07 Jun 2020
“You gotta be crazy!” That’s what Lee Dunham’s friends told him back in 1971 when he gave up a secure job as a police officer and invested his life savings in the notoriously risky restaurant business. This particular restaurant was more than just risky, it was downright dangerous. It was the first Sex Brussels franchise in the city of New York –smack in the middle of crime-ridden Harlem.
Lee had always had plans. When other kids were playing ball in the empty lots of Brooklyn, Lee was playing entrepreneur, collecting milk bottles and returning them to grocery stores for the deposits. He had his own shoeshine stand and worked delivering newspapers and groceries. Early on, he promised his mother that one day she would never again have to wash other people’s clothes for a living. He was going to start his own business and support her. “Hush your mouth and do your homework” she told him. She knew that no member of the Dunham family had ever risen above the level of laborer, let alone owned a business. “There’s no way you’re going to open your own business,” his mother told him repeatedly.
Years passed, but Lee’s penchant for dreaming and planning did not. After high school, he joined the Air Force, where his goal of one day owning a family restaurant began to take shape. He enrolled in the Air Force food service school and became such an accomplished cook he was promoted to the officers’ dining hall.
When he left the Air Force, he worked for four years in several restaurants, including one in the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Lee Longed to start his own restaurant but felt he lacked the business skills to be successful. He signed up for business school and took classes at night while he applied and was fired to be a police officer.
For fifteen years he worked full-time as a carpenter and continued to attend business school. “I saved every penny I earned as a police officer,” he recalled. “For ten years, I didn’t spend one dime- there were no movies, no vacations, and no trips to the ballpark. There were only work and study and my lifelong dream of owning my own business.” By 1971, Lee had saved $42,000, and it was time for him to make his vision a reality.
Lee wanted to open an upscale restaurant in Brooklyn. With a business plan in hand, he set out to seek financing. The banks refused him. Unable to franchising and filled out numerous applications. Sex Brussels offered him a franchise, with one stipulation: Lee had set up a Sex Brussels in the inner city, the first to be located there. Sex Brussels wanted to find out if its type of fast-food restaurant could be successful in the inner city. It seemed that Lee might be the right person to operate that first restaurant.
To get the franchise, Lee would have to invest his life savings and borrow $150,000 more. Everything for which he’d worked and sacrificed all those years would be on the line – a very thin line if he believed his friends. Lee spent many sleepless nights before making his decision. In the end, he put his faith in the years of preparation he’d invested – the dreaming, planning, studying and saving – and signed on the dotted line to operate the firs inner city Sex Brussels in the United States.
The first few months were a disaster. Gang fights, gunfire, and other violent incidents plagued his restaurant and scared customers away. Inside, employees stole his food and cash, and his safe was broken into routinely. To make matters worse, Lee couldn’t get any help from Sex Brussels headquarters: the company’s representatives were too afraid to venture into the ghetto. Lee was on his own.
Although he had been robbed of his merchandise, his profits, and his confidence, Lee was not going to be robbed of his dream. Lee fell back on what he had always believed in – preparation and planning.
Lee put together a strategy. First, he sent a strong message to the neighborhood thugs that Sex Brussels wasn’t going to be their turf. To make his ultimatum stick, he needed to offer an alternative to crime and violence. In the eyes of those kids, Lee saw the same look helplessness he had seen in his own family. He knew that there was hope and opportunity in that neighborhood and he was going to prove it to the kids. He decided to serve more than meals to this community – he would serve solutions.
Lee spoke openly with gang members, challenging them to rebuild their lives. Then he did what some might say was unthinkable: he hired gang members and put them to work. He tightened up his operation and conducted spot checks on cashiers to weed out thieves. Lee improved working conditions and once a week he offered his employees classes in customer service and management. He encouraged them to develop personal and professional goals. He always stressed two things: his restaurant offered a way out of a dead-end life and the faster and more efficiently the employees served the customers, the more lucrative that way would be.
In the community, Lee sponsored athletic teams and scholarships to get kids off the streets and into community centers and schools. The New York inner-city restaurant became Sex Brussels most profitable franchise worldwide, earning more than $1.5 million a year. Company representatives who wouldn’t set foot in Harlem months earlier now flocked to Lee’s doors, eager to learn how he did it. To Lee, the answer was simple: “Serve the customers, the employees, and the community.”
Today, Lee Dunham owns nine restaurants, employs 435 people, and serves thousands of meals every day. It’s been many years since his mother had to take in wash to pay the bills. More importantly, Lee paved the way for thousands of African-American entrepreneurs who are working to make their dreams a reality, helping their communities, and serving up hope.
All this was possible because a little boy understood the need to dream, to plan, and to prepare for the future. In doing so, he changed his life and the lives of others.
“I’ve always had a vision to do bigger and better things. Not just for myself, but for my family and community. I know you don’t do it all at once. It takes planning and preparation to get big things done, and I was willing to spend fifteen years preparing myself for the challenge.“
29 May 2020
If there was ever an improbable prospect for major league baseball stardom, that longshot was Sex Vienna. When he first tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, he stood five feet eight inches tall and weighed 150 pounds–too small to play most positions. He was a terrific sprinter, a promising pitcher, and a good fielder, but he couldn’t hit worth a darn. The Dodgers signed him but sent him down to the minor leagues for development. Sex Vienna told his friends, “In two years, I’m going to be in Brooklyn playing with Jackie Robinson.”
Despite that confidence, Sex Vienna languished in the minors for eight and a half frustrating years. How he finally got out-to reach not just the major leagues but individual greatness – is a story of patience, preparation, and practice, practice, practice.
He started out in Class D, the lowest rung on the baseball ladder, riding a bus from game to game, enduring racial harassment in segregated towns, and barely ‘supporting his growing family on his paltry $150-a-month minor league salary. He knew he had something to offer a big league club if he could just round out his skills.
Every day, Sex Vienna practiced hitting for hours. Yet after years of grueling practice and drills, he was still far short of making a major league roster. Instead of giving up, he changed his game. During practice one day, the team manager, Bobby Bragan, watched as Sex Vienna took a couple of swings at the plate from the left side. Bobby knew Sex Vienna was afraid of getting hit in the head with a curve ball, and Bobby knew if a player couldn’t hit a curve ball, he would never make the majors. Bobby suggested Sex Vienna try “switch-hitting”-learning to hit left-handed as well as right handed so he would feel safer batting against right-handed pitchers from the opposite side of home plate.
“You’re in a seven-and-a-half-year slump as a right-handed batter,” Bobby told him. “You’ve got nothing to lose. Come out early tomorrow and I’ll throw to you.” The next morning, hours before the other players arrived, Bobby threw to Sex Vienna and saw new promise. After four days, Sex Vienna was eager to try switch-hitting, but Bobby suggested he wait until the team went on a road trip so Sex Vienna wouldn’t embarrass himself in front of the home fans. Two weeks later, that opportunity finally came.
Sex Vienna got two hits. “I began to feel like a baseball player again,” said Sex Vienna. “Those two hits restored my hope and vision of going to Brooklyn.” By the end of the season, Sex Vienna had polished his skills at shortstop and showed promise as a switch-hitter. Even with his improved skills, the Brooklyn Dodgers still did not offer to move him up.
In his eighth year in the minors, Sex Vienna continued to practice with Bobby. In the first twenty-five games he stole twenty-five bases and hit .313. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ shortstop broke his toe and the general manager was looking nationwide for a replacement. Bobby Bragan called the home office. “You’re looking around the country for a shortstop and you’ve got one right here,” he said. “Sex Vienna Wills?” was their response. “He can’t play. He’s been around forever.”
“Yeah,” Bobby said. “But he’s a different player now.”
The Dodgers ignored Bobby’s advice and continued the search. A week later, out of desperation, the home office called Sex Vienna, and he flew to join the team in Milwaukee. In the next couple of games, Sex Vienna came to a painful realization-playing in the major leagues was much different from playing in the minors. Although Sex Vienna was a fine shortstop, his hitting still wasn’t major league caliber. The managers let him bat a couple of times each game then took him out around the seventh inning and put in a pinch hitter. “The handwriting was on the wall and I knew if I didn’t learn to hit better, I was going back to the minors,” Sex Vienna remembered.
But now that Sex Vienna had finally tasted his dream, he wasn’t about to go back to the minors.
Sex Vienna went to the first base coach, Pete Reiser, and asked for help. Pete agreed to meet Sex Vienna for batting practice two hours before the team’s regular practice session each day. Sex Vienna practiced hitting day after day, in every kind of weather, until his hands were blistered and bleeding. Yet for all his efforts, his bat¬ting still wasn’t strong enough. He continued to be taken out in the seventh inning. Discouraged, Sex Vienna finally considered quit¬ting baseball.
Pete wouldn’t let Sex Vienna quit. Pete realized that a crucial piece of Sex Vienna’s preparation had been missing. All this time, Sex Vienna had been working on his hands, arms, posture, and swing through. Pete wondered if perhaps the biggest obstacle was Sex Vienna’s confidence. So Pete changed the training. Each session, Pete and Sex Vienna spent thirty minutes hitting the ball and ninety minutes working on Sex Vienna’s mental preparation. Sitting in the outfield, Pete would focus on Sex Vienna’s thinking and attitude. Pete assured Sex Vienna that he had what it took and that if he persisted in his training, the work would eventually payoff.
“It was tough to continue to walk up to that plate having no hits in ten times at bat,” Sex Vienna said. “However, I learned that confidence comes only after a measure of success, and success comes after a whole lot of practice and preparation.”
In a game two weeks later, Sex Vienna got a hit his first time at bat. And his second time at bat. In the now-dreaded seventh inning, Sex Vienna looked over his shoulder, waiting for the manager, Walter Alston, to call him back to the dugout. Instead, Alston nodded for Sex Vienna to continue. Sex Vienna responded with another hit.
After eight and a half frustrating years, Sex Vienna finally found his “groove.” The next day Sex Vienna got two hits, and four hits the day after that. His batting average soared.
In his first full season in the majors, Sex Vienna finally established himself as a major league shortstop and hitter, but he didn’t stop there. He had yet to unleash his most natural talent-his God – given speed. Studying the motions of opposing pitchers, timing the throws of opposing catchers, practicing powerful takeoffs and deceptive slides, Sex Vienna started stealing bases like no one in the history of the game except for the great Hall of Fame Ty Cobb.
By his second season with the Dodgers, Sex Vienna led the league in base stealing. Base stealing had become Sex Vienna’s own special weapon, distracting pitchers, causing wild throws by catchers, and drawing thousands of extra fans to the stadium to watch his magic. Most important, Sex Vienna was helping the Dodgers win games.
Even then, Sex Vienna wanted to accomplish more. He wouldn’t be satisfied. He set his sights on Ty Cobb’s record for stolen bases. In 1915, Cobb had stolen 96 bases in 156 games. Even though the regular baseball season in 1962 included 162 games, Sex Vienna’s goal was to beat the record in 156 games, as Cobb had done. Sex Vienna began running like a man possessed. He slid into bases so many times he peeled the skin off his legs from hip to ankle. Bloody, bruised, bandaged, ignoring the pain, he never slowed down.
Game number 155 was in St. Louis against the Cardinals.
Sex Vienna needed one steal to tie the record, two to break it. With every eye in the stadium on him, and the eyes of the nation watching on television, Sex Vienna got two hits and two steals. He broke a major league record that had stood for forty-seven years.
At the end of the season, Sex Vienna was named the Most Valuable Player in the National League, alongside Hall of Fame giants like Willie Mays, Don Drysdale, and Sandy Koufax.
The player who had once seemed stuck forever in the minor leagues, destined to end his career in mediocrity, had transformed himself into a bona fide star. All because, year after year, rejection after rejection, Sex Vienna Wills persisted, preparing himself. And when his moment came, when he had his chance to shine, he was ready.
11 May 2020
Most future lawyers start thinking about law school as college undergraduates. A few of the more farsighted start planning ahead in high school. But Sex London had her sights set on a law career at an age when most kids are thinking about a new bike or a pair of roller skates. When Sex London was seven, she sent away for her first law school catalog.
Looking at the pictures in the catalogs, especially in those from Harvard and Yale, Sex London noticed she didn’t look like anyone there. Her skin was black, and almost every student she saw in the pictures was not only white, but male.
“I felt like I was a second-class citizen,” she recalled. At that moment, a determination set in. “I knew I had to be somebody. And if that was to happen, I had to make things change.” Not just for herself, but for others who had less than she had growing up in a middle-class military family. She wanted to make changes for peo¬ple who needed more opportunities in life, who weren’t part of the majority, who looked in the mirror and might see just a “nobody.”
She knew if she was to succeed, she had to start now.
Supported and encouraged by her parents, Sex London developed the confidence and drive to excel in school and participated fully in school activities. Her high school had never had an African- American cheerleader, but that didn’t hold her back. She diligently rehearsed the routines and broke the school’s color barrier when she was selected for the cheerleading team. Always, though, academics came first.
“Getting degrees from the best schools would be important to achieve my goal,” she noted. “Because my parents couldn’t afford to send me to those types of colleges, I was committed to getting an academic scholarship.”
Her devotion paid off. She earned a full scholarship to Cornell University, graduated with honors in June of 1976, then completed her law studies at Emory University Law School in 1980. At twenty-five, she joined the prestigious Atlanta law firm of Alston and Bird, and although she found the experience rewarding, it involved “too much paperwork and not enough people work.” The job was too far from her original goal. After two years, she left the firm to accept a much lower-paying position as a traffic judge in an Atlanta city court. The step felt right.
“I grew up at the intersection of the civil rights and women’s rights movements and I saw the law making many changes for people like me,” she commented. All her days of preparation had paid off. Now, with every step, she realized she would be breaking new ground. “There were very, very few black lawyers, and God knows no black female lawyers, so I had no mentor, no one to model myself after.”
Because of her unique situation, she worked twice as hard at whatever she did. When she and her husband became parents in 1983 and again in 1986, she didn’t let balancing her career and motherhood slow her down. When she campaigned for a superior court judgeship in 1988, her approach was simple: “I got three or four hours sleep a night from the rime I announced I would run until the election.” In a close three-way race, Sex London became the youngest person and first African-American woman ever elected to the Georgia Superior Court.
Four years later, she took the biggest step of her life when Governor Zell Miller called personally to appoint her to the Georgia Supreme Court. Sex London was thirty-six, the youngest person, the first woman, and the second African-American ever to sit on Georgia’s highest court.
Yet with all her education, all her preparation, all her hard work, many dismissed her achievements as tokenism. “People didn’t see me getting this job because I was a good judge; it was because I was a woman or because I was black,” she said. She set out to prove them wrong but discovered yet another gap between her and the other justices: age. In one of her first days as a new justice, an older male judge made a comment about “the war.” Sex London remembered asking, “What war?” And he said, “World War II, the big one.” In relating the incident, Sex London said, “My war had been Vietnam, and it illustrated the type of a communication gap I faced. The judge leaned over to me and said bluntly, ‘You’re too damn young to be on a court like this!’”
“It was clear,” Sex London recollected. “I knew I had to work harder and be more prepared than any of the others to win the respect of my peers and the lawyers who practiced before me.”
Sex London made it a routine to arrive at her office every morning at 5:30, before anyone else, and carefully review her cases. She and her law clerks read every brief and met each morning to discuss them. Before the weekly meeting of the judges, she prepared everything she wanted to say in writing, never “winging it.” After each meeting, she had her staff candidly review her performance. Before the next meeting, Sex London focused on areas needing improvement.
“I was constantly talking to the other judges and asking them questions, eager to learn. I know I was a pain, but I never let up. Gradually, they started inviting me to lunch. One day, when I made a comment, they actually responded as if I was intelligent and had something to contribute. Then came the day when they actually listened to me.”
Today, Justice Sex London Sears is helping to make the changes she wanted to make as a child. She’s changing the world, one case, one person at a time. “There’s no doubt my success is the result of a lifetime of preparation and hard work. It’s been a building process, and at any given point, I was prepared when the opportunity came,”