This is an edited portion of Chapter 7 from Real Life Interviews.
Lee’s story is about how he overcame the adversity of living in a rough and tough neighborhood where gang wars were common and poverty was the only reality.
He started off as a high school football player and went on to get a master’s degree in business. He later created a career for himself as a self-employed general contractor and real estate investor. During this course of time he accumulated several properties and became a self-made millionaire.
But that’s just the half of it. He and his wife have also had 3 sons and adopted 8 foster care children and put six of them through college.
Join us for our chat on how he hiked up his boot straps and carried his family out of poverty and into a prosperous new life.
Russ: Thank you for your time, I know you are a really busy man. Can you tell us about how you got to where you are today?
Lee: I was raised in Compton California but was born in the Watts area. I remember the day the Watts area was literally burned down when all the violence broke out during the riot in the 60’s.
We were at the Will Rogers Park for the Watts Summer Festival and there would be parades, performances and dances every year.
Like a county fair?
Yep and there were vendor booths with arts and crafts and food. Next thing I know there were police helicopters above and Black Panthers in the park below armed to the teeth shooting up at them. There was gunfire all over the place.
People were just scrambling. I remember my dad just grabbed us and threw us in the back of his truck and sped out of there. We even got stopped by some Black Panthers… and Dad managed to get us out of there safely.
That had to have left a lasting impression.
It was a really crazy time for us kids growing up then. I was raised with ten siblings and there were 16 children altogether including my half-brothers and half-sisters. Our dad was pretty successful too; he was a community activist and a civil rights preacher.
R: What was that like?
L: It was pretty fun for the most part. Even though we were poor people, I had a pretty good childhood. It was the best time of my life but the environment wasn’t all that good at times.
I remember when gangs were first started, the Bloods and Crips. The Bloods were started at my high school, Centennial high school. Our colors were red and white. And our rival was Compton high school, and their colors were blue and the home of the Crips.
Were you ever recruited to be a gang member?
No, I was in athletics. I was a football player and that kept me away from gangs and drugs. I had some friends that joined gangs and some of them got killed. A couple of relatives were killed too because of gangs and junk like that. There were a lot of random shootings at that time.
For example, a good friend of mine was killed by a gang member while attending a party. Back in the day, it was just a tough time. Before crack, there was angel dust and that was pretty big.
What would you tell somebody else who may be in a challenged situation then?
Life is a challenge. And you have to make up your mind to meet that challenge. Once you make up your mind to meet the challenge, you are “up” to the challenge.
People that don’t meet the challenge aren’t up to the challenge because in their minds they give up. If you think life’s too hard… then in your mind, you’ve given up.
There is a difference between being tired physically and tired mentally. Some people fail because they get tired mentally and give up. The battle to be won is in the mind.
Don’t give up. Even if it’s a tough challenge, there’s always a way out of it. I know it’s easy to give up. And everything sounds simpler than it is to do… but never give up.
I remember as a kid, my Bishop gave a story one day and talked about how a guy was locked in a room with no doors and thought there was no way out. He says there was a door there the whole time but the guy couldn’t see it. It was called the Door of Hope and it was the way out.
Some people tend to see only the bad and the impossible in all their situations. I’m always looking for the possible. That’s what I did in my childhood… I could have used drugs or not get an education. But, I didn’t think like I was locked in. And I haven’t been locked in yet!
There’s always a way out. Otherwise, you’ll be locked in if you believe that there is no hope. That’s the difference. Keep the faith.