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Hidden Heroes: Kathleen Adebola Okikiolu and Robert Cray

Week 5 of the Lakewood MLK Committee’s Hidden Heroes campaign highlights national hero Kathleen Okikiolu and local hero Lakewood native and award-winning Blues musician Robert Cray.

Kathleen Adebola Okikiolu

Kathleen Adebola Okikolu

Kathleen “Kate” Adebola Okikiolu was born in England in 1965 to a math-focused family. Her father, George Olatokunbo Okikiolu, was a renowned Nigerian mathematician who is believed to have written more mathematical papers than any other African citizen. Her mother was a high school math teacher.

Okikiolu received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Cambridge University in 1987 before earning her doctoral degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. During her career, Okikiolu has served as a faculty member at Princeton University, the University of California at San Diego and John Hopkins University.

In 1997, she was the first black recipient of the Sloan Research Fellowship and received the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers for both her mathematical research and her development of math curricula for inner-city school children. In 2001, she became the first black woman to publish an article in the Annals of Mathematics, a journal of research papers in pure mathematics founded in 1884.

(Source: The Stem Store and MathCareers.org.uk)

Robert Cray

Robert Cray performing on stage with a guitar photo credit James L. Bass
Photo credit: James L. Bass

In his more than 40 years of playing the blues, musician Robert Cray won five Grammys, sold millions of albums and is inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. And he got his start in Lakewood. As a Lakes High School student Cray and his friends honed their guitar skills while listening to B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam and Howling Wolf.

As his career took off and he made a name for himself, Cray did so with his high school friend and bass player Richard Cousins at his side. He also found himself playing alongside some of the artists who served as his inspiration, including King, Guy and Eric Clapton.

His fifth album, Strong Persuader sold 2 million copies and is known for helping with a resurgence of popularity around the Blues in the 1980s. Today Cray is still touring and producing albums – he’s recorded 20 studio releases, 15 of which have been on the Billboard charts.

“Hearing is a funny thing. It’s not just receiving sound – it’s understanding and interpreting it, making sense of the various vibrations swirling around our heads. That’s how tow people can listen to the same thing and come away with opposite impressions. The sounds may be the same, but the comprehension isn’t.” – Robert Cray