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Something special about Detroit: Burgess Dwight Foster

Friday, September 28, 2007

Gregory Price was a banking intern at Quicken Loans. Interesting and inspiring story, Greg!.

by Gregory Price

Growing up in Detroit is no easy walk in the park, especially if you are an inner city kid trying to get a good education. As a kid Burgess Dwight Foster strived for something more then just reading and writing to get by. He wanted an education that gave him a way of life, a passion and something to work for. Becoming a great leader and speaker in the city of Detroit was something special if you had the right stuff, and deep down Burgess knew he had what it takes to succeed, he just needed some help in paving the road to get there.

Burgess was a senior in high school when he met Charlotte Fair an English Teacher and Speech Coach. He was running for the Student Senate, Officer of the Human Relations Club, and Forensic (public speaking not CSI) participant. One afternoon his speech coach said to him, “You like to talk, but can you speak?” As a talkative inner city kid he shrugged it off saying, “come on now, if a person can talk they can speak right?”

It didn’t take long for Burgess to figure out that Mrs. Fair was talking about Public Speaking. The art of group communication—a characteristic that the business theorist Chris Goleman whose theory of Emotional Intelligence argues that “a leader should have more than a precise knowledge of an undergraduate or graduate discipline-they must be able to speak and not just talk!”

Mrs. Fair started letting Burgess speak to some of her class sections as practice. He did “okay” from what he could gauge by the audience’s reaction but wanted to be great, not mediocre. He began watching Public Speakers like Less Brown (author of “Living Your Dreams”) address thousands of mesmerized people, hoping to learn the art of public speaking. Brown seemed to be calm relaxed and composed. Burgess knew how easy it was to tense up and let the nerves get to you and practiced speaking calm and precise. For Burgess, his break-through public speaking day had arrived. The Detroit Medical Society—a network of Black doctors in Detroit who promoted the profession was sponsoring a city-wide oratorical competition. Burgess represented Southeastern H.S.

The title of the competition was “Something Special About Detroit.” Burgess’ biggest competitor was a young man named Hurdy Butts. Hurdy’s speaking style according to Burgess was an impersonation of Dr. King’s elocution. He was unbeatable! Burgess had condign himself to winning third or maybe second. He never thought about Mrs. Fair’s assessment of his leadership communication: “Burgess you rise to the occasion!” “What does that mean he queried?” It means to do well when it counts despite practice runs that are not promising, despite setbacks that discourage, regardless of a low GPA, with practice and miscues—you persevere!

They announced the winners in reverse order at the competition. Then, like high drama—they called the second place name—and it was not Burgess’ it was Hurdy’s. Mrs. Fair was as stunned as Burgess, though she tried to seem celebratory. Burgess was named the Detroit Medical Society’s City-Wide Oratorical Champion. Since then he has gone onto college despite having a 1.1 GPA. He attended North Carolina State University where he was told he did not meet the minimum accepted requirements. After two years his GPA was a 2.4 at a school where you had to get a 3.6 in high school to enter. Burgess went on to earn a B.A., Cum Laude in American History with a GPA of a 3.23. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Maryalnd-UC where he is working on a double masters degree. He says he wants to be President of a community college someday. Not bad for an inner city boy whose motivation and hard work helped turned his life around!

He says the reason he wants to lead a community college is because “Community colleges are looked on by those who go to a four year school or who have a Ph.D. as the place where you go if you cannot hold up to scrutiny or cut the mustard. However, I want to show other inner-city kids that you can get into a university without a minimum accepted requirement on your record by doing homework, interacting in a community of scholars, and speaking out (about public question of magnitude) instead of talking out loud (about nothing). He went on to say, “I want to show students how to speak out better by learning to read and write better because all three are essential to succeed in any organization-public or private.” He realized, that being a Young Boy, hanging on the street corners wasn’t a life that leads to happiness. However, being able to motivate or inform an audience was inspirational, desirable and the ultimately Burgess Dwight Fosters road to success.