Seldom a month goes by when I do not speak in glowing terms about my business mentor and brother in spirit Dick Gregory. My brother was many things – he was a ruthless social critic who always spoke his mind, he was an outspoken civil rights activist, and he introduced an entire generation to healthy lifestyles through his wildly popular Bahamian Diet. He was an epic conspiracy theorist who could spin yarns out of the most disparate of threads. Many others will recall his countless acts of kindness and candor, of humility and strength, and his amazing sense of humor. But I most fondly remember brother Gregory for getting me started on the road to financial freedom.
As a young man and recent college graduate, I moved to Washington, DC from a rural farm town in South Carolina to work as a presidential appointee in the Department of Agriculture. I really loved my job – it was exciting to be in the midst of the government and having the chance to get involved in issues that directly affected my community back home. My official portfolio APHIS at Ag included working to assist rural farmers, helping them to keep their farms in the face of the decline of small-scale agriculture in the United States. It is an issue I am still passionate about to this day.
But I quickly realized that in moving to Washington which was then, as it is now, one of the most expensive cities in the country – that passion alone doesn’t pay the rent. My government salary of under $25,000 per year in 1982 was just not going to cut it. I was driven by necessity and my father to look for ways to supplement my government salary when I was introduced to Dick Gregory's Bahamian Diet in Baltimore, Maryland.
Gregory had developed a line of nutritional supplements, collectively named the Bahamian Diet. He decided to use network marketing as the product distribution strategy. I was introduced to Gregory by developer Kevin M. Johnson and quickly understood the potential to get involved and make some extra money on the side. At the time, I did not even realize I was embarking on the path to building incredible wealth and business success. I just saw distributing the Bahamian Diet as a way to make some extra income.
But it became so much more than that. I took to the business with the same zeal that I applied at my daytime job at Ag. And I was able to very quickly build a sales organization that became one of the most successful in the company. In fact, my success in distributing the Bahamian Diet became a case study in a best-selling book about network marketing called Wave 3: The New Era in Network Marketing.
When it was all said and done, I was able to save over $450,000 from working the Bahamian Diet, and in the process also helped people in my organization earn wealth. That initial fortune (at that time $450k was an absolute fortune to me) became the foundation for all that I have been able to build since then. Today I am the proud owner of several companies including the largest Minority owned television broadcaster in the country. I have been privileged to employ and empower many others, including young African American males who I now mentor and help to grow into entrepreneurs in their own rights.
I owe a lot of that to my now deceased parents, who provided the example to me by running their own successful farm in South Carolina. They taught me the sheer power of hard work needed to mold the earth and the elements into a successful harvest year after year. But I also owe much of my success to the business philosophy and example of Dick Gregory.
Gregory always emphasized economic freedom as the ‘next paradigm’ in civil rights. What was the use of getting a seat at the table if you cannot afford to pay for your meal? This opened my eyes to the fact that a key part of my success would have to include obtaining and growing wealth. It was a means to an end for me – not an end in and of itself. I wanted to have a voice in the public debate, and gaining economic independence gave me the freedom to do so. The skill of becoming economically self-reliant has also helped me to capitalize on opportunities that would have been unattainable if I had remained a salaried government worker.
Over the years Mr. Gregory continued to be a constant presence in my life. I would see him often while at airports or Union Station in Washington, DC. We always spoke and he always offered me encouragement. In more recent times I saw him and it became apparent that he was suffering from poor health. But his intelligence, his wit, and the fire in his eyes never dimmed.
Dick Gregory’s lasting legacy is that it is not enough merely to march and protest for civil rights. Someone has to fund the movements and institutions that reflect our values. Mr. Gregory’s legacy is also that you can do well by doing good, that wealth is not an end that justifies any means. Gregory set the example that the means by which one obtains wealth should reflect the moral – not merely material - values of the striver.
Armstrong Williams is Manager / Sole Owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the year.