(NNPA)—Recently, I toured the Cape Coast Castle, its giant stone arch gateway buttressed by the thick impenetrable Door of No Return. In 1780, it was sites like this for many thousands of Africans, the terrifying journey to America began a life of bondage and slavery. Nestled on the island tip of Gorée off the coast of Senegal lies what became known as “The House of Slaves.”
What a painfully ironic beginning for people that held the spirit of entrepreneurial legacies from the first lady Michelle Obama to Hon. Percy Sutton to Oprah Winfrey, all descendants of slaves. Despite the horrid circumstances, we find inspiring stories such as Oprah’s great-great-grandfather Constantine Winfrey, a former slave, able to earn freedom amid the difficult and dangerous years after fighting for emancipation.
The embodiment of being an entrepreneur is much greater than simply making money. It requires self- determination through the personal choice of taking action, responsibility and supporting others in need. This is the process of becoming rich from inside out—the definition of “Reallionaire.” Such inner spirit is found by loving and respecting yourself than sharing it with others. The determination to pursue the gifts God provided us and the unique talents to improve the lives of family, friends and community.
Entrepreneurs don’t sit incapacitated by fear of failure rather accept it as a natural learning experience part of life’s journey. African-Americans proudly move forward despite seemingly overwhelming odds to grasp success when others said it could not be done. Having grown up in the poverty of Southside Chicago by age 15 I made over $1 million. My words are not idle theories or abstract concepts but real goals everyone has the ability to capture. For many great souls the shameful “Door of No Return” has not deterred them from pursuing their dreams.
Today, as I travel across America speaking to children and young adults, many display such helpless looks of despair. By sharing my success story it plants a seed that blossoms into a wonderful young entrepreneur, free to think without limits. For many discovering that true entrepreneurial spirit makes the obstacles seem less insurmountable. The ability to live self-determined without fear, guilt or shame, no matter what the historical background.
The Reallionaire never accepts the false labels others place on them. Our identity is found within ourselves aligning mind, body and spirit to achieve harmony. A healthy balance found by realizing our purpose and passions. Understanding your family roots, who and what our forefathers stood for in the face of overwhelming odds. Studying great thinkers and mentors teaches us valuable lessons that help guide our journey.
Each of us must at some point in life look beyond the simple material items deep down into the soul for the person we truly are and want to be. Ultimately, this process of self-determination and discovery must always occur to achieve genuine success. The responsibility in being given such amazing talents and gifts requires us to fulfill this state of optimal health.
Our lives are brief in duration but the legacy of our actions and accomplishments will live on defining the memory of our being. Time is not something to be squander, it enables us to experience life and achieve those passions that can make a difference. Education is a life-long process, enjoyable truly by its nature, opening up the doors of opportunity.
Living in the entrepreneurial spirit provides us a map to love, respect and discipline that delivers immense rewards and avoids tragedies like the Door of No Return. Even in its most base form, the idea of tearing away families of women, children and fathers, loved ones destined for a life of slavery could never make sense in the spirit of true humanity.
As I scanned the Cape Coast Castle I noticed the church site just above the slave holding cells looking out on cannons propped against walls facing seaward in defense. Awestruck by the sadness, as if the ancient stone pillars could talk, recounting countless tales of tragedy, “How could this be?” one person asked. Saddened not only for my enchained African ancestors but for the “slave masters” so lost they somehow found justification in their disgraceful deeds. How lost they must have been, God bless their souls.
While the first Black president of the United States symbolizes progress, we must stay focused on continuing to open the doors of opportunity. It is the purpose found in the spirit of entrepreneurship that self-determination to change the world.
(Farrah Gray is chairman of the Farrah Gray Foundation. Dr. Gray can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or his website at http://www.drfarrahgray.com/.)