As a now 62-year-old public relations practitioner and somewhat retiree (I still conduct media interview training for clients), I look back and see that the investment West Michigan citizens made in me has paid off handsomely for them.
Growing up in a less-than-idyllic family situation led me to graduate dead last in my high school class in 1970. When they handed me my diploma, I could not read it. So with a third-grade reading, spelling and writing skill level, I spent the next 25-plus years as a functional illiterate. To this day, I still wrestle with fowl and foul, whether and weather. God bless Wiki Dictionary, Google and Mr. Gates.
My single mother, booting my drunken and abusive father out of the house back in the ’50s, was able to instill in me, through her actions and words, to always make the best of things and never be afraid of hard work. This was fully reinforced every day by what I was exposed to by my neighbors and my friends’ parents.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, this community’s frequent, widespread and affordable mass transit provided my mother with an almost around-the-clock bus ride to work, and a way off of welfare. Safe streets allowed me to walk to my first job at age 12, busing tables at the Corn Cabin restaurant downtown. Sensible elected leaders, forward-thinking corporate decision makers, and the historic West Michigan tradition of philanthropy has played a big part in my starting and operating a variety of businesses — businesses that directly and indirectly employed hundreds of people over decades.
A functionally illiterate news photographer for 20-plus years, I was a sponge waiting to be filled with the “how-to of life.” Fortunately, as a news crew cameraman, I was exposed to this community’s admirable values while “my reporters” interviewed thousands of C-suite types, nonprofit executive directors, elected officials, municipal workers, spiritual leaders, union representatives, private business owners and regular folks. This broader village of people taught me many life lessons — just by you being you in my camera’s viewfinder.
When I was covering your news story I learned how you conducted yourself, how you dealt with issues, how you formulated your rationales, strategies, tactics, the type of verbiage you used, etc. Each time you conducted an interview, each time I entered your home or workplace, each time I viewed your mannerisms, the thousands of times I turned on my camera and sat across from you, I learned more from you.
With these life lessons, some luck and a ton of hard work, I was able to employ people, pay vendors, donate money and pass on what I have learned. Rather than costing society’s hardworking taxpayers thousands of dollars each year by keeping me in cell block D or being on the public dole for life, I became a contributor to the village.
The village I grew up in showed me the right and wrong way of doing things, which greatly assisted me on my entrepreneurial path. This track led me to successfully develop and market four sought-after products, the most notable of which was body armor for news crews. My most widely distributed product, Lawn Guard Tape, was purchased by more than 5,000 retail outlets throughout North America within the first 60 days of its introduction. Shippers, factory workers, retailers, convention booth manufacturers, corrugated cardboard companies, cabbies, etc., have all cashed in because of my community upbringing.
My public relations copyrighted seminars, “The Three Basic Food Groups of the News Media” and “Dealing with the Digital Citizen,” have fed mounds of money to the airlines, hospitality, web developers, law firms, advertising departments, event-planners, freelancers, accountants, etc. My “payment to vendors” list goes on and on covering all types of industries all across North America.
The village is stronger because it cared, invested and worked together in teaching me solid values and providing the governmental infrastructure needed to succeed. Because of where and when I was raised, I tell my friends, “I have done everything in life that I never thought I would do.” To a great degree, it is because of my village.
Rick Kamel has been providing practical intelligence to clients since 1983.