Library Board Member Turns Life Challenges into Path to Success

Charles McAllister grew up in New Orleans in the 1950s, experiencing segregation firsthand and watching the civil rights struggle unfold. He endured a cocaine addiction and time in a California prison as a young man. 

But through intelligence, determination and hard work, plus a strong faith and family support, he overcame those major challenges to build a successful career and family life and to become a mentor for Johnson County youth.  

Now semi-retired, McAllister was recently appointed to a Johnson County Library Board term through April 2027. With his compelling personal story, he intends to be an advocate for building a strong, vibrant community. 

“We need a Library Board that’s progressive, that’s active and one that has a voice in the community that says we’re all in this together,” McAllister said in an interview. “Making sure every aspect of our community has the proper resources, especially if they can’t afford it themselves.” 

McAllister appreciates the Library’s excellent collection, public computers, online access and enriching programs. He hopes the Library can also be a tool for democratic engagement and for getting more young people and diverse individuals involved in community and government progress. 

Johnson County District 5 Commissioner Michael Ashcraft appointed McAllister to the Library Board. Ashcraft sees McAllister as a “servant leader” with a unique background and deep commitment to giving back. 

“He fits the model,” Ashcraft said. “He’s a thoughtful, positive, creative individual.” 

As a child in New Orleans, McAllister read books to understand the roots of segregation and the fight for equal rights. “I wanted to know about Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr.,” he recalled. “They motivated me a lot in school. I needed to know about the history of the civil rights movement.” 

He moved to California, graduating from Fresno Pacific University in 1975. He had good jobs in insurance, banking and finance. But in the late 1980s he developed a cocaine addiction that landed him in prison for several stints, spanning nine years. 

“I don’t mind telling my story,” he says, “because I think it’s important especially that people see that wasn’t the end of life, although it was a tough time.” 

The second time he went to prison he turned to his faith. He worked in the prison ministry, put his computer skills to good use, and shared his story of resilience with many high school students. He was paroled in February 1998 and became a model citizen.  

Fortunately, his wife stood by him. She moved to Johnson County for work and he joined her. Despite his criminal past, he got hired by Johnson County Wastewater. He eventually worked 17 years with the engineering division, helping to coordinate major infrastructure projects, before he retired in 2017. 

McAllister and his wife have five grown children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He felt it was very important to be involved in his kids’ schooling, and he’s been a dedicated Olathe School District volunteer for many years, mentoring students who need a friend and positive role model. 

“I always tell them about my story because sometimes these kids come from tough backgrounds,” he said. 

He still works part-time for an engineering firm, but wanted to be involved in Johnson County volunteer boards, where so much vital work gets done. The Library Board was an ideal opportunity. 

McAllister is determined to raise awareness about how people can be more engaged in public life. “We need more people of color, more young people, more women, more involvement,” he said. “I think there are things the Library Board can do and be a part of that is not about name recognition but it’s about making the community better.”