Who better to kick start the West Coast Expo than the master of motivation, Les Brown, who wrote in his book "Live Your Dreams:" "I am intrigued by the concept of selling people on their own greatness ..."
If that is the case, those fortunate enough to hear him at the Expo, Friday from 8-10 a.m., could very well find themselves at that elusive intersection in history where opportunity, perfect timing and preparation collide.
He also has a workshop Friday afternoon at 1 p.m., and will broadcast his KFWB 980 program live at the Expo from 2-4 p.m. Friday.
Brown is his own best advertisement for the seemingly impossible rise from the bottom of the barrel to the dizzying heights of success.
He and his twin brother were born in an abandoned building and given away when they were just weeks old. They were raised by a single woman in Liberty City, a low-income section of Miami. In school, he was written off as "educable mentally retarded," and put in special education classes.
But there was a spark in Brown that poverty, hardship and the shame of being called dumb could not quench.
Greatness. Even as a kid, Brown learned to stick close to people who could mentor him, like LeRoy Washington, a speech and drama instructor at Booker T. Washington High in Miami. While in high school, he "used to fantasize being on-stage speaking to thousands of people," he told Rachel L. Jones of the Detroit Free Press, "and I used to write on pieces of paper, 'I am the world's greatest orator.'"
Although, as a special education student he was not eligible to attend Washington's classes, the instructor instilled in him a belief in himself. Once when Brown told the instructor that he couldn't perform a task because he was educable mentally retarded, Washington snapped back: "Do not ever say that again. Someone's opinion of you does not have to become your reality." After graduation, Brown pursued a career in broadcasting, but instead was hired to perform odd jobs around the radio station. But when a disc jockey got drunk on the air, opportunity, perfect timing and preparation came crashing together.
No other disc jockey was available to step in, so Brown was allowed to take the soaked deejay's place. Not long afterward he became a full-time deejay. Later still, the most popular deejay.
Brown moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he soon developed a top-rated radio program. There, he befriended station news director Mike Williams, who would become another great influence. Noting Brown's popularity and pursuit of betterment, Williams urged him to run for the Ohio State Legislature. He won overwhelmingly, and was re-elected twice. He left politics to return to Miami to care for Mrs. Mamie Brown, the woman who adopted him.
Already well on his way to becoming the great orator he once dreamed of becoming, Brown decided to become a motivational speaker. It wasn't overnight but it wasn't long before he had achieved that goal, eventually commanding $25,000 an hour to speak for Fortune 500 companies. In 1989, Brown received the National Speakers Association's highest award, the Council of Peers Award of Excellence, the first African American to be so honored, and was inducted into the association's hall of fame. He is also the recipient of the Golden Gavel, the highest award from Toastmasters International, and has been ranked among the top five speakers in the world, along with Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, Robert Schuller, Paul Harvey and Lee Ioacocca.