do you stand up for what you believe in? Do you even know what you believe in?

Every one of us is unique with specific gifts to share. Some people have the clarity and energy to fulfill their destiny - achieving what I call PWR: Purpose With Results. Others either do not spend time understanding their Purpose, or lose steam along the way falling short of their vision. In this column, I would like to honor Jesse Hill, Jr., who died on December 17, 2012 at the age of 86. He is an incredible example of a true PWR Broker – someone who lives from the heart, paving his own path, expanding the Universe by adding to it, creating instead of imitating, and achieving through authenticity… a true example of values-driven leadership.

Jesse Hill, Jr. has been my mentor since I was a teenager. He has really been like a second Dad. My dad, Dr. James Scott Kennedy, was very philosophical and extremely creative. Mr. Hill, along with another great man Charles T. Williams, taught me about business. All of these men were trailblazers – Dad as a pioneer in communications and the theatre arts around the world; Mr. Williams as a Tuskegee Airman and one of the first Black vice presidents of a major U.S. corporation, the Schenley Corporation – who also happened to be Jackie Robinson’s brother-in-law; and Mr. Hill as the Chairman and CEO of Atlanta Life Insurance Company – the largest stockholder life insurance company owned and controlled by African-Americans. All of these men were civil rights activists – they stood by their convictions. All of these men were teachers – they led by example and always took time to give back.

Mr. Hill’s history is impressive. During his 21-year tenure as Chief Executive, Atlanta Life attained its highest level of growth in shareholder value, profits, revenues and assets. The company became nationally recognized for its financial and staff volunteer support for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Mrs. Rosa Parks, whom I had the pleasure of meeting through Mr. Hill, was once employed as the secretary of the Atlanta Life sales office in Montgomery, Alabama. Very close to the entire King family, Mr. Hill spent 15 years as chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Since the 1950s, he helped transform Atlanta – from the integration of the Atlanta public schools and the University of Georgia, to the launch of MARTA in the early 1970s. He compiled a long list of “door-opening firsts” – breaking racial barriers in the insurance industry, in corporate boardrooms, and in Chambers of Commerce. For example, he was the first black president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, first black member of the University System’s Board of Regents, first black member of the board of the Rich’s Department Store. He also helped create the Atlanta Inquirer – the city’s first newspaper for the African American community. He served as publisher until 1985.

What is even more notable, however, is the time he has taken to mentor others. Many prominent business and political leaders rose in their careers from the guidance of Mr. Hill – from Ambassador Andrew Young to Atlanta’s first black mayor Maynard Jackson and media pioneer Bob Johnson. For my family, he has always been there for each of us in a very special way. For my mom, Janie Sykes-Kennedy, he has been a long-time professional colleague, and truly a great friend. For my brother, James S. Kennedy, Jr., he has been a model of male strength and standard for success. For my sister, Sheila Jenine Kennedy, he has been a godfather, watching over her when she lived in Atlanta, giving advice on everything from her business to her relationships.

For me, he has been the consummate supporter, always believing in me, guiding my career decisions early on, often calling at six in the morning to push me along. When I thought I wanted to go to law school, he flew to Boston to personally introduce me to Ernest Sargent, a senior partner at Ropes & Gray where I ended up interning. When I graduated from Harvard Business School and wanted to explore a partnership in the newspaper industry, he flew to San Francisco to introduce me to P. Anthony Ridder from Knight Ridder. When I left MTV Networks and decided to step out full-time into entrepreneurship, he became my first investor, and once again flew to D.C. to introduce me to people like Herb Wilkins, Sr., and Vernon Jordan to offer me business advice. One thing has always been quite clear: when Mr. Hill believed in a cause or a person, he took deliberate and often immediate action.

Although Mr. Hill is no longer with us, he will continue to be a beacon of light for us all. Let his spirit of conviction be our guide. Those who have paved the way are now passing the torch. Are we going to let the fire burn out, or shine brighter than ever? Ask yourself: What do I stand for? Who am I going to inspire? What am I going to do to continue this tradition of greatness? How can I be a “Mr. Hill” to someone else? As Thomas Carlyle said, “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.” Let your thoughts reflect your spirit, your words reflect your intention, and your actions reflect your character. It’s time to take a stand and live by your convictions.


  • Know what you believe. Take time to understand your core beliefs – not just your inherited beliefs (i.e. what your family or friends say you should believe in).
  • Follow your convictions by taking action. Lead by example. Get involved in community activities that support your cause.
  • Make a difference in another person’s life. It could be someone close to home, such as a sister, a nephew, or a friend.
  • Reach out to those who have been there for you. It could be a grandparent, a colleague or a teacher. Show them your gratitude.


    Today, I follow my convictions.

    I understand that I have distinct talents to share and my voice needs to be heard. I take a stand for what I believe in. I inspire others to share their gifts and to live up to their potential. I lead by example. I know that my actions demonstrate my character.

    Today, I follow my convictions.

    Listen to the Affirmation:


    Copyright Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy. Power Living® Column Vol. 58.07, originally published February 2007. Teresa Kennedy has written over 70 “The Power of…” columns that are a part of the Power Living® Empowerment Series and available for syndication. Call 212-901-6913 for more information.

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    Sheila Kennedy Bryant, Jesse Hill, Jr. and Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy at the 2010 Salute To Greatness Dinner in Atlanta

    Sheila Kennedy Bryant, Jesse Hill, Jr. and Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy at the 2010 Salute To Greatness Dinner in Atlanta

    More on the 2010 Salute To Greatness Dinner.

    We will indeed miss you Mr. Hill and send our love to Mrs. Hill, Nancy, Azira, and the rest of family.