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Christopher Gardner and the Audacity of Hope

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Chris Gardner In an article published earlier this year entitled "Racism Is Not an Excuse to Underachieve," I examined underachievement in the black community. In my article, I stated that one of the most overused platitudes by unambitious black men is ... "The white man is holding me down." Although I am the first to admit that racism still exists, it should not be used as an excuse for underachievement.

After I recently read the autobiography of Chris Gardner entitled "The Pursuit of Happyness" and watched the film of the same name, I pondered -- how would Black America fare if just half of African American men were half as ambitious and resilient as Chris Gardner? Currently, Mr. Gardner is the CEO of Gardner International Holdings, which maintains offices in 3 major U. S. cities. But the level of success that this man has achieved is not the most amazing part of his autobiography; it is the obstacles that he overcame to get there.

Chris was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in a single family household and when necessary, he was sent to live in foster homes. His mother, who taught him to use his spirituality as a source of faith and resiliency, also told him that he could do anything that he set his mind to. When he finished high school, Chris joined the Navy, which was a rite of passage in his family. After he finished his commitment to the Navy, he decided to travel to San Francisco where he took a job as a medical supply salesman. One day he met a man in a red Ferrari who was looking for a parking space and Chris told the man, "You can have mine, but I gotta ask you two questions -- What do you do and how do you do that?" Chris subsequently found out that this man was a stock stockbroker clearing $80,000 a month.

This inspired Chris, who was always good with numbers, to apply to several brokerages in the area with the hopes of landing an internship. He was accepted into an intern program, but the man who hired him was later fired. To make matters worse, Chris was sent to jail for failure to pay $1,200 in parking fines. His son’s mother left in the middle of his crisis, but Chris refused to let his son, Chris Jr., go.

He was finally able to secure an internship at the brokerage firm Dean Witter Reynolds, but the meager pittance he received as an intern was not enough to make ends meet. During this time period, Chris was homeless and flat broke. He succeeded in convincing Rev. Cecil Williams, who had started a shelter program for homeless women in his sanctuary, to allow him and his son to stay there.

In 1981, Chris was the only trainee who was offered a job at the company. After Gardner learned his way around the market, he began to feel that it was time to strike out on his own. In 1997, he started his own brokerage firm in Chicago and named it Gardner Rich & Company. Chris has never forgotten where he came from and became an avid philanthropist.

Chris’s story illustrates what a person can do if they put their mind to do it. In this world, we will always encounter obstacles and for black men -- those obstacles are magnified and increased exponentially.

However, with a resilient spirit and clear goal setting, you can succeed even when the odds seem impossible. It is up to us as individuals to wake up and take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded to us, and work towards attaining the ones that are not. Instead of attempting to foster change in their current situations, many African Americans wallow in self-pity, solidifying their defeatist attitudes.

Chris Gardner serves as a paragon of human resiliency and reveres the popular cliché, "Nice guys finish last."

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Matthew LynchAbout The Author - Matthew Lynch   All Articles By This Author
Matthew Lynch is an Exceptional Education Teacher, owner of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC and a Doctoral Candidate at Jackson State University. He is also the author of Closing the Racial Academic Achievement Gap, and children's book, Matthew and the Money Tree. Lynch is a contributing columnist for Renaissance Man Magazine, Bahiyah Women's Magazine and Emerging Minds Magazine, etc. Born and raised in Hazlehurst, MS, Lynch currently resides in Jackson, Mississippi. Visit his blog at

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