Author/businessman gives inspiring speech
“The Pursuit of Happyness,” both the book and movie adaption, has been called the ultimate rags to riches story, but the book’s author, Chris Gardner, calls it something else: a love story between a father and son.
Gardner told this to an audience of hundreds Sunday afternoon at the Arts Council Theatre in the speech he delivered to culminate Forsyth County Library’s 2013 On the Same Page community-read program. Over the past several weeks, county residents were encouraged to read Gardner’s book and partake in a series of programs inspired by the autobiography, which was a bestseller before Will Smith played Gardner in the 2006 hit film.
“Anytime I see any piece of that film, I always have the same exact thought: those people spent $70 million to recreate what I did with nothing,”
The movie and book tell the story of how Gardner, after earning a spot in the competitive training program at the prestigious Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage firm in San Francisco, became homeless and spent nearly a year living on the street while in the program.
Even more challenging, he was a single father at the time. In the movie Jayden Smith, Will Smith’s real life son, portrays Chris Jr. as a five-year-old. In reality, Chris Jr. was only 14-months-old during Gardner’s ordeal, in which he and his son slept in train stations, airports and bus terminals and washed-up public restrooms. Gardner would sometimes go without food so his son could eat. When they both got to eat, he said, it was sometimes because he’d made money by giving blood.
No matter how hard things got, Gardner said he never contemplated abandoning his son. Gardner himself never knew his biological father, and his step-father was an abusive man he swore he’d never be like.
“I made a decision as a five-year-old boy: when I grow up, become a man and have children, my children are going to know who their father is; that would become the most important decision I ever made in my life,” he said.
His struggles paid off big time. Gardner earned a position at Dean Witter Reynolds in 1982 and would have an extremely successful brokerage career. He established his own firm, Gardner Rich & Co., in Chicago in 1987.
Despite rising to the top of his field, his family is the source of his pride. He fondly recalled speaking at Hampton University for the graduation of his daughter, Jacintha. She was
“the first person in the history of my family since we got off the slave ships over 200 years ago to graduate from college,”
It’s been a little more than a year since Gardner lost his companion of 20 years, Holly Ann Norwick, to brain cancer. He said watching someone he loved die changed his perspective on life. He left the brokerage business after a 30 year career. He describes his current job as “CEO of Happyness.” He now devotes his time to motivational speaking, sharing what he calls “spiritual genetics,” the fundamental part of people that determines their course in life. He encourages everyone to find what they’re passionate about and pursue it.
Attendees gave Gardner a standing ovation both at the beginning and end of his speech. Attendee James R. Jarrell, a retired librarian, said Gardner’s book is stocked in the small library at the Arbor Acre retirement community, where he lives and mans the library. Arbor Acres also held its own panel discussion on the book and screened the movie.
“It’s interesting,” Jarrell, a Winston-Salem State University alumnus, said of Gardner’s story. “I do feel a person can be anything they want to be if they have the drive and the motivation.”
Assistant Library Director Elizabeth Skinner said Gardner’s book was selected for On the Same Page to spotlight the issue of homelessness. It’s an issue familiar to the Central Library, as many local homeless men and women spend their days there before returning to shelters at night. The library received a federal grant earlier this year to hire a homeless liaison to help connect homeless library visitors with services and hold sensitivity training for library staff to help them better serve these men and women.