South Philly native and naval veteran honored by Travis Manion Foundation

Jimmy White IV of Point Breeze recently received the “If Not Me, Then Who?” award for his work as a Character Does Matter Mentor.

Jimmy White IV accepts his “If Not Me, Then Who?” award during the Travis Manion Foundation gala in December. (Photo special to SPR)

In his character-building presentations with the Travis Manion Foundation, Point Breeze native Jimmy White IV often refers to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” ideology.

Deriving from the civil rights leader’s speech, which was coincidentally given at White’s alma mater of Barratt Junior High School in 1967, the Navy veteran asks students to imagine themselves five years and 10 years from now.

Although, when White was growing up near 18th and Federal streets, he probably couldn’t foresee where life would lead him.

In December, White, a 1998 graduate of the Girard Academic Music Program, was awarded the “If Not Me, Then Who?” award for his work as a Character Does Matter Mentor with The Travis Manion Foundation, a national nonprofit uniting veterans for youth and community empowerment programs founded upon the legacy of fallen Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion of Doylestown.

In 2017, White was thunderstruck by the foundation after being handed “Brothers Forever” — the story of Travis Manion and U.S. Navy SEAL Brendan Looney’s heroism overseas following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He found himself floored by both the book and the foundation’s cornerstone concept of “If not me, then who?” — a motto once spoken by Manion.

White felt he was destined to work with the foundation.

“This is my life mantra put to words that I never even knew was my life mantra,” White said. “I always stepped up when other people wouldn’t step up, because that was just my character. That’s just how I was built. Like, someone else wasn’t going to get something done. I’m not going to let us fail. I’m going to step up and do it. That’s me shooting the last basketball shot. That’s me fixing a piece of equipment that no one else can fix or that’s me staying late in the middle of the night to make sure a project happens…so, ‘if not me then who?’ was like everything that exemplified me.”

Despite reaching a period of stagnation after high school, White was eventually accepted into the Nuclear Power School in South Carolina, where he studied to be an electrician on naval submarines.

Officially joining the Navy as a submariner in 2000, White worked on the USS Montpelier, including during its salvo as the initial submarine to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles in 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During his six years of service, White received naval recognitions such as the Junior Sailor of the Year, along with three Navy achievement medals.

Jimmy White IV delivers one of his character-building presentations at the Northeast Summit last April. (Photo special to SPR)

In 2006, White returned home, where he started working as an electrical contractor in South Philly before starting low-level maintenance technician jobs in the Philadelphia suburbs.

“I’m like, ‘I just got finished running a nuclear reactor and now you want me to change out toilet seats?’ ” White asked. “But, it also taught me to humble myself…I learned to use my resources and the things I learned in the service to make me a better maintenance technician.”

Working with Linc Facility Services and then ABM Industries, White worked his way up the ranks for nearly a decade before eventually serving as Portfolio Operations Manager for ABM.

Just this past summer, White, who lives with his wife and two children outside of the city, was recruited by Liberty Property Trust to work with the operations management team at the recently opened Comcast Technology Center.

White tackles mechanical, electrical, plumbing and other maintenance tasks for the tallest skyscraper in Philadelphia.

But, when White isn’t maintaining one of the most technologically advanced buildings in the country, he mentors students across the country, including some in South Philly, through TMF.

Since joining the foundation in August 2017, White has mentored approximately 1,360 youths through Character Does Matter presentations, and well more than 3,000 children through Operation Legacy service projects, according to TMF.

“This is me connecting with kids, doing something positive and spreading this ‘If not me then, who?’ message to the generation that needs it” White said. “…This generation doesn’t always necessarily get the character lessons.”

During such presentations, White seeks out inspirational stories to share with his mentees.

Shortly after last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, he connected with Thomas Hixon, who was transitioning out of the military.

Hixon is the son of naval veteran Chris Hixon, the athletic director and wrestling coach of the targeted Florida high school who sacrificed his life on the day of the tragedy.

After learning about White’s work, Thomas Hixon quickly responded.

“That night,” White said. “(Thomas) sent me a two-page letter that detailed what happened, what type of person his father was, and what he thought his father would say to the kids about always being able to be redeemed, like you always have a redeeming quality in you that you’re never so far and messed up so bad that you can’t recover and still show character at a later stage.”

White later presented the letter to students of Glen Mills Schools — an education facility for juvenile delinquents.

Jimmy White IV accepts his “If Not Me, Then Who?” award alongside Thomas Hixon during the Travis Manion Foundation gala in December. (Photo special to SPR)

During the foundation’s December gala, Thomas Hixon accepted the other “If Not Me, Then Who?” ward alongside White on behalf of his father.

“(The award) honors someone who has gone above and beyond,” said Alexis Sachdev of the TMF foundation. “Not just for TMF but in pursuit of this mantra.”

Sachdev stressed that picking White for the award was an “obvious decision.”

Looking forward, White hopes to continue bringing his own ideas to TMF, such as the foundation’s massive turkey drive this past fall. Under White’s leadership, an abundance of turkeys and Thanksgiving baskets were distributed throughout the region to those in need, including families at six South Philadelphia public schools.

Jimmy White IV gives out fist pumps in Point Breeze during the Operation Legacy project in November. (Photo special to SPR)

White, who also preaches and teaches at Prophetic Church of Christ near 6th and Mifflin streets, stresses that whenever he has a new plan, TMF fully supports his vision as he continues his national character-building campaign.

“My actions speak for me, not my words,” White said. “So, when I saw that, hey, I’m getting more notoriety, people are kind of gravitating to me and want to hear more about it, I realized that I can use the platform to advocate. Advocate for youth. Advocate for South Philly. Advocate for schools. Advocate for veterans, and be a voice of positivity in a sea of negative media.”

Follow Grace on Twitter at @gracemaiorano.