Does success seem impossible for you?
If so, I’d like to offer you some valuable lessons from an unlikely success story.
It’s about Nelson Davis, a black man born into poverty and segregation in Alabama 62 years ago. He was delivered by a midwife in a tiny shack with no indoor plumbing or running water.
Nelson’s father was illiterate but determined to provide for his wife and three children.
When Nelson was just a year old, his father got a job as a laborer in a metal processing company in Niagara Falls, New York. For a year and a half, the family was separated while he worked and sent money home.
When they saved enough money, the family joined him, living in the only place they could afford, in a housing project in a unit furnished with third hand furniture. The center piece of that furniture was a creaky, faded old burgundy mohair couch with a broken spring.
With the birth of baby girl, money got even tighter. But Nelson had a positive attitude. “As a child, if your life was rich in experience,” Nelson said, “You’re not poor.” This positive attitude would be crucial in later making him successful.
Many people who come from tough backgrounds carry chips on their shoulders throughout their lives. But it made Nelson thankful for so many things others take for granted.
For example, like many other kids Nelson desperately wanted a bike. But there was no money to buy him one. So for two months, he went to a scrap yard and collected old parts such as balloon tires, handle bars, a seat and a bike chain, and his father found an old scratched up bike frame.
Then by trial and error, Nelson built a bike. It had no fenders and it wasn’t pretty but it still got him where he wanted to go.
The lesson to us is that if one is determined to achieve a goal, a little ingenuity can overcome a lack of money. How often have you heard people talk about the great business they would start if only they had the money.
Yet a little ingenuity might give them access to investor or lender money or they might start part-time on a low overhead and never need outside money. Nelson would later make excellent use of this lesson when he became an entrepreneur.
If you have a dream of becoming your own boss and doing your own thing, you too may become an entrepreneur. How did Nelson become one?
“My 1st entrepreneurial lesson came from my mother,” Nelson said. A giant battery manufacturer “discarded defective batteries in the dump.” He and his mother would take an empty burlap sack, put on heavy gloves and with hammers, they’d “break open the battery cases.”
They’d remove the lead plates, take them home and wash the acid off. Then in “an old discarded iron skillet,” over an open fire, they melted the lead into ingots and sold them to a scrap dealer.
Nelson learned, “to take something that others had thrown away and turn it into money.” Today on EBay and on other websites, people build successful businesses doing that.
Like many low income families, the Davis family couldn’t afford a car or vacations or even pay for some basic necessities as they struggled to make ends meet.
But they did own a 2nd hand tiny black and white TV and this little TV peaked Nelson’s curiosity. “A key turning point for me,” he said, was “books, radio and TV which gave me a much wider view of life than I could see in my immediate surroundings.”
When Nelson was just 14, something profound happened to him that led to the success he enjoys today. On Easter Sunday, a local radio station invited kids from his church to read biblical sayings on-the-air and he was one of those kids.
Nelson was thrilled to be on the radio, briefly becoming like one of the voices he had for so long been listening to. And while he was at the station, he wandered the facilities and saw the control rooms, the fancy studios and felt the energy of the employees.
He was hooked. “Then and there,” Nelson said, “I knew this is what I want to do.”
To start a radio career, Nelson wrote letter after letter to radio program directors throughout the area asking them for a job. He didn’t get a single response.
Instead of giving-up, “I went to a pawn shop and for $18, I bought a used tape recorder,” Nelson said. “I got a microphone for $2 from a catalogue and I got a used turn table to play records.” In his home, “I read ads aloud from the newspaper and I recorded it on the semi-functioning tape recorder. This is how I began.”
Nelson sent audition tapes far and wide and finally one day, a little station near Utica, NY invited him to interview. He was excited for this was the big break he’d worked so hard for. With a meal his mother packed for him, and his clothes in a suit case he got as a high school graduation gift, he boarded a bus for the 160 mile ride to the radio station.
When he arrived, he was introduced to “Big Jim,” the station owner. “The owner looked at me and said, ‘I’m not sure a black boy would be happy in this town.’ “ Nelson said. “I got the message and got back on the bus for Niagara Falls.”
His morale was briefly crushed but Nelson refused to give-up his dream. He kept sending audition tapes and he began to knock on the doors of local radio stations.
Then after a lot of rejection, one day a small local station opened the door for him. They hired him part-time as an equipment operator.
That eventually grew into a full-time job, which in stages led to him becoming a DJ, playing music by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dinah Shore and others from 10 pm to 1 am and on weekends.
“I’m in radio!” Nelson joyously exclaimed all these years later. “I had a full-time job making $55 a week. I had a basement apartment, one room at $40 a month and I’m 19.”
In the next KazanToday:
The conclusion of our story. Nelson makes it big on Canadian radio and television and then comes to Hollywood, risks his career and all his money and he flops. At first.