Black History Month: A community spotlight on Champaign County leaders


Editor’s note: This is one article in a series celebrating the history and achievements of Black Americans in Champaign County.

By Paule Simone Brown

Contributing writer

Carl Vactor was born in Columbus Ohio, but was adopted into a Pennsylvania family after spending 8 months in an orphanage.

Basketball has been his passion for 45 years, and he coached the elementary, junior high, and high school of Urbana City Schools for several years as a volunteer. He coached men’s basketball at Penn State University at the Shenango Valley Campus and started the first women’s basketball team on that campus.

Midland Ross Grimes, which became Honeywell, hired him as a marketing executive in their marketing department. He was appointed as the Champaign County representative in the NAACP in Dayton, Springfield and Xenia.

Later in his career, Vactor became a social worker with Champaign County Head Start. He served on the Head Start Policy Committee, Senior’s Services Committees, as well as serving on a committee with the Agency on Aging.

His life has been dedicated to developing youth from disadvantaged backgrounds of all races. He said, “Making a chance for kids to improve themselves was my duty. I believe that every soul is important in this life.” He stated, “In my view, I would like to see healing in this country so that we could go from color to those that were born in America are Americans and that each American should have the same rights and privileges for opportunity in the future.”

Matthew Vactor

Carl Vactor’s son, Matthew Vactor is a paraprofessional who works side by side with teachers in the Urbana City Schools. In addition, he is a Deacon at Jerusalem Second Baptist Church in Urbana and is studying for a ministry degree so he can become a youth pastor. People say that the kids at the school love to be around Vactor. His students trust him because he has built a rapport with them. He reports, “If I go to a basketball game, the kids will surround me. They know me because they sit in the classes every day. When they walk through the hallway, I talk to them because maybe no one else will. Getting to know their hearts and sharing mine is the key to a better relationship with the students.”

Vactor has been coaching kids in basketball for 20 years. He also said, “In order for the students to understand their local community and each other, I teach them about local history. Also, kindness is something I try to instill in them.” If someone says to him, they don’t like someone else at the school, he says to them, you need to get to know that person first, sit down with them, and share lunch with them, before you judge them.

Vactor strives to be a positive leader in the students’ lives.

Tyeal Howell

Tyeal Howell is in her late 20s and after graduating from Urbana High School she attended the University of Akron and majored in Mass Media Production. She currently works remotely as a Media Solutions Manager for My Code Media, an advertising agency based in Santa Monica, California, the largest multicultural advertising agency in the nation. She handles pre-sale materials for digital media advertising packages for clients. Prior to that she lived in Los Angeles and worked for many creatives and entrepreneurs, Create & Cultivate, as well as Blavity, as a marketing and media professional.

Upon moving to Atlanta, Georgia, she launched her own media company where she started helping businesses and individuals. When she was in college, she was recognized by the City of Akron as the “Woman to Watch.” She said, “I was recognized for my work on campus and in the community.” In her opinion, the past and present contributions of Black leaders should be celebrated and highlighted during Black History Month. She said, “We do not have a day that passes without the first Black man or woman accomplishing something in our country or setting a trailblazing precedent.” She stated, “The Urbana Black Heritage Festival was started by my father, Kalen Howell, as an initiative to bring the entire community together to heal and celebrate as one.”

She added, “Black History Month has a great deal of meaning as it serves as a reminder of the past and that many of our country’s economic foundations were built by Black Americans. It is a reminder that Black History is American History.

Tishia Freeman

Tishia Freeman, Jerusalem Second Baptist Church’s first lady, is first and foremost a pastor’s wife and a mother to her children. In her opinion, she has accomplished the most by supporting her husband and his career as a pastor. She says that she has done some incredible things in her life but it is only what you do for Christ that will last forever. She has been in Urbana for 12 years. Freeman has sold Mary Kay for the last 26 years and in the past worked for many years in the nursing field. A track-and-field star and a record-breaking performer as a high school athlete, she was born in West Virginia. Freeman says she has a sports record in track that has never been broken. As much as she can, she devotes herself to helping her husband and serving the church members. In her words, “You must love each person in a special way. I do not see color when I meet people, I love all people and not just Christians.”

Among her latest achievements is her ministry to women. During March she is having a Christian women’s workshop with speakers from different parts of the state and it is open to the public.

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