Les Brown is one of America’s most renowned motivational speakers, known for his lively personality and an optimistic outlook. He continues to inspire millions of people through his programs and public speaking. The true reach and impact of his teaching will never cease due to the butterfly effect of his cross generational impact. He’s also a successful published author of numerous books, with his most recent book titled “You’ve Got To Be Hungry: The Greatness Within to Win.” 

Adopted as an infant along with his twin brother by Mamie Brown, he was deemed EMR in the fifth grade—”Educable Mentally Retarded.” The label made his self-confidence plummet, but through the support of his mother and key mentors along the way––including his highschool drama teacher, LeRoy Washington––he grew to recognize his unique gift of communication. He frequently references Mamie Brown in the many interviews he’s given about his life journey as someone who made him feel “great and grateful.” And this is precisely what he’s done for others through his work as a radio personality, talk show host, political figure, and motivational speaker. With a dogged commitment to self-belief and self-empowerment, Brown has become an example of how to achieve success through continuous self development. 

After high school, Brown convinced a local radio station to hire him to do odd jobs. When he unexpectedly got an opportunity to fill in for the disc jockey, he was quickly recognized for his “gift of gab,” and was eventually promoted to full-time DJ. Later, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he hosted a top-rated radio show. In 1977, he was encouraged to run for office and won a seat in the Ohio State Legislature where he served for three terms. 

Brown’s blueprint to success has since been utilized in a multitude of Fortune 500 companies, primarily for executive training. He’s also done work with the incarcerated individuals and special education programs, two communities for which he feels a deep passion for. 

His message on self-mastery has impacted millions of lives, inspiring individuals to do the hard work in order to achieve their true potential. He shares, “YOU decide what your limits are, and YOU decide your level of success. You are responsible for the time that you spend on this planet.” Brown has been a powerful force for decades, promoting self transformation and encouraging others to live a “heart-centered life”—just like his mother taught him. 

LES BROWNS’ ROOTS

Les Brown: Life is full of disruptions, transformation and decisions. My eldest son went on a search for his grandparents. Who would have thought that at 76 I would lay my eyes for the first time on a picture of my birth parents? It was startling and jarring. What I found is that it caused me to rethink my life because this created another narrative in my life. 

I discovered that I got my voice from my birth mother, who was a motivational speaker and so was my grandmother. However, Mamie Brown [my adoptive mother] was able to extract and cultivate my talents, which I wasn’t even aware I had. We all have greatness within us, but the majority of people won’t put in the time, effort and focus to develop this greatness. 

To be honest, I wasn’t one of those kids who had an overwhelming curiosity to find them my birth parents. I was simply curious about where I had gotten this hunger to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s been so beautiful to learn more about my birth family and to find so many similarities. It’s like a missing piece to the puzzle. I always say, “God took me out of my biological mother’s womb and placed me in the heart of my adoptive mother. One gave me life, and the other one taught me how to live life.”

THE DOROTHY BELL & BEULAH RUCKER LEGACY

Les Brown: My birth mother, Dorothy Bell, was an inspiring woman. She wanted to go to Savannah State College, but she didn’t have the money. When the head of the school asked her to pay for her tuition, she just held out her hands and said, “These two hands can work.” He eventually gave her a job milking cows, sharecropping and doing odd-jobs; and she graduated with honors. Later on she saved up money and bought 200 acres of land and started a school with my grandmother, Beulah Rucker, and they called it the Beulah Rucker School in Gainesville, Georgia. There she taught kids how to read. This was very impactful since at the time there were no African American schools in the area. Recognizing their contribution and the impact that they made on thousands of students’ lives, they made a museum in my grandmother’s name: Beulah Rucker Museum. 

MILLIONS OF LIVES IMPACTED

Les Brown: it’s humbling [when I reflect on the millions of lives I’ve impacted]. When people ask, “How did you get here with nothing––after being labeled educable mentally retarded, without any college training and born in an abandoned building on a floor?” All I can say is I had a hunger. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. 

YOU GOTTA BE HUNGRY

Les Brown: We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I read something the other day that said, “You don’t know how strong you are, until you have to be strong.” 

There are things that we’re able to do that eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, and that’s what God has in store for you. When you live a heart centered life, it ignites the hunger in you to push beyond your comfort zone. 

In order to do something you’ve never done, you’ve got to become someone you’ve never been. If you’re unwilling to learn, no one can help you. But if you’re willing to learn, no one can stop you. 

Beulah Rucker School in Gainesville, Georgia
Interview by Tricia Love Vargas

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