Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Father's Proudest Moment

If you click on the link in the title to this entry you'll witness a very real interview in Crain's Chicago Business Today by Chris Gardner founder of Gardner Rich & Co. I had the opportunity to read his autobiography a while back "Pursuit of Happyness" which was subsequently made into a Hollywood movie. But that is beside the point. When I read his autobiography- what struck me about his writing was how real a person he is, how candid his approach, very unassuming.

Here is a man who from his very humble beginnings and multiple trials and tribulations- could have folded his arms a long time ago and said "that's it". The funny thing is that the world would not have missed a beat. You know why? Because all around you- as a minority in America- people expect you to fail. They expect you not to be able to make it. So you have to do things just a bit better than your contemporaries. Average is NOT good enough.

In his short video- Gardner touches briefly upon his life's learnings of starting his own business from very humble begginings to his proudest moment the graduation of his child from college. The symbolism of this moment happens on many levels. It is the education, that is the symbolic accomplishment.

The first child to graduate from college. Something I can relate to. I clearly remember the pride in my parent's and grandparents eyes as we walke up Michigan Ave. to the theater in which my graduation was being held. It seemed like the pictures were endless. They savored the moment. The first grandchild (out of seventeen grandchildren) to graduate from college. A full life ahead of him.

It doesn't take much to look around and find the various success stories from the inner-city in business, sports, politics. There are successful persons of color in every walk of life. As a parent- it is our mission to point these out to our children every step of the way. It's important to share these successes and celebrate them with our kids. All the while, keeping them grounded in reality and helping them to remember from where they came. Teaching them to give back to the community from where they originated.

There is a social syndrome of rise and fall that seems to play itself out in every other generation of immigrants who arrive in this country. One generation arrives, full of the 'American Dream', the next lives off the 'fat' of the previous generation. The entrapments of wealth as you may. Only to correct the inbalance in their offspring. It's cyclical, much like everything in this world. Much like our natural surroundings, a balance is sought and eventually arrives sometimes in the later generation- but it arrives.

As a parent, I'm constantly confronted with this. Will the toys they got for christmas spoil them. Is it too much? The never ending struggle to keep them grounded. Yes it starts at a very young age. As parents, we owe it to our children. I'll do my part. Will you? That is where the true pride is.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reshaping the American Dream?

My RSS feed brought a great news story to my inbox today. It was titled Do You Need an Obama to Believe? by Larry Elder . It was timely, because some of the comments that struck me from the election night festivities were some of the commentary from the attendees. The common theme seemed to be "I can now look my children in the face and tell them- you too can be president of the United States." As I heard this statement over and over. I thought about the words. Never having walked a day in the shoes of an African-American- I thought of the significance of the words. They stung, almost incredibly to a point that I started to question why that was. It got me deep into thinking about my upbringing on the South Side of Chicago. The neighborhood I grew up in was a hodgepodge of ethnicity: Polish, Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Black.

I still remember my group of friends from the neighborhood. There were five of us. Living in the shadow of the steel mills, We all came from decent hardworking blue-collar families. Few of our parents had a college education. Simple lifestyles were the common theme. Our common crossing points were playing baseball in the local baseball leagues , belonging to the same parish and our Boy Scout troop. I find it very insightful that all can come from similar backgrounds and yet we all ended up in different sectors of society. Each of us had the same ability to pursue a private education for grammar and high school. College was a possibility for all of us. Due to decisions that each of us made early in our lives- it set each of us down a path of realizing this potential or eventually facing challenges that limited our path out of the neighborhood.

Thirty years later- one of us is a businessman, one is a chef, one works for the city, one is doing time in a state penitentiary and one is an entrepreneur. We were all hispanic kids from the neighborhood. Growing up in the 70's and 80's meant there were few latinos on television (Freddie Prinz didn't count) in roles other than the typical stereotypes. Being blue-collar, many of us did not come in contact with many professionals (doctors, lawyers etc) yet it was never a limiting factor for each of us. Most of us pursued an education in one form or another. We knew that was our ticket out of the neighborhood. At any point, either of us was one poor decision away from ending up in jail or some other issue which would have derailed our educational goals. Four of the five had the sense to stay straight.

Getting back to the post election interviews- what struck me most was the comment by many of the people in the crowds. How could it be that it was now and only now that they saw the possibility to become something more? Have they been blind to the doctors, lawyers and high profile business people to come out of their community? I question if that is the case or if it has been easier to idolize the rappers, the local neighborhood hoodlums or the dropouts?

It brought be me to Larry Elder's commentary. Where are the family values of fair pay for an honest day's work, respecting yourself and honoring your responsibilities not enough? What was missing? Why was it that it took Barrack Obama for the people in the interviews to solidify their hope that they could become someone? Was the American Dream reshaped on that fateful night on November 4, 2008? Or has it always been there and it isn't until now that people see the reason to pursue it?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Post Election Blues? Hardly!

So I've been up all night watching history unfold. It has been a great night in the history of America. Despite our political ideologies- our great nation has shown that democracy is the best policy. As a gracious competitor, I've been wrestling with the thoughts in my head. I am happy for the other team as they ran a first rate campaign. They gathered a groundswell of support and stuck to their points. There was ALOT accomplished. Hat's off to Barack Obama and his millions of supporters. This is not only your night. It is a great night for all of America. B.H.O is now our president. He is now my president. I will not commit the same mistakes the other team made in 2000 when they set off to criticize, whine and bellyache about our president. Call me a boy scout, but that's what I am.

Our great country can finally put aside over two-hundred and thirty two years of shame since our fateful beginning. Since the day back in 1776 when our founding fathers declared : 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Today, on this day November 4, 2008 every American can see proof that this IS true. Not that it was ever a question- but all people of every race, creed and color and gender can see living, walking proof to remind them how great a country we live in.

You see- many of us overachievers have known this. Due to the values instilled in us by our parents and family, it has been truly clear that hard work, perseverance and tenacity for living pays off. But for those that have lost their way and have used the challenges and setbacks in their life as one more reason why they cannot achieve their dreams. Let this night, let this historical accomplishment serve as a wake up call that YES- you too can achieve!
Because you see- we are all created equal. Most of us have the intellect, the understanding,the biological and physical capabilities to achieve. Sure our environmental surroundings may sometimes predispose us to a limited number of options. Sure-sometimes god puts a physical handicap or obstacle in our way. The one equalizer throughout all of this is human intellect, the ability to learn. So often people lose their way- because they lose the hunger to learn. Because education is the ticket to change. Change for yourself, change for your family... Opportunity. Let us remember this on this historic night. Let us never forget this. Sofia, dear daughters- you too from the day you were born have been able to become anything you want.... It is yours for the taking. I love you both very much. Don't ever forget that!