Today I salute Johnie W. Smith, my father and the very first businessman role model I ever knew in my life. I am a businessman today, because my father was. My dad is the man who helped to make me a man, and I thank him for that every day of my life.
My father was born in the south, some 86 plus years ago (he has a brother who is 101 years old, as amazing as that sounds), met my mother, Ms. Juanita Smith, in East St. Louis and then traveled northwest to the sunshine state of California. There they made a family, and built an incredible life together. Together they gave birth to my brother Dave Darnell Harris, my sister Mara Lamont Harris and me. I also have another brilliant and hard working sister, Arleen Hayes, who has a different mom than Dave, Mara and I, but she is our and my sister nonetheless.
By the time I was 5 or 6 years old, I could remember my family owning a gas station (the southeast corner of Vernon and Western Avenue in South Los Angeles), an 8 unit apartment building and our own home on Santa Barbara (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard), and a cement contracting business. My mother also ran a nursery business on her own, in addition to working, just so that she could spend extra time with me. It doesn't get much more special than that.
Often people ask me how I became a businessman and entrepreneur at such an early age, starting my first business at age 10 in Compton, California. The answer is simple; my father. He was, so that I knew I could become.
Today he is still very active, and up until very recently he actually got up every day to bid on and work cement contracting jobs. And some ask where I got my work ethic (smile). My mother is no less industrious and hard working, and deep and incredible values.
My father lived in the church growing up, still attending church every Sunday, and my spiritual base is in large part credited to him.
I was honored to hang with him as late as Friday, and today, on this Father's Day, I take time to salute my own father, Mr. Johnie Will Smith.
I am, because he was and remains, a real man.
Onward and with HOPE,
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass) the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum. Mr. Bryant serves on the board of directors of Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation, an NYSE Euronext publicly traded company, and a division of $54 billion Ares Capital.