For months, Derek Luke had struggled. For months, he had questioned his calling as an actor in Hollywood, feeling as if his art and his heart were drifting farther apart by the day. During that time, Luke contemplated discontinuing his service, wondering if, after arriving on the West Coast at age 21, God was calling him to move in a different direction.
But in the midst of his soul-searching, Luke, who received a BET Best Actor award in 2002 for his work in “Antwone Fisher” which was directed by Denzel Washington, received the word from the Lord he had been waiting for. “He told me do not leave your position, do not leave your place of authority,” Luke said Friday night during the final evening session of the Missions & Marketplace Conference. “Do not leave your place of influence.” As it turns out, God wasn’t asking the actor to leave Hollywood. He was telling him instead to take charge of Hollywood. Not by Luke’s plan. But by God’s.
“I was saying, ‘I’m an actor,” Luke said of his regular conversations with God. “The Lord said, ‘Yeah, but you’re also a minister.” And that’s when everything started to fall into place. During deep times of prayer, Luke began to see his art and his heart begin to reconnect. The merging came, he said, when he began to seek out the Lord’s heart for his art, creating a supernatural blending of the two.
On a regular basis, Luke began to hear the Lord say, “Give me your art and I’ll give you My Heart”, confirming that not only was Luke operating within the right arena, but that God was about to give him more influence in Hollywood. There, in the entertainment capitol of the world, Luke said he felt God creating a way to re-establish himself by going public with the notion that from here on out, Luke was going to operate on God’s plan. It was a plan, Luke admitted, that he had been running away from rather than moving toward.
“It is easy to hide or try to hide from God’s call on your life because I did but as I tried to hide, I began to slide backwards,” Luke said. “I was trying to be my own cover, I was trying to be my own plan.” No longer. Luke said he believes it is time for young actors like himself to begin to take charge of their Hollywood sphere of influence. Whether it be through acting, directing or screenwriting, it is time for those who are called to entertain to do it God’s way, allowing God’s plan to take charge. While God’s plan may bring freedom, though, Luke said, that freedom can’t come without a certain level of work. And for Luke, that began shedding the identity of his own plan for his Hollywood future and allow his new and better self to be revealed for all the world to see.
“I believe that God is un-Clark Kenting his people,” Luke said. “People need to know who you are.” He added: “It’s time to step out and be the real you.” All while acting on God’s plan.
Finding success can be a subjective journey, designed uniquely by varying directions and destinations. While success in today’s world is often defined by accomplishments and titles, operating with a proper mental map can often lead success chasers to places they never expected to go to. And yet, like anything else that is designed for personal use, what success ultimately looks like is just that. It’s personal.
“Success to me is the mark you leave,” said Ellen Rakieten, who co-created the Oprah Winfrey Show for Harpo Productions and who is now the CEO of Ellen Rakieten Entertainment. “Did I do the right thing, do I say the right thing, did I make people feel the right way. “That’s a successful day for me.” Like Rakieten, Steve Pemberton, the Global Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens, bases daily success largely on how he deals with others and the solutions he helps create. But Pemberton also knows that for others around him to be at their best, he has to be at his.
For Pemberton, that means finding new challenges to tackle. “I try to do something that I’ve got no business doing,” Pemberton said during Thursday’s Mindset of Success panel at the Missions & Marketplace conference. “What risk am I willing to take?” Dr. Bill Winston, senior pastor at Living Word Christian Center and founder of the Joseph Business School, also considers overcoming big challenges a key part of being successful.
While he defines success as carrying out God’s will, Winston said he knows God is working toward something big when he faces obstacles in tackling new projects. “If I’m being led to something, it seems like it continues to get bigger or more impossible,” Winston said. “I’m looking for God to give me something easy to do, but it gets bigger. It’s not that it’s an obstacle, but it’s giving me an opportunity to grow.”
That growing process, Winston said Thursday, often includes expanding his vision well beyond the destination he originally believed he could reach. It’s then, he said, when true success occurs. “I can see myself at the end, and once I see that, nothing can stop you,” Winston said. “You are headed for a breakthrough.”
But those breakthroughs won’t come without roadblocks. In creating a mindset for success, Andre Harrell, the CEO of Harrell Entertainment and Vice Chairman of Revolt TV, said Thursday that when building for success, he includes planned obstacles, knowing that how he handles them will, at the end of the day, help define what the outcome will look like. But regardless of the number and shape of the obstacles that get in the way of success, Winston said that a faith-based approach to creating the right kind of mindset can have a life-changing affect. The foundation of that mindset is simple. “If God is all powerful,” Winston said. “I’m going to act like he is all powerful.”
Marcus Lamb never intended to oversee a global Christian television network that sends programming into 200 countries and reaches 670 million households around the world. But God had other plans.
Lamb, the founder, president and CEO of Daystar Television, envisioned working as a doctor or lawyer, but never pictured himself in full-time ministry, let alone eventually in the capacity he works today. “Man can mess up God’s plan for you,” Lamb said Thursday night at the annual Missions & Marketplace Conference. “But here’s the good news. If man messes up God’s Plan A, then God can come up with a Plan B.” And as Lamb quickly discovered, God’s Plan B can be much greater – and bigger – than any man-made outlook for the future.
Lamb was in Israel in 1983 when God told him to go to Montgomery, Ala., and buy a television station there, turning it into the state’s first faith-based television station. Three years later, God spoke to Lamb again, telling him to move his family to Dallas, where he would spend seven years developing a Christian broadcasting network that would eventually grow into the largest of its kind in the United States.
Over the course of those seven years, there were challenges, forcing Lamb to rely on the prompting of the Holy Spirit to keep his dream alive. Each step of the way – in the face of lawsuits and even two workers falling 300 feet off of a television tower being constructed to begin Daystar’s Dallas operations – Lamb witnessed miracles that reinforced his belief that God was taking ownership of Lamb’s vision.
Through it all, Lamb learned to take each day as it came, re-shaping his dreams into what God intended, watching it grow in ways he never imaged it would. But as his dream grew, so did the resistance, taking Lamb’s faith for his future to another level. “The devil will try to kill your dream in its infancy,” Lamb said. “You have to protect your dream.
“God will give provision to your vision.” The larger Lamb’s vision became, the more God continued to provide, growing Daystar into a global operation that broke through one barrier after another. Lamb allowed his passion for producing quality Christian programming to fuel his dream, but said he learned that in order for his vision to not only become reality but to reach the size he hoped for, he had to allow God to be the driving force.
Lamb’s experience has become a blueprint for other dreamers, who often aren’t convinced they are qualified or equipped to turn their vision into reality. But if dreamers commit themselves to God’s timeline rather than their own and are willing to take risks along the way, Lamb said, the results will reach unbelievable levels.
But at the foundation of it all, one truth must take hold. “If you want your dream to come true,” Lamb said. “You’re going to have to stand on the Word of God.”
Decades later, Ted Shaw still can’t shake his childhood images of residents lying in the middle of 125th Street in Harlem, N.Y., protesting neighborhood store owners refusing to hire African Americans.
As a young boy living with his grandmother in the late 1950s, Shaw witnessed the Civil Rights movement unfolding in front of him during a time of great change when the uprising going on around him provided the context for his youth. Now, as a famed civil rights attorney who teaches at the University of North Carolina Law School at Chapel Hill, Shaw remains motivated by the past at a time when injustices – whether it be gender and age discrimination or other civil rights violations – are still sadly engrained in the fabric of today’s society.
And it’s then, when Shaw realizes that the fight is still very real. “We all should have an understanding that no victories are permanent, no battles are won in ways that can’t be undone,” Shaw said Thursday night after speaking at the annual Missions & Marketplace Conference. “There are still people who believe in things that could take us backwards. So I know that and these struggles continue.”
Shaw, who spent 26 years at the Legal Defense Fund, has spent much of his legal career battling discrimination. He has fought against injustice involving housing and employment, voter rights and providing equal access to higher education. But after teaching at the Columbia School of Law in New York while continuing his work with the Legal Defense Fund, Shaw was drawn to North Carolina, where many of the social battles fought in the past are again raging in ways that trouble him.
The urge to again take up a spot on the front lines was too much for Shaw to resist, motivating him to pick up and move southward. “Some people run from fires,” Shaw said. “Some people run toward them.” While he trains law students at the UNC Law School to pick up the baton of providing legal aid and defense to those who need it most, Shaw remains concerned with bigger issues that he sees as a plague to the current judicial system.
“There are some in the courts who believe that we’ll give 20 or 25 or 30 years to civil rights enforcement and then, that’s it – there’s no necessity to do that and we can be color blind,” Shaw said. “Where does that come from? What, in our experience teaches us that?
“Why is it we talk about, when it comes to the struggles of civil rights involving African Americans that we’re going to be color blind? I think we’ve made progress and we’re getting better. But every generation is going to have to wrestle with some of these issues.”
The struggle continues when violent protests have taken place in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has picked up the fight from generations past. At a time when millennials are becoming more active in social justice issues, Shaw is taken back to the images of his childhood when the Civil Rights movement was just beginning. Those memories – as aged as they may be – spur Shaw on to continue shape his career around speaking for the voiceless and defending those who others choose to ignore.
Shaw’s fight comes at a time when there are days he still can’t believe he lived to see a day where an African American took up residency in the White House. But although he sees President Obama’s election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 as a time progress has been made, it has also, Shaw said, unleashed a level of racism that continues across the country, convincing Shaw that there is still much work left to be done.
While Shaw doesn’t condone the violence that has taken place in Ferguson and Baltimore and that remind him of the riots that took place in the 1960s, he realizes the injustices that are being fought against today – as they were during his childhood – can’t be ignored.
“When we fail to address these issues, when we sweep them under the rug, we do it at our own peril,” Shaw said. “Periodically, we’re going to have those kind of uprisings and that hasn’t changed.”
Developing a personal brand at a time when image – at least in many social environments – is everything, can often be a complicated, multi-faceted process.
But when faith becomes part of the formula, building one’s brand becomes much more simple. It also changes the perspective of how it happens.
“Your brand is that gift that was given to you by your creator,” Essence magazine editor at large Mikki Taylor said Thursday during the YOU, Inc. panel discussion at the annual Mission & Marketplace conference. “He has already given that to you. It’s up to you to develop the brand.”
How that development takes place, though, becomes even more important than creating the right brand.
Taylor, along with former reality television star and Lady Gaga creative director Laurieann Gibson, said Thursday that in order to be fully effective, brand development must take place from a proper perspective.
Rather than allowing others to define one’s brand, it becomes essential to understand the mission of one’s brand and to allow that to take precedence over what others perceive it to be. For Gibson, branding comes down to a simple, and yet critical, question.
“Brand is your why,” Gibson said. “Why are you here? Why are you doing it? It’s an emotion, it’s a movement, it’s a thing.”
For Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s former social secretary who is now the CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, falling into the trap of who others believed she should be turned into a life lesson in who defined what her brand in Washington, D.C. was.
After wrestling with whether to even go work in the nation’s capitol, Rogers found her brand being built by others, who often portrayed her based on outward appearances. Outside opinions quickly became difficult to handle. “I became a bit disillusioned of who I was and allowed others to decide who I was,” she said Thursday. Taylor, who worked for 30 years as the beauty and cover director at Essence, said that establishing the proper mindset goes a long way in brand protection. “You really do have to protect your sacred space and you really have to protect your mind,” Taylor said. “You have to stay focused on who you are and appreciate your authenticity.”
Gibson, who went through a very public split with Lady Gaga, said the fear of what others think can be crippling, making faith a critical component of continuing to develop her personal brand. In the years since, Gibson continues to depend on her faith on a daily basis while working off the idea that she must be the one who develops her brand. But timing, Gibson said, is everything while also understanding the best way to manage the brand you have worked so diligently to establish. “My brand, at the end of the day, is effective in an inspirational way,” Gibson said. “Not in a packaged way.”
Long before Ron Hall, Jr., took over as President and CEO of one of North America’s leading manufacturing companies of its kind, he learned a valuable lesson from his father. Believe – even when no one else does.
When Hall’s father, Ron Hall, Sr., started Bridgewater Interiors in 1998, the doubters were already in place. Analysts wondered how a Detroit-based company that had only one manufacturing plant and one customer in place at the time, would ever make a go of it.
More than 17 years later, Hall, Jr., oversees a company that is doing that – and so much more – all by building off of his father’s optimism and vision.
But that, like so many of the lessons learned by the former West Point cadet and University of Michigan Law school graduate, has taken some confidence-building, all while believing that the business plan Bridgewater Interiors had built around being customer-focused, industry-leading and minority-owned was a formula for success.
“Taking the lead is a lot of taking the courage to step out front and lead when you’re not confident that you can lead,” Hall, Jr. said Wednesday on the opening night of the annual Missions & Marketplace Conference.Today, Bridgewater Industries – which started as a joint venture between a few African American businessmen and Johnson Controls – manufactures the automotive seating systems in about 10 percent of the cars being built in the United States.The company, under the leadership of Ron Hall, Sr., and now his son who took over in 2015 – operates four manufacturing plants, including three in Michigan and a fourth in Alabama.
But back when Bridgewater Interiors had the lone plant in Detroit and had Cadillac as its only customer, the worries were many. But that’s when Ron Hall, Sr., decided the company was going to defy the odds. “He said, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to excel at it, and we’re going to set a standard,’” Hall, Jr said., echoing his father’s optimistic mission.
Today, Bridgewater Industries has a workforce of 1,900 – 70 percent of which are minorities and 40 percent of which are female. The company has dedicated itself to being deeply involved in the communities where its manufacturing plants are active and is a major supporter of non-profit organizations like the Detroit Police Athletic League and others. Hall, Jr., focuses as much on amplifying what the company is doing away from its day-to-day operations as he does on the work that’s being completed inside the four manufacturing plants as a way of making sure Bridgewater Interiors is walking the talk. He’s doing it long after few believed an award-winning, minority-owned company would never get as far as it has.
“In retrospect, this all seems like a grand plan,” Hall, Jr. said. “But it wasn’t a sure thing when there was no certainty the company would have legs or would have success.”
Looking back, all it took was a little belief.
Steve Pemberton’s journey began with a box of books. It began with a box of books delivered by a stranger who had nothing more to give to a boy who had already bounced from one foster home to another, who had no memory of his mother or his father, who had no recollection of ever being connected to anyone and who never forgot the way he was looked at by the adults he was never permitted to speak to.
The box of books delivered by a stranger gave Pemberton – now the Global Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreen’s – a secret weapon. It gave Pemberton, who grew up in New Bedford, Mass., as what he calls a “collision of labels” – the African American with an Irish last name and who, from a young age, was characterized as dumb, ugly, broken and beyond repair – a secret weapon against a world that Pemberton believed he had no place in.
“Books became my armor,” Pemberton said during Wednesday night’s opening of the annual Missions and Marketplace Conference. Books introduced Pemberton to the first of what would be a long line of memorable characters, all of whom impacted his life in ways the future business executive could never have ever imagined. Those life-changing characters from Ruby, the spelling bee judge with the unforgettable smile, to Mr. Sykes, the man who took Pemberton in when he had no other place to go and set him off on a lifelong pursuit of learning, helped pave the unlikely road that Pemberton has walked along ever since.
From turning what once seemed like an impossible dream to attend college into a full scholarship at Boston College University, Pemberton has since re-connected with family members that never knew he even existed, highlighting a journey that has come full circle. I’m not extraordinary or special – it was all about the people I had around me,” Pemberton said. “All along, there was a plan.”
From an arsenal of a love of learning and prayer, Pemberton has never lost sight of the parents he never knew, remembering them only from the pictures he created in his mind. What once seemed impossible became possible when Pemberton decided he would never be defined by circumstances he had no control over, choosing instead to following a journey that all started with a box of books.