Long Live Earl Graves, Sr.: An American Business Icon & Black Enterprise Mogul

Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur writes a loving op-ed piece to one of his heroes, Earl Graves, Sr., the founder of Black Enterprise.

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“Hold on to your dreams of a better life and stay committed to striving to realize it.” – Earl G. Graves, Sr.

(AllHipHop Opinion) I will never forget it. Grouchy Greg Watkins and I were there at the apex of our careers at the time. We received the “Rising Stars” Award from Black Enterprise Magazine, the brainchild of business mogul Earl Graves, Sr.

The year was 2006.

Many years before, but less than a decade, and before we met, Mr. Graves profoundly impacted my life in one fell swoop: his 1997 best-selling book “How to Succeed in Business Without Being White: Straight Talk on Making it in America.” At the time, AllHipHop was in its infancy. Greg and I had not formalized our partnership, but we were working together as friends in Hip-Hop. By day, I toiled at a top-tier bank that issued credit cards and other ancillary financial offerings. I wrestled with the job, even though I made a lot of money, and grew into a hot prospect. I knew this could not be my life in the long run. Most of the young, hip folks I worked with looked like they walked off the set of “Friends.” I hated that show.

Mr. Graves, with “How to Succeed in Business Without Being White,” set the tone for me, in a great many ways, how I would thrive in a corporate setting and what I would do to ascend after I abruptly quit a couple of years later. Here is the book synopsis:

“African-Americans are entering the business world in unprecedented numbers, and Earl G. Graves serves as their role model and mentor. Graves, one of the most influential and well-known executives in the world, in this timely and important book shows how he, the son of a West Indian garment worker, became a multimillionaire entrepreneur, director of several of America’s Fortune 500 corporations and a philanthropist.

Using his own story (which includes careers in the military, real estate and public service as an assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy), and those of dozens of other black men and women who have made it in the business world as examples, Graves offers inspirational and down-to-earth advice to help readers take advantage of opportunities to achieve personal and professional success. From overcoming the challenges blacks confront in getting financing for new ventures to identifying the best industries and jobs for black job-seekers and cultivating the behaviors needed to make it as an entrepreneur, How to Succeed in Business Without Being White clearly lights the path readers can take to overcome adversity and succeed in today’s largely white business environment.”

The book was perfect and it told the story of a pioneer, one that had come a very, very long way to acclaim, fame and business opulence on his own terms. Earl G. Graves, Sr. began publishing Black Enterprise in 1970 as a magazine that would inform, educate, highlight and ultimately inspire African Americans in business. A renaissance entrepreneur, he inspired and guided countless aspirants like me through the trials and tribulations of working in corporate America. BE also would guide us in the marathon that hopped off the road to blaze a path unpaved. Mr. Graves wanted entrepreneurs to “achieve their measure of the American dream.”

My kind of language. I had big dreams.

Mr. Graves was powerful. When Greg and I met Mr. Clarence Avant in Beverley Hills, for example, he asked us to deliver a hilariously lewd message to his counterpart. We gave him the message – with some reluctance – when we saw him on that grand day in 2006. We got a big laugh. I was literally rubbing shoulders with one of my heroes – trademark mutton-chop sideburns and all – right after getting a prestigious award from his revolutionary organization. The irony of it all, we were told, Mr. Graves didn’t really love Hip-Hop. It did not matter and it still does not matter.

Mr. Earl Graves, Sr. is one of my heroes and he will never die, even though his physical form has succumbed to Alzheimer’s. People like Mr. Graves are an example of the greatness within all of us, if we tap into the strengths, tenacity and ingenuity embedded deep in our DNA. If you have loved a magazine, or a web site like AllHipHop or seen a successful Black business person of any walk of life, it is highly they have Mr. Graves to thank. And for the record, Black Enterprise began to embrace Hip-Hop fully, with coverage of Diddy, Master P, 50 Cent, Lecrae and even a website called AllHipHop.com.

Mr. Graves, we salute you for your tireless work, pushing us all to be better people, ambitious moguls and creating vast opportunities for countless individuals on all of his platforms. To his family, condolences, and respect.

“To have a successful career, you have to approach it as an entrepreneur, even if you are working for someone else. Your career is your own private business. You have to market yourself and your abilities and knowledge just as you would a product or service. – Earl G. Graves, Sr.

Thank you, Sir.