Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 19 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds   

Rags to Riches and Riches-to-Rags

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   1 comment
Message Sylvester Brown, Jr.
Become a Fan
  (2 fans)
by Sylvester Brown, Jr.


People love a good rags-to-riches story. But it's only appreciated in that order. Few want to hear the "riches" part from the well-to-do. And it's a "sob story" if someone only talks about the "rags" portion of their tale. Me, I had a great rags-to-riches story:

I was a black kid, born and raised in St. Louis' ghetto neighborhoods; a high school dropout who became a construction worker who got caught up in fast times and fast living; a young adult who begrudgingly enrolled at a community college and, there in its library, became infatuated with the history of my people and the power of words; the real-life narrative became even more compelling in 1987, when I founded Take Five Magazine. It was created out of my desire to activate communities and educate those of my hue with similar disadvantaged backgrounds. After struggling with the award-winning but never profitable publication for 15 years, I was offered the job as a columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

This was the "riches" part of my story that seemed to resonate with people. Gaining employment with the city's only major daily newspaper had that much-anticipated Horatio Alger ending. It was an assurance that hard work, determination and sacrifice really can lift anyone from humble beginnings to middle-class comfort.   In the minds of many (and in mine, too) I had arrived. A steady paycheck, benefits, thousands of readers, prestige, respect and recognition -I lavishly lapped it up. Not rich by any means but my wife, daughters and I lived the quasi-middle class dream; a nice 4-bedroom home in a quiet, tony part of the city; two cars; a wallet full of credit cards and the ability to take occasional out-of-town vacations.

The traditional tale took an unconventional turn. I was fired from the Post in 2009. My marriage crumbled in 2010. In 2011, I joined the ranks of the 150 million post-recession Americans considered "poor" or "near poor."   This year, 2012, I lost the house in the quiet, middle class, South St. Louis neighborhood and moved to North St. Louis in an area stigmatized by drive-by shootings and disproportionate rates of crime, poverty and unemployment.

Suddenly, at age 56, unwanted chapters have been inserted into my life chronicle. Yet, in the midst of economic vulnerability and a steep fall from grace, I have found new riches and new purpose. I have come full circle to a familiar and oddly comforting place.


Despite the unsavory motives that led to my departure from the newspaper, I really welcomed the exit. I had become the go-to guy for all things black; the defender of the dismissed and downtrodden-those grappling with the extremities of my impoverished youth. Instead of ostracizing and incarcerating these people, I preached about investing in their untapped potential. Give them the sumptuous resources we bestow on the already rich, I wrote, let them rebuild their own communities, deal with their own troubled youth and create their own sustainable businesses and jobs.

In reality, I was a drive-by, literary proselytizer ; a black man from a white neighborhood, championing change in the black community from his cozy cubicle inside a white-owned newspaper building.

Increasingly, I felt like a "talker" but I desperately wanted to be a "doer."  


The Bible says "Pride goeth before a fall."   It was pride whispering in my ear when I refused the union's offer to fight for the job. It was ego that urged me to diregard advice to sue the trousers off the newspaper. "Screw "em," I retorted, the idea of wasting years and years and spending thousands and thousands to win back a job where I wasn't wanted seemed stupid. Besides, I had received a lucrative offer from Tom Burrell, the black advertising pioneer, to work with him on his upcoming book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority.   

The manuscript was published by SmileyBooks, owned by public TV and radio commentator, Tavis Smiley. That assignment led to several opportunities to serve as a consultant or contributor on other books the company published. But I became frustrated with the lack of take-charge black leaders who weren't articulating or delivering strategies or solutions that addressed the disproportionately-high rates of unemployment, poverty and incarceration impacting communities of color. And, I was burdened by the fact that I still wasn't a doer.

As blessed as I was to be in the company of some of black America's top-thinkers, the creative jobs were too far apart and far too few. Pride fed the illusion that I could sustain the debt-heavy lifestyle of my Post-Dispatch years. I staunchly resisted my ex's pleas to dramatically downsize. To do so, ego argued, would mean the bastards had won.  

Recently, while doing research for a client, I listened to the sermons of T.D. Jakes, the popular pastor of the non-denominational mega-church, Potter's House.

"Sometimes God has to break you down to build you up," Jakes lectured. He added that oftentimes, we have to be "humbled" in order to receive our intended grace.

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Rate It | View Ratings

Sylvester Brown, Jr. Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Sylvester Brown, Jr. is an award-winning journalist, former publisher of Take Five Magazine and metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After leaving the Post in 2009, he began working as a researcher, consultant and contributor with (more...)
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

You, me, us, we and "things that matter"

Reverse Integration: It's Time to Come Back Home

Addressing The Unspoken Side Of Sequestration

Rags to Riches and Riches-to-Rags

A Global Day of Reckoning

We wear the hood but "hood remains unchanged

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend