Embrace Diversity With Stedman Graham

But it was a little different for me back then. I was headed to college. Blessed with athletic ability, I led my basketball team in scoring. I had scholarship offers from schools all over the country when I was a sophomore. I even thought, "Maybe I'll be able to play professional sports." For a lot of us, sports represented a way out. But we knew in the back of our minds that some of us weren't going to make it out that way. We didn't have a lot of vision beyond that one hope.

Sometimes, when I wasn't in school or playing ball, I would help my mother clean houses in white, upscale beach towns such as Stone Harbor and Avalon. Their owners would arrive for the summer season in new cars and hang out at the beach all day, tanning and indulging. Then they'd come home and order in food. My mother and I would look at each other in amazement at this exotic lifestyle, as if to say, "What is all this?" These houses were huge. They seemed like a fantasy land -- like Disneyland. Coming out of Whitesboro, I found the experience even more surreal. That's how I grew up in the fifties and sixties -- in a disjointed, divided world. I had no control of my long-term thinking. It was all too common for many in that era to grow up reacting emotionally instead turning on the brain.

I realize in hindsight that what I was trying to do was fill that hole in my heart. I think about this often, especially now that one of my main roles is teaching other people how to process their upbringing and move forward based on a nine-step methodology -- a process that I will address a little later in this book in a leadership and diversity context.

There is a huge dichotomy between what I knew when I was growing up and what I know today. My life has taught me that many people are still stuck in these "places" and aren't really able to take more control over their lives and explore the great possibilities they hold. Over the years, I turned all those things that happened to me and to my family into motivators, never forgetting and never getting comfortable.

Fortunately for me, my parents were there to encourage me to never quit and to do my best always. And in much of Whitesboro, that same spirit of determination prevailed, passed down through the generations from our town founder, Mr. White.

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