What happens when a mechanic, a Broadway star, and a fourteen-year-old boy enter a bar? I’m not quite sure, but when each of them discovers/rediscovers themselves, the whole world becomes a better place.
So … this week’s blog isn’t about anyone over 50. It’s not even just about women! But I’ve got three inspiring, feel good stories of courage and determination that we can all learn from, and I’m thrilled to share!
Steven, my dear husband, spends a lot of time checking the news on his phone. He sends me texts with links to articles—most of which have the doom and gloom tone and content that we’ve all come to expect in today’s divisive political climate. Every once in a while, though, a gem makes its way through the muck. When it does, I take notice.
I Love a Good Metaphor!
A few weeks, Steven sent me this:
I fell in love with this piece for several reasons. First—the title! I’m a true sucker for a good metaphor and I love the “shifting gears”/mechanic thing. But most importantly, of course, the piece highlights a great rediscovery story!
When Carl Allamby was a high school student in East Cleveland, he spent much of his time tinkering with cars. Higher education wasn’t on his mind: “‘Through high school, I don’t remember a single person talking to me about college,’” he told Michael McIntyre, a reporter for the Plain Dealer. “‘For us, it was mostly going and finding a factory job or go to the military.’” He found a job at an auto parts store, and after work hours, sixteen-year-old Allamby would fix people’s cars in the store parking lot. After he graduated high school, Allamby took his skills next door, where he rented a repair bay in another local shop and then started his own business repairing and selling used cars.
Allamby was a successful entrepreneur, but to expand his business further, he took night classes to earn a business degree: “‘I just felt like if I really wanted to grow this and grow it right, I really needed a foundational education in business to really understand it.”’
There was one course requirement, however, that Allamby kept putting off—biology: “‘My argument was, ‘I’m here for business, why do I even need to take a biology class?’” But when he finally took the course, Allamby was hooked!
It was his teacher’s love of medicine that was so inspiring. Even when the teacher came in exhausted—straight after putting in many hours at the clinic (he was an interventional radiology resident) he “just lit up” when he talked about the body. That one biology class “shifted” Allamby’s “gears” for good.
When Allamby was a little boy, he dreamed of one day becoming a doctor. But that dream fell by the wayside, and besides, he didn’t know any black doctors: “‘Nobody to even to emulate. Just to say, ‘Hey, I know a guy who is a doctor who looks like me and if he can do it, I can do it.’”
He found role models when he was 40—two black doctors who supported and encouraged what many might think was an unrealistic dream. When Allamby thought of becoming a nurse, they suggested that he “aim high” and become a doctor—and that is exactly what he did!
“The Stakes Were High, Like, ‘Man I Really Can’t Fail”
Allamby had a long road ahead of him: first there were science courses at community college, followed by prepping for entrance exams, then medical school. He was by then married and a father of four, but he went all in. He sold his business, used his savings, and took out student loans: “The stakes were high, like, ‘Man I really can’t fail,’” Allamby said.
Failing was nothing Allamby had to worry about. Not only did he get A’s in all of his classes, John Kasich, governor at the time, appointed Allamby student rep for the school’s Board of Trustees. You can now find Allamby at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital, working in Emergency Medicine. He successfully made the transition from diagnosing car trouble to diagnosing human ailments!
“I Want Them to Look at Me as an Example of What They Can Do If They Really Want To”
Allamby realizes that he does not represent the norm. When Scott Simon told Allemby in a wonderful interview on NPR (if you get a chance, please listen—it’s only 5 minutes long), “I guess, it’s not lost on you that there are not a lot of African American physicians,” Allamby replied, “That’s absolutely true… in general, medicine is suffering for African Americans, for people of different minorities. And … I’m trying to play a part in reversing that and encouraging other people not – and not just African Americans. I mean, people who are disadvantaged, people who come from places that normally they don’t become doctors, you know, people who have always thought, I can never be that, or, I’ve never seen an example of that in my community – I want them to look at me as an example of what they can do if they really want to. And with the proper support and, you know, love from your family, you can achieve so much more than what you could ever believe.”
While Allamby provides a model of hope for disadvantaged kids and teens—one he didn’t have when he was growing up—his journey is a powerful example for anyone who is considering a life change—at any age. Allamby is proof that one must never say never, that achieving one’s dreams is, in fact, possible—at any age—and that realizing one’s dream can help so many others.
Winning the Tony Has Given Hope to People with All Kinds of Challenges
Next up, Ali Stroker. She recently won the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a musical for her role as Ado Annie in the well-acclaimed revival of Oklahoma! Impressive—right? What makes the award all the more meaningful is that she also become the first actor in a wheelchair to ever win a Tony.
I heard Stroker interviewed on Morning Joe a few weeks ago , and her heart and spirit moved me to tears. Stroker said that winning the Tony has given hope to people with all kinds of challenges. She looks out at the wheelchair seating section every night during her solo and sees the people in wheelchairs watching her: “Representation is so powerful for young people—to see themselves in others who are doing what they are dreaming to do.”
“All of a Sudden … We Were Addressing Disability and Sexuality”
The Oklahoma revival is celebrated for breaking all sorts of stereotypes that were present in the original play. Stroker’s role as a sexy, flirty young woman is no exception. She spoke to the LA Times about her very physical role and the far-reaching message it sends: “How I move in my chair is one of the most thrilling parts for me of doing this revival. All of a sudden, without needing to talk about it, we were addressing disability and sexuality. People are so unsure about how to tackle these subjects, and what I loved is that we didn’t need to talk about them. We just got to see them in action.” Stroker loves her famous solo “I Cain’t Say No” and sees it as “an anthem for not apologizing for who we are and what we want, and I think we all need a little bit of that.” (When I read that quote, I jumped out of my seat!)
“When I Sing I Can Fly, I Am Free”
Stroker was paralyzed at the age of two after a car accident. She fell in love with theater at seven and hasn’t looked back:
“I was able to thoroughly immerse myself in theater and I think that was another part of my parents’ strategy. There was no time to look at what I was not able to do. We were not going to put our attention of the fact I couldn’t play soccer. We were just going to put all of our efforts on what I could do.” Yay for Mr. and Mrs. Stroker!
In another interview with a CBS news New York affiliate, Stocker describes what her voice means to her: “Living with a disability, you can feel limited at times, but when I sing I can fly, I am free.”
I look forward to the day when all people are given their chance to shine, when people in wheelchairs can win awards without it being a huge out-of-the-ordinary story. Stroker may be the first, but she is paving a way for others like her to follow. Here are the words she spoke when she accepted her Tony:
“This award is for every kid watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said. “You are.”
Thanks to Ali Stroker, they truly are.
Dessert for Last!
O.K. I saved dessert for last!! I now bring you an amazing teen—Michael Platt.
(Take a quick break from reading, everyone, and go get some tissues—you may need them for this one!)
Michael just turned 14 this month, and the past two years have been a whirlwind! That’s when he started his business, Michaels Desserts.
No. That is not a typo! There is no apostrophe in Michaels because he always wants to remember that he is not just baking for himself.
According to a wonderful article about him in the Washington Post, Michael has always had an interest in social justice. His hero, from the time he was a small child, was Martin Luther King, Jr. Michael often wondered how he himself would be able to fight the vast problems in the world.
For Every Baked Good Michael Sells, He Donates Another One to the Hungry
Michael’s love of baking also goes way back. It was a Christmas gift he received three years ago that spurred the merging of his two passions: a pair of Toms shoes. Toms has an unusual business model—it’s called a “one-for-one.” With every pair of shoes they sell, they give another pair to a kid in a developing country https://fourweekmba.com/toms-one-for-one-business-model/.
Michael was determined to use this model in his own business, so for every baked good Michael sells, he donates another one to the hungry: “‘I always wanted to have a purpose for what I do,’ Michael told the Post. ‘It’s all about helping people—not just having a purpose for yourself, but thinking about, ‘How does this touch other things?’”
Michael, who lives in Maryland, takes monthly trips to McPherson Square Park in Washington, D.C. to hand out cupcakes to the homeless. He also brings his baked good to domestic violence shelters and transitional housing locations, according to the Post.
“We Learned that Hunger Doesn’t Really Look Like Anything”
Michelle Marsh joined Michael on one of those trips to McPherson Square, which was broadcasted on ABC News affiliate KRCR (another inspiring clip to watch if you literally have two minutes). In the clip, Michael tells Marsh that hunger has more than one face. He handed a cupcake one day to a man wearing a suit and tie: “We gave him a cupcake, and he said he hadn’t eaten in three days, so we learned that hunger doesn’t really look like anything.”
Michael has also teamed up with No Kid Hungry in D.C. where proceeds from his bake sales go to support the organization. Jessica Bomberg of No Kid Hungry tells Marsh just how big the problem of childhood hunger is in the D.C. area: “One in five kids in DC doesn’t know where their next meal will come from.”
One in five. Chew on that.
“He Had to Stop Everything He Loved: Gymnastics, Climbing Trees, Diving. So That’s When He Kind of Threw Himself into Baking”
Michael himself is no stranger to adversity. In the sixth grade, Michael was diagnosed with epilepsy. It changed his whole world. Michael’s mom, Danita Platt, told the Post that his seizures became too severe and too frequent for him to stay in school. She quit her job to stay home with Michael, and he has been homeschooled since: “It was a very, very difficult time,” Mrs. Platt said about that transitional period. “He had to stop everything he loved: gymnastics, climbing trees, diving. So that’s when he kind of threw himself into baking.” Baking relaxes Michael and has proven to be an outlet that has helped him as well as others.
Michael has a few staples in his baking repertoire, but each month he also honors a different hero with a new cupcake flavor made especially with them in mind. Michael calls these specialties his “freedom fighter cupcakes.”
Michael described some of his freedom fighter cupcakes for the Post. Maya Angelou’s is banana pudding because she loved that dessert. Harriet Tubman’s is chocolate chip in honor of her nickname “Minty.” Nelson Mandela’s is “classic chocolate”: “Michael likes to shape the dark frosting to resemble Mandela’s hair.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., the only freedom fighter to receive two months of honorary cupcakes, has his cupcake filled with sweet potato pie, because, as Ms. Platt says, “‘that’s a traditional African American pie.’”
“I’ll Be Talking about How Kids Have the Power to Change the World!”
You can follow Michael on Instagram and see more of his gorgeous creations, as well as learn a bit about history, at https://www.instagram.com/michaelsdesserts/?utm_source=ig_embed.
Michaels Desserts Facebook page is where you can see what he’s up to and even place an order! (While I have not yet tasted one of his masterpieces, I hear that they are more delicious than they look—can you even imagine that’s possible?) I checked out the page earlier today and discovered that Michael will be doing a TEDx Talk in Jacksonville, FL this coming October. He is the youngest person to ever speak on that TED stage, according to his Facebook page. Here’s what Michael had to say about the event: “I’ll be talking about how kids have the power to the change the world!”
Here’s what I have to say in response to that: You already are, Michael. You already are!
I hope the stories of these amazing individuals have helped get your weekend off to an inspired start. Carl Allamby, Ali Stroker, and Michael Platt demonstrate the simple truth that following a dream is bigger than any one of us. When we achieve our purpose on this planet, we help all those around us.
Any one of their stories would be good medicine if you ever find yourself ready give up on your dream. I know I will hold their journeys close and will think of them when the going gets tough. I thank them all for being wonderful role models—yes, a fourteen-year-old can be a role model! And I thank you, as always, for reading.