I’m constantly awed and humbled by my ancestors’ journey, knowing that my family was still sharecropping on the same plantation in southern Alabama when I was born. The last of nine kids, I’m amazed at how my parents raised and provided for all of us on what they earned. What was constant during my growing up years was resiliency and belief – guided by faith, love, and sacrifice. My father and mother used their few resources to give my siblings and me a chance to be better than their generation. After leaving the plantation and migrating to other side of our county, we supplemented our table by living off the land – hunting, fishing, farming crops, and raising hogs (I know more about hogs than I tend to admit in day-to-day conversation!) My parents inspired us to follow a path of purpose and to believe that anything was possible, including me eventually being a 5’6”-tall college football player.
What was also constant was the village — our small, rural community made of people who put faith and family first and very proactively placed the children’s well-being ahead of their own. From the Boy Scouts to the Crusaders (group established by Martin Luther King, Jr.), we were taught to commit ourselves to a purpose greater than ourselves. It is because of my upbringing that I have always been very focused on exploring transformational leadership and on understanding what inspires people. A published author and former radio host, I have explored these ideas through speaking engagements across the country and coaching leaders in all walks of life.
What is also amazing is that our resiliency and the village/community mindset transcended geography. I have been deeply influenced by the bravery and pioneering determination of a branch of my extended family whose existence I did not know of until only a few years ago. When I first moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area, my mother, visiting one Thanksgiving Day, told me about a line of cousins in the region I had never even known I had. These cousins were descendants of a portion of the family that had migrated to DFW area from Alabama after slavery ended. But, continuing to be faced with racism, discrimination, and oppression, a smaller branch ultimately left Texas at the turn of the 20th century. They migrated to Oklahoma, where another division decided to settle across the Midwest. Others answered the call from the Canadian government for people to come and settle in unpopulated western parts of the country. They eventually reached Amber Valley in Alberta, Canada. This branch ended up creating the first Black settlement in Canada, and their original homestead still exists to this day in Alberta.
The Canadian side of my extended family – the Bowens – produced several distinguished lawyers, judges, and doctors, as well as the engineer who designed Calgary’s first ever CTrain. I think their story is one of the phenomenal spirit of survival and bravery, and inspirational to me in so many ways. Imagine our Canadian and American family reunion a few years ago in Alabama that brought together relatives with vastly different skin colors and experiences, but everyone with the same core values! My extended cousins from Manitoba experienced that with my extended and famous cousin Sam Jackson from Missouri (shown in the picture above).
This story is featured as part of our Black History Month series "Black migrations: How our journeys shape us", which highlights black professionals at AlixPartners recounting how their family migrations have influenced their paths both professionally and personally.