One person told Jimmie Lee Solomon he could do more than spend his life as an East Texas farmer.
“I was lucky to have a grandfather that told me that I could go to college; I could be a lawyer, a doctor or a preacher,” Solomon said. “That always was the one thing that stuck with me is that somebody told me I could. Everybody told me I couldn’t. But one person said ‘you can’ and that was all I needed to hear.
Solomon went on to graduate from Dartmouth College and Harvard Law and spent a distinguished career as a top executive in Major League Baseball.
On Jan. 31, he told the 162 male college and high school students at St. Petersburg College’s annual Keys to Manhood conference that they, too, can move beyond where they are now. They just have to believe in possibilities, and they have to be bold enough to take a chance.
It’s like playing golf, he said. You can’t wait for the perfect conditions.
“Sometimes, you’ve just got to hit the damn ball. Life is full of shots. Take the shot,” he said. “You’ve got to make a decision to step forward and do it, no matter what you’re burdens are.”
Solomon was the keynote speaker at the second annual conference, which is part of the college’s continuing efforts to prepare all students — especially those who may have challenges to overcome — to be successful in school and in life.
Being a man, Solomon told the group, means:
- Owning up to your responsibilities.
- Being accountable for your actions.
- Seizing opportunities when they arise.
- Getting an education — whether it’s a certificate, a job-training program or a bachelor’s or graduate degree.
- Developing employable skills.
He advised them to disregard the media’s portrayal of manhood, which often is negative and encourages poor values and decisions.
“You’ve got to break the conditioning,” he said.
Part of his work with Major League Baseball was to develop programs to help young people in poor, urban neighborhoods break that cycle. He spearheaded the development of Urban Youth Academies in Houston, Compton, Baton Rouge, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. This inner-city program provides youths with professional training for MLB careers — not just on the field, but in professional roles throughout the organization, from groundskeeper through executive.
“You’ve got to get a skill set that allows you an opportunity, a chance to be successful in our society. Without it, you have no chance,” Solomon said. “If you look at the way the world is evolving and at the speed at which technology is taking this world away – if you don’t jump on the merry-go-round now, you’ll have a hard time trying to jump onto it later.”
Solomon’s message about being prepared for success and staying focused on education resonated with Charles Bazelais, 17. He traveled with a group of fellow students from Riverside Academy in Tampa to attend the Keys to Manhood event.
“It was really important that he talked about not giving up and staying focused because you see the results of people like him who do stay focused,” said Bazelais, who plans to go on to study real estate at the Gold Coast School of Real Estate in Miami. “I just gotta stay focused and finish school.”
Solomon shared a personal story about his path to manhood. When he was a young lawyer, Solomon visited his hometown to speak about his success to students at a local school. After the speech, by accident, he met Tricia, his 12-year-old daughter that he didn’t know existed. When he realized she was at risk, living with her maternal grandmother in poverty, he decided to invite her to stay with him.
“I brought my daughter in to live with me less than a year after I met her,” he said. Although it uprooted his plans for his career, he recognized his responsibilities and was willing to do what was best for his daughter.
“It was important for me to recognize my priorities as a man and what manhood meant to me,” Solomon said. Manhood didn’t mean getting rich; it meant developing character. Making the decision to do what you say you will do and put others first.
“It meant setting my needs on the back burner and helping a young person figure out what she needed in order to be successful,” he said. His daughter, now in her 30s, went on to graduate from George Washington University and is now a successful attorney in Atlanta, Ga.
Solomon shares this story to help young men understand that his personal and professional success, as well as his daughter’s, is due to education and a willingness to embrace his idea of manhood.
“It changed her life and it changed mine,” he said. “It made me understand my place in society, and it made me understand the need to give back. It made me understand the need to get involved in others’ lives.”
You can watch his entire presentation here:
See more photos from the event on the college’s Facebook page.