While doing research on building my business recently, I came across something that may help the masses of people, especially those of the African American experience who have been dumbed down, discouraged, depressed, despondent, and disappointed in trying to fulfill their potential. This is a short phrase from a business family, but mighty powerful:
“If you want to go fast, go alone… if you want to go far, go together” (Joel & Julie Landi of The Performance Group)
I was raised by a very determined woman. She had a husband, but sometimes things just don’t work out, and a woman has to do what a woman has to do.
Not many people around gave me much of a chance. I was smaller than many boys around me; had a speech impediment (stuttered and stammered); was made fun of; developed a very low self-esteem (whatever that is!); and began growing into a very angry young man on the inside while I tried to smile on the outside. There is quite a story behind why I smile so often now, and have dedicated my life to help others.
By the time I was 11, my mother had become one of those very dedicated Christians. She was the daughter of a church planter and minister, but negative circumstances had affected her desire to be really serious about becoming a committed Christian. Coupled with her own personal powerhouse of determination to succeed, she constantly brought sunshine into what I thought was a strong poverty life. One day, she grew weary of my negative and “Woe is me!” attitude. I had made the word “can’t” my daily diet. I used to smile as a baby and young child, but over time, hurts from family members, school acquaintances, and being laughed at by others had crushed me—my smile left and I was a depressed sight. I had said “I can’t” once too often that day. My mom glared at me with those sharp black eyes surrounded by her long black hair sat atop a very diminutive body. “That’s it!” she cried. I had heard her sharp tongue much of my life, but this was different. It was as if God himself was thundering at me.
“The word ‘can’t’ will no longer be used in this house!” she continued. “You CAN read better! You CAN speak better. You CAN do better!” she thundered. “I don’t ever want you to use the word ‘can’t again. Do you hear me!” Her thundering voice was so strong I was sure the entire neighborhood heard from our basement living conditions. “Beginning today, you WILL smile! Beginning today, you WILL believe in yourself! Beginning today, you WILL read to me out loud and speak better!”
My mom spoke with such force, I was convinced that she and God must have become very connected! My eyes opened wide; fear gripped my soul. However, that day was a turning point in my life of thinking we would always be in poverty. Of course, my mom NEVER considered us poor, even when we had to share an outhouse with the local pimps, prostitutes, drunks and others in a place where we used to live. She often worked two jobs, and even found time to take me to work in the agricultural fields wherever we lived. We were seldom broke. She would wash twice or more times a week to keep my few clothes cleaned and pressed. And, we seldom missed a meal. But, I would look at others and what they had, and often despised what my mom worked hard to provide for the two of us.
That very day of the thundering, my mom began me reading out loud to her. Every morning she would check to see if I was smiling. If not, I had to quickly put on a smile! I went to church with her, became active in local and church youth programs, and slowly began to grow beyond my mind of poverty-thinking.
My speaking gradually improved. I began to dream again. Against odds, I finished college with several degrees, and was blessed to have had a wife who has stayed with me since 1965. We have five grown children successful in their own right, 14 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. I am NOT rich—yet, but I have had the experience of working and learning from over 19 different industries! This experience has helped me to become a consultant to politicians, ministers, business people, and to community organizations, helping others to dream, and find their niche in life. Now, I wake up every morning with a smile on my face and looking forward to helping someone else, or making a positive difference in some organization or community.
This entire journey of mine could not have been as successful as it has been if I would have had to walk my journey alone. Preachers, pastors, teachers, street people, business people, family members, and associates have helped me come this far in life—by being willing to go on the journey together—with others.