In Full Cannon, published late last year, the 61-year-old Peoria who founded programs such as ELITE offers something that’s part inspiration and part perspiration, full of memories of hard work and hardships, presidents and prisoners, struggles and successes.
Subtitled “Love, Leadership and Making a Difference,” the 409-page book is also part memoir and scrapbook, featuring photos from a past of hurdles and miracles, achievements and tragedies that offer personal insights into the life of a public figure, a man recalling everyday doubts, wonder and gratitude.
Available online and at local bookstores, Full Cannon was co-authored by Lance Zedric, and the readable results are not only structured well and paced briskly, it avoids the self-righteous self-promotion of too many titles by innovators.
It’s no cliché to say Cannon had a humble beginning, growing up in public housing until his dad got hired by the Peoria Police Department and the family moved to a “suburban” neighborhood. He remembers selling Kool-Aid and shoveling snow and being a mischievous pupil at Irving School before benefiting from key coaches and teachers and excelling at Von Steuben School, then successfully navigating his time at Central as an accomplished athlete before hitting the obstacle of college.
He also worked at the Peoria Park District and Pittsburgh Paints until a sense of aimlessness had him enlisting in the Army, where he developed into manhood while stationed in Korea, the Pacific and Germany plus Alabama, Kansas and Missouri. After serving, he worked at the Pekin prison and following retirement there, at the Peoria Park District once more.
“I loved to work, I loved to compete, and even more, I loved a challenge,” he writes.
Challenges in his community efforts include fundraising through grants, donations and generated income, and the work itself. Beyond ELITE (which stands for “Economic Leaders Integrating Trained Employable Youth”), which has addressed disadvantaged youth, adult re-entry and K-8 audiences, Cannon has organized many outreach programs: “Officer Friendly” school presentations, CHOICES, “Straight Talk” (on crime and punishment), “Don’t Shoot” (violence), “Don’t Start” (gangs)
The award-winning advocate’s interactions and collaborations range from Barack Obama and FBI director James Comey to the late segregationist George Wallace and former First Lady Laura Bush, plus dozens of volunteers and local luminaries including the late State’s Attorney Jerry Brady, businessman and mayor Jim Maloof, and lawman and lawmaker George Shadid, as well as living community contributors such as Jehan Gordon-Booth and Ray LaHood. (His acknowledgments section runs three pages.)
Also known as a board member at Illinois Central College and the Peoria Housing Authority, and an inductee in the Central Illinois African American Hall of Fame, Cannon seems most pleased by his faith and extended family (incidentally, he’s the nephew of Community Word contributor Sherry Cannon). His evangelical zeal draws on Jesus, but also Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and FDR, plus ex-Peorian Gens. Wayne Downing and John Shalihkashvili.
Among a few brief passages from his wife Melinda and daughters Summer and Danielle is a telling nugget that shows despite Cannon’s imposing build, his attitude goes beyond physicality. “Dad has made a tremendous impact on people by leading with his heart,” Danielle writes.
Cannon’s had setbacks, naturally. A knack for self-criticism shows he recognizes his mistakes. In the military, he recalled, “My own carelessness, lack of attention to detail, and failure to do my homework had created my mess, not the Army.”
Other observations reveal empathy. After visiting Nazis’ Dachau concentration camp, he remarks “If anyone doubts that evil exists and that people are capable of such inhumanity, they need to visit the camp.”
Watching the killing of George Floyd on TV, the former MP and prison guard commented, “It was murder.” And, after Caterpillar moved its headquarters out of Peoria, the corporation cut ties to ELITE and Cannon says it was hurtful but “I learned that working from the ground up is better than falling from the top down.”
For curious and casual readers, Full Cannon doesn’t push any One True Path for social progress. Instead, reflecting on an approach that instills mutual respect and pride, Cannon merely shows that engagement and encouragement can lead to improvement,
And that’s a load many can carry.
Full Cannon: Love, Leadership and Making a Difference, By Carl Cannon and Lance Zedric, 410 pp. trade paperback; War Press, 2020