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Opinions of Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Chris Gardner goes to Ghana

Story: George Sydney Abugri

Anyone who wants to know the full distance along the tortuous and rugged road from grass to grace should ask Christopher Gardner. Some stories defy coherent telling even by the most gifted of story tellers and the story of Christopher Gardner is one such tale.

The news is that Gardner, arguably one of the most remarkable living individuals in the contemporary history of the black race is scheduled to pay a historic visit to Ghana on October 5. Gardner is coming to Ghana to address a youth summit to be attended by about 8,000 young Ghanaians.

Maybe we should work the unbelievable story of Gardner backwards from the present, by beginning with his wrist watch! As a matter of fact, Chris Gardner wears two wrist watches at a time:

He wears a $10,000 Cartier watch set to Chicago time on his right wrist and another $10,000 Roger Dubuis watch set to South African time on the left! Weird? Gardner explains: “I was late once and it cost me $50,000. I figure it is cheaper to wear two watches.”

Commenting on Gardner’s $ 10, 000 dollar watches, one reviewer of Gardner’s autobiography notes that “for a man who not too long ago, had only two suits to his name and could not even afford to pay rent, Chris Gardner has come a long way.”

Today, Gardner who used to live on the streets and take his bath in public restrooms, is a millionaire stockbroker, highly successful entrepreneur, best selling author, philanthropist and star of a major motion picture released by Hollywood.

The amazing story of Gardner provided the inspiration for the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith which was released by Columbia Pictures in December 2006. Will Smith’s depiction of the real Christopher Gardner, earned him an Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. {The deliberate misspelling of the film's title comes from a sign Gardner saw when he was homeless.}

Gardner’s autobiography of the same title “The Pursuit of Happyness” stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks and has since been translated into 14 languages.

His highly motivational second book, “Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to be”, was published in 2009.

According to information available on his website, various personality reviews and published interviews, Christopher Gardner was born on February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the only son in a family of twelve children.

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, when not living in foster homes.

“Gardner and his siblings were transferred back and forth between relatives and foster homes. His mother had been imprisoned twice; once, for allegedly receiving welfare while working, and the second time for attempting to burn down the house of Gardner’s abusive stepfather.

His single mother was trained as a schoolteacher, but wound up taking on numerous part-time jobs in order to provide for her family” recalls another reviewer of accomplished and internationally acknowledged African-Americans.

Growing up, Gardner wanted to be like the legendary jazz musician and trumpet player Miles Davis. No wait. Gardner wanted to be Miles Davis! “My first ambition in life” he recalls in his autobiography, “was to be Miles Davis. I didn’t want to be a trumpet player, an artist or a jazz musician – I literally wanted to be Miles. My mom said to me, ‘Baby, you can’t be Miles. There ain’t but one and he got that job.”

In pursuit of his dreams Gardner spent many years learning to pay the trumpet. At 18, Miles Davis had been in New York playing with two other jazz greats, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. At the same age Gardner was playing with a nondescript group called Pookie and Ray-Ray. He knew he was not going to be another Miles after all. All the same, Gardner recalls, “I made a commitment to be world class at something.”

Today apart from being a world class stockbroker and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC which has offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, Gardner is known in the United States as an avid, world class motivational and inspirational speaker.

He is noted for such profound motivational statements like “Ready or not tell yourself to jump”, “There is no plan B for passion”, “Hard work is not rocket science”, “Money is the least component of wealth”, ‘Claim ownership of your dreams” and “It ok to fail; it is not ok to quit.”

Gardner joined the US Navy after high school and later worked as a medical research associate for a scientific medical supply distributor. Determined to find a career that would be both lucrative and fulfilling Gardner, hit upon the idea of becoming a stockbroker.

Yet while the world of finance fascinated Gardner there was a catch in his bid to become a stockbroker: He had no business connections an MBA or even a college degree.

In a determined pursuit of his dreams, he applied for training programs at various stock brokerages, “sometimes living on next to nothing while he learned the new trade.”

After working with several stock brokerages, Gardner established the brokerage firm Gardner Rich in Chicago with $10,000 and with his home as offices. Gardner Rich LLC is an institutional brokerage firm specializing in the execution of debt and equity products transactions for some of the largest institutions in the US.

Gardner is often a terribly busy man: He serves on the board of the National Education Foundation and sponsors two annual awards: the National Education Association’s National Educational Support Personnel Award and the American Federation of Teachers’ Para-professionals and School-Related Personnel (PSRP) Award.

He serves on the board of the International Rescue Committee, which works to provide access to safety, sanctuary, and sustainable change for millions of people whose lives have been shattered by violence and oppression.

He has helped fund a project that creates low-income housing and opportunities for employment for people from underprivileged communities. A passionate philanthropist, his humanitarian work has been recognized by many esteemed organizations at home and abroad.

Gardner has probably lost count of the number of national and international awards he has received for his work. His practical guidance and inspirational story have made Gardner a frequent guest on CNN, CNBC and Fox News Channel.

He has been featured on “The CBS Evening News,” the popular television programme “20/20,” “Oprah,” “Today Show,” “The View,” “Entertainment Tonight,” as well as in “People”, “USA Today”, Associated Press, New York Times, Fortune, Entrepreneur, Jet, Reader’s Digest, Trader Monthly, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Post, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other US media.

What is the secret behind Gardner’s success? The youth of Ghana will have an opportunity to hear the answer when Gardner meets them in October.

Gardner is coming to Ghana under the auspices of an Italian Non-Governmental Organization, Amicus Onlus which focuses on Youth Development, Education and Health programmes in developing countries.

Since its establishment in Ghana 8 years ago, Amicus Onlus has embarked upon various programmes of intervention in the three key areas of its operations. As part of its interventions in youth unemployment, Amicus launched its “Amicus Youth Empowerment Summit six years ago.

Mr. Akumba Ben Asamoaning of Amicus Onlus says the summit has attracted over 1000 youth each year. Youth attending the summit get the opportunity to listen to experienced resource persons give talks and lead discussions designed to sensitize summit participants on youth entrepreneurship.

“This year, we anticipate that up 8,000 youth will attend the summit because Chris Gardner is coming” says Mr. Asamoaning.