Yesterday we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr´s birthday, so I"d like to take a moment and tell you what Dr. King´s legacy means to me. When I began my cold calling career more than 2 decades ago, I was one of a handful of African Americans hired to sell radio air time over the phone. I remember that my boss at the time chastised me for being too slow in dialing and not aggressive enough to close a deal. I can still remember him saying I was "too stupid" to do the job and firing me. (Did I mention that it was only my second day?) The next day I got a phone call from the president of the firm asking me to come and give it another shot for which I agreed on 2 conditions. First, the boss who had fired me would have to apologize to me in the presence of the people he had callously humiliated me in front of. And second, I would receive a substantial raise and promotion within six months. I didn´t know it then, but that was my first real taste of racism. My parents didn´t really talk to my sister and I about prejudice and inequality (I think they figured we would learn about it on our own soon enough and so to some extent they were right)so someone yelling at me about my lack of education and intelligence didn´t initially strike me as a racial incident .
As I grew older and moved along in my career, opened my firm and began building a business, my perception of prejudice became more astute while the act itself became more subtle and insidious. Because I grew up with parents who put a high value on education, dialect, speech and enunciation of words became of utmost importance. I remember being teased in grade school because my diction and speech mannerism was more indicative of "a white boy". Consequently I got beat up a lot because of it. The way that I spoke (and still speak) would prove to be both a blessing and a curse throughout my career. When someone speaks with me over the phone they naturally assume that I am a white person. A bit insulting but understandable I suppose. However, I can also tell you stories about meetings I´ve shown up for in which prospects were ready to sign a deal but had a change of heart once I showed up. I´ve had to on more than one occasion work harder than my white counter parts just to land and maintain an account (in fact it´s an everyday occurrence for me). Again, only peripherally aware of the inequality of the situation.
Over the years my accomplishments include, CEO, author (of 2 books) lecturer, consultant, founder of a networking group, E-magazine publisher, columnist, teacher and now talk show host. Quite a lot for a kid who got beat up on a regular basis because he spoke like a "white boy". And fired from his first job for being"too stupid".
As I think back to those early days and prepare for the next stage of my career (as a talk show host for KPOO FM Radio beginning Feb 16th 4-5pm) I am aware of the road that I´ve traveled as a Black man and entrepreneur. I think of the battles I continue to fight and the limitations that others want to place on me. I think of the limitless possibilities available to me as a business man, as a Black man, as a man wanting more from myself than what I see in front of me. So Dr. King´s legacy represents a reminder to everyone regardless of color, creed, social or economic background that we all want the same dream; to work for a better future, and achieve whatever we desire our life to be with no limits.
Thanks Dr. King. We still have a ways to go but we´re on our way.