Prologue: All You Need To Do Is Dream

Be Somebody/Extraordinary Lives: Prologue (Draft)

Chapters to follow. Book to be published in summer 2021. Masterclass in fall 2021

Image for post
Image for post

Prologue: All You Need To Do Is Dream

In 1948, an African American girl woke at 4 in the morning in Moultrie, Georgia, squinting in the darkness of a small house unlit by electricity. Her thick short hair glistened from humidity, and her bright, intelligent eyes suggesting keen intellect and fierce determination were not only visible but vital for the day to come. You see, unlike most girls her age, Reatha Clark was not going to ballet class or soccer practice. She was off to pick cotton.

The Chevy pickup pulled up, and Reatha jumped in the cab with five other girls, literally climbing over the hatch like a fence. Once they arrived, fillin’ bags were waiting. The next 12 hours were spent under a hot, blazing sun until the 200-pound quota was filled. She earned $6, which helped her family descended from African slaves who did the same work. They never talked about that.

Image for post
Image for post
1950s cotton picking on a Georgia plantation

In 1954, Joanne Schieble, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin, fell in love with Abdulfattah Jandali, a grad assistant. When she became pregnant, the couple flew to Syria to meet his parents according to Muslim tradition. She called her father, a mechanic from Sheboygan, to seek his approval to marry Jandali. The conversation was short, “I will disown you.” She gave the child up for adoption.

Jacklyn Gise became pregnant while a sophomore in high school. She and the boy’s father, Ted Jorgensen, a bike shop owner and unicyclist in a circus act, were married in Juarez. When school authorities found out, she was expelled. They allowed her to graduate on the infernal condition that she would not talk or eat with other students. They had a son named after her father, Jeffrey Preston. Before the boy was two years old, the couple divorced.

Mark was an identical twin. His parents were both police officers from Orange, New Jersey, and his father fit the tough-guy cop’s image. Mark would describe him retrospectively in a more positive light as “hard-charging and hard-drinking.” By the time Mark was in his teens, he had suffered a broken jaw, was hit by a car, shot in the face with a pellet gun, and most of his knuckles had been broken in fistfights.

The Randhawas and their four children, Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India, emigrated to the United States when the father, Ajit Singh, was offered a job at an all-black college in South Carolina. Mrs. Raj Kaur Randhawa opened a small dress shop, and although her oldest daughter, Nimrata, was 12, too young to work legally, she was employed as a bookkeeper.

Michael’s parents got divorced when he was ten, and when his father left home, he felt abandoned. Carrying the same name may have led to feelings of estrangement, and by the sixth grade, he was afflicted with a severe form of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Why?

Research shows that a three-year-old asks “why” about 400 times every day. Most parents will tell you this isn’t an exaggeration. A child uses “why” for the same reason as adults. They want to connect the dots of their lives to the world around them. If Hamlet were three-year-olds when he gave his soliloquy, he would have asked: Why be, or not to be? Why slings? Why arrows? We believe the English bard intentionally chose not to cast Hamlet as a three-year-old because the questions are endless, unanswerable, and need to be answered.

It is true of the children you have read about in the prologue. The dots don’t connect. They appear lifted from a Kafka novel. These are nature’s most innocent creatures, small and vulnerable human beings swaddled not in a baby’s blanket but failure’s robe. As anyone remotely familiar with family adversities, there isn’t much hope, but there is a whole lot of government intervention that will bend, staple, and mutilate their lives from the time they open their eyes because, and as Virgil hinted over 2,000 years ago, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. If they were only given a chance to better themselves, as Marlon Brando would say in his distinctive nasal twang, “They coulda been somebody.”

This is why it may come as a great, big, happy surprise to learn that these obscure and occasionally unwanted children did go on to be somebody. They became among the most famous and successful people in the world. Their lives reached a stratospheric level and achieved milestones only Elon Musk can imagine. How they grew up, attained life goals, stayed the course against all odds, and why their backgrounds instead of hindering may have promoted success are the theses of Be Somebody: Extraordinary Lives.

Dr. Reatha Clark King

Image for post
Image for post
Interviewing Dr. Reatha Clark King
  • Dr. Reatha Clark King became a Fortune 500 officer and president of a university before joining Exxon Mobil and Wells Fargo boards after graduating with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Chicago. She mastered everything she put her mind to, and she would add, including picking cotton.

Steven Paul Jobs

Image for post
Image for post
  • Joanne Jandali’s son, better known as Steve Jobs, grew up to become the founder of Apple Computer.

Jeffrey Preston Bezos

Image for post
Image for post
  • After Jacklyn Gise Jorgensen divorced Ted, she married a Cuban immigrant, Mike Bezos, who adopted her son at age four. He became Jeff Bezos, graduated from Princeton, and drove out to Seattle, where he founded Amazon.com.

Commander (and Senator) Mark Edward Kelly

Image for post
Image for post
Interviewing Mark Kelly
  • Kelly became the Space Shuttle commander (as was his brother Scott). His jaw must have healed nicely because he became a star on the speaking stump, and in 2020, was elected U.S. Senator from Arizona.

Ambassador and Governor Nimrata (Nikki) Haley

Image for post
Image for post
Interviewing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley
  • Nimrata Haley, better known as Nikki, became governor of South Carolina, where her bookkeeping skills came in handy, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Olympian Michal Fred Phelps II

Image for post
Image for post
Interviewing Michael Phelps (center)
  • Phelps took swim lessons more seriously than most of us. When he announced his retirement at the Olympics in Rio 2016 at the age of 31, he had collected 23 golds, three silvers, and two bronze medals, becoming the most decorated Olympian in history. Today, he devotes his time to children with emotional and mental disabilities.

Making Sense

As these ‘before and after stories’ show, from humble beginnings that, to use Thomas Hobbes’s description of the Middle Ages, “were solitary, nasty, brutish, and short,” these late bloomers found illustrious careers. Along the way, they tossed powerful adversaries aside like mosquitoes. Government intervention was resisted. Self-pity was expunged. Sympathy rejected. Grit, resilience, and a wellspring of talent were the ingredients of a turnaround. In a salute to the DIY establishment, the subjects of Be Somebody: Extraordinary Lives overdosed and self-medicated on family support, hard work, raw ambition, and a tendency towards optimism.

The surprise isn’t that they went on to be somebody and lead extraordinary lives. It is how they did it that matters. Those who believe expensive therapies, controlled substances, and time in a clinic or the clink are the only way to rescue a lost child ignore, perhaps intentionally, that three proven remedies, a loving guardian, hard work for achievement, and resilience against adversity, work every time. These ‘secrets” emboldened our subjects to improve their world, and subsequently, the larger world. They took the road less traveled by and still beat the system.

I realized it was time to connect the dots.

Connecting The Dots

Over the course of a forty-year career, I not only interacted with numerous “ultra achievers” that make their way into Be Somebody: Extraordinary Lives, I took the fateful step of capturing roughly 30 incredible people in full-length candid interviews for a Telly Award-winning Youtube series, IconicVoices.tv.

It is why I know so much about the inside stories of Warren Buffett, General David Petraeus, TV anchor Soledad O’Brien, Senator John McCain, and Dr. Reatha Clark King, and countless others. When I noticed a pattern — humble birth, troubled youth, and by a sudden realization — direction, resolve, and triumph, I thought this is something I better look into, and this book is a window on those discussions.

To the extent success is a soft science, much like warfare or diplomacy, my goal is to reveal the steps and secrets and the pitfalls of extraordinary achievement. Just as a scientist would do, I employ both microscope and a telescope to view my subjects close up and from a distance. At times I can trace greatness to a single person, like a loving mother or father, a college mentor, or a boss who took a liking. Other times, the causes are less clear, maybe an ethos that hung over the subject growing up or, as an old African proverb says, it took a village to raise the child. Whichever, the result was the same. They went on to greatness, but for that helping hand, it might never have happened.

You are reading this book because you care about people, your family, and how to make them more successful in adapting to a challenging world. Nothing creates disorder like the chaos of complex life, and nothing restores order like leadership and achievement. It is why we often find innocent people suffering and looking in the wrong places for answers, like our political class. Politicians and their maidservants in the media, or what I call the industrial narrative complex that exists primarily to drive self-publicity, aren’t up to the problems we face. As always, if we want the job done right, we must do it ourselves as the subjects of Be Somebody: Extraordinary Lives have done.

Written by

Producer of Extraordinary Lives 2019 @TellyAwards for documentaries @ IconicVoices.tv; Author of Be Somebody @ jeffcunningham.com; ex-publisher @Forbes

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store