Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Black Bloggers Connect: BHM ENTRY" BLACK HISTORY MONTH - DAY 9: Rising from the ashes

Day 9 of my Black History challenge, I chose to write about Christopher Gardner.  He went from rags, to worse rags and then rose to the top...

Christopher Paul Gardner Sr. was born February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  His childhood was marked by poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse and family illiteracy.  Gardner never knew his father, and lived with his mother, Bettye Jean Triplett (nee Gardner), when not in foster homes.  Gardner said he is indebted to Bettye Jean for his success as she provided him with strong “spiritual genetics” and taught him that in spite of where he came from, he could chart another path and attain whatever goals he set for himself.

Gardner joined the Navy out of high school and after discharge moved to San Francisco where he worked as a medical research associate and for a scientific supply distributor. Christopher Gardner Jr was born in 1981.  As a new father, Sr. was determined to find a career that would be both lucrative and fulfilling.

Armed with nothing but his fascination for finance, with the help of a man named Bob Bridges, Gardner applied for training programs at brokerages such as: Merrill Lynch, Paine Webber, E.F. Hutton, Dean Witter Reynolds and Smith Barney - willing to live on next to nothing while he learned a new trade. It appeared that Gardner got his "break" when he was accepted into a training program at E.F. Hutton.  He subsequently quit his sales job so that he could dedicate his time exclusively to training as a stockbroker. Then he appeared at the office ready to work, only to discover that his hiring manager had been fired the week before.  To make matters worse, Gardner's relationship with Chris Jr.’s mother, Jackie Medina was falling apart and she eventually left.  Gardner, despite his circumstances, fought to keep his son because, as he says,
“I made up my mind as a young kid that when I had children they were going to know who their father is, and that he isn’t going anywhere.”

Gardner earned a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds stock brokerage training program.  However, this offered no salary, apart from selling medical equipment that brought in $300-$400 a month for early 1980's and with no savings, he was unable to meet his living expenses and became homeless.  His perseverance paid off when, in 1982, Gardner passed his licensing exam on the first try and became a full employee of the firm. Eventually, Gardner was recruited by Bear Stearns & Company in San Francisco.

Gardner and his son secretly struggled with homelessness while he saved money for a rental house in Berkeley, California. Meanwhile, none of Gardner's co-workers knew that he and his son were homeless in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco for nearly a year.  Gardner often scrambled to place his child in daycare, stood in soup kitchens and slept wherever he and his son could find safety—in his office after hours, at flophouses, at parks and even in a locked bathroom at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station.

Concerned for Chris Jr.’s well-being, Gardner asked Reverend Cecil Williams to allow them to stay at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church’s shelter for homeless women, now known as The Cecil Williams Glide Community House. Williams agreed without hesitation.  Today, when asked what he remembers about being homeless, Christopher Gardner, Jr. recalls
"I couldn't tell you that we were homeless, I just knew that we were always having to go. So, if anything, I remember us just moving, always moving."

In 1987, Chris Gardner established the brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co, in Chicago, Illinois, an "institutional brokerage firm specializing in the execution of debt, equity and derivative products transactions for some of the nation’s largest institutions, public pension plans and unions."  His new company was started in his small Presidential Towers apartment, with start-up capital of $10,000 and a single piece of furniture: a wooden desk that doubled as the family dinner table.  Gardner reportedly owns 75 percent of his stock brokerage firm with the rest owned by a hedge fund.  He chose the name "Gardner Rich" for the company because he considers Marc Rich, the commodities trader pardoned by former president Bill Clinton in 2001, "one of the most successful futures traders in the world."  After Gardner sold his small stake in Gardner Rich in a multi-million dollar deal in 2006, he became CEO and founder of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, with offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

As a single parent for 25 years, Gardner has demonstrated his concern for the well-being of children through his work with and on behalf of organizations such as the National Fatherhood Initiative, the National Education Association Foundation and the International Rescue Committee. Gardner is still very committed to Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco; where he and his son received assistance in the early 1980’s.  Gardner is also still very involved with homelessness initiatives assisting families to stay intact, and assisting homeless men and women who are employed but still cannot get by.

Gradner is a true rags to riches story.  He fought against nasty odds and won.  There is so much more to his story, including what was portrayed in "The Pursuit of Happyness", a movie depicting his struggles and eventual success.  Gardner is a hero in his own right and an inspiration.  There are so many black men (and men in general) who feel like they cannot be a father to their children due to circumstances.  Gardner is proof that despite all odds, you can love your children and take care of them in the midst of chaos.  I personally commend Gardner for his "can do" attitude and his desperate passion for success.  He made it and we can too!

There were so many amazing quotes from Gardner that I had to post more than 2...
“We were homeless, we were not hopeless. There’s a world of difference.” - Christopher Gardner
“Do something that you love. Whatever you’re going to do is going to be tough enough. Find something that gets you so excited that the sun can’t come up early enough in the morning because you want to go do your thing.” - Christopher Gardner
 “It’s ok to FAIL it’s not ok to Quit” - Christopher Gardner
 There is no plan B for passion” - Christopher Gardner 

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