Some moments are unforgettable and remain etched in our memory because they hold a lot of significance. We recall every detail, including what we wore, the time of day, and even the weather. For me, such a moment happened on a beautiful sunny day, around 10 o’clock in the morning. I was at the headquarters of First Commercial Bank, wearing my best blue suit and a starched white shirt. However, despite the picturesque day and my immaculate clothing, I was filled with anxiety and unease.
I was on the second floor, facing the largest table I had ever seen, with two life-size, hand-painted portraits of the bank’s founders hanging on the wall. Sitting around the table were a dozen of the wealthiest men in Birmingham who had invited me, just a year after opening my first McDonald’s, to serve on the bank’s board of directors. I would be the first African American to do so.
In that remarkable moment, I realized the stark differences between the world sitting at that table and the one I came from. Most of the men represented second or third-generation business success, having attended prestigious boarding schools and spent their vacations on distant islands or skiing in the Rockies. In contrast, I hailed from Montgomery’s Madison Park neighborhood, established by former slaves, and felt like I didn’t belong at that table. But as time passed, I began to embrace my new role and took a moment to reflect on the journey that brought me to that mountaintop experience.
I compared the journey to climbing a mountain. At the start, I was ill-equipped and inexperienced, lacking proper tools, clothing, and footwear. But I had the heart to take the first step and continued to climb despite the challenges. Along the way, I acquired the necessary tools, support, and opportunities to keep moving forward. And just like in climbing, good luck came in proportion to my hard work and dedication.
Climbing higher also meant gaining access to new opportunities and people, enabling me to move further up the mountain and win in life. The three lessons I learned from this experience were to start, even if you don’t have everything you need; work hard, and luck will follow; and keep climbing higher for a better view and new opportunities.