When Chris Gardner, then 27-year-old separated from his girlfriend, he found himself homeless with a little son. He and his young son resorted to sleeping on the floor of a public toilet because he could not afford a rent and a decent meal.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mr Gardner never knew his real father. He was brought up in poverty by his mother Bettye Jean and a physically abusive and alcoholic stepfather.
Chris grew up in a black neighborhood, where he’d learnt to smoke marijuana, stole and got into fights. His step father reportedly threw him out of the house during one Christmas. “I was put out of the house, butt naked, at gun point. To this day, I still have a problem with Christmas,” he said.
His mother was sent to prison after she allegedly tried to burn the house when Freddie was sleeping inside and that landed Chris in a foster home. “(But) I made a decision that I was going to be everything that this guy was not. I am not going to drink, I am not going to beat women, I am not going to be ignorant.
“One of the tactics that I developed as a young kid was I would read out aloud and I will be saying to the sky that you can beat me down, you can beat me, you can beat my mom, you can put us out of here, put a gun, but I can read. I am going places,” he said in an interview.
The single dad and his son would bed down in parks, at a church shelter, or under his desk at work after everyone else had gone home. They ate in soup kitchens, and he used the little money he had to put his son in day nursery so he could go to work.
Interestingly, Gardner was able to disguise normalcy for his son such that Christopher Jr. did not even know that they were homeless. He did not know until he was grown. The now-36-year-old said in an interview, “I didn’t know we were homeless. I just remember that we were doing a whole lot of moving. I just know that when I looked up, he was there. I looked around, he was there.”
Mr Gardner had an uneasy childhood and reportedly served time in prison before he got an internship opportunity at DWR. During his internship period, Mr Gardner worked tirelessly at selling stocks and shares at Dean Witter Reynolds (DWR) until he was made a full employee.
Only then could he afford to rent a home for himself and his son. He built a career for himself and in 1987 he opened his own investment firm, Gardner Rich.
He started his own brokerage firm with $10,000 behind a single desk and in 1988, Gardner, 34, at the time earned $1 million over the course of a single year.
He later sold his share in Gardner Rich and founded a new company called Gardner International Holdings in 2006. They have offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Little did he know that Hollywood will come calling when he was writing his best-selling autobiography The Pursuit of Happyness. A movie of the same name was released in 2006 and has been seen in theatres by millions of people.
Today his life story is a hit Hollywood movie and Mr Gardner now 62, is worth an estimated $60m (£48m), journeys the world as a motivational speaker, and sponsors homeless charities and organizations that combat violence against women.
Notwithstanding the despairs of his childhood, Mr Gardner credits his success to the inspirations from his mum.
“I have one of those old-fashioned mothers who told me every single day, ‘Son, you can do or be anything that you want to do or be.’ “And I believed it, I bought into it 100%.”
He told the BBC that one day as a child he was watching a college basketball game on TV when he commented that one of the players would make a million dollars.
“My mum said, ‘Son, one day it will be you who’ll make a million dollars.’ Until she said those words the thought had never entered my mind,” he said.
Gardner spends 200 days a year travelling the world speaking to packed audiences in more than 50 countries.
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I sat down and spoke with Gail & Kyle Davis from GDA. It was my absolute pleasure to sit and speak with Gail and Kyle Davis on the @GDApodcast. This was their 50TH episode and it was HOT! 🔥 Take a listen, link is in my bio. #business #PursuitOfHappYness #podcast #entrepreneurship