It’s hard to find an article on Stedman Graham that doesn’t mention his media-mogul fiancé, of 22 years. The hype and media frenzy that surrounds the queen of talk, Oprah Winfrey, could mean he often lives in her shadow.
“The beautiful thing about it is that even though people in the outside world define me by that, that’s not how I define myself… The bottom line is you’ve got to be a pretty strong person to even be with a person who is able to self-actualize herself and who is a woman, you can’t be weak, you have to step up,” says Graham.
Growing up in Whitesboro, New Jersey, Graham had yet to find the self-awareness that he is now blessed with. He grew up with two disabled brothers and a family with a low self-esteem which rubbed off on him.
“I was defined by my race, I was defined by my background and I was defined by my family, all of those things,” he says.
One of his first jobs was as a prison guard, for five years. He then worked in the recreation department and later the education department. But it was a trip to South Africa that changed his life.
In the mid-eighties, Graham took a job in South Africa where he delivered food and clothes to people in the townships on behalf of an aid organization.
“I was working with a gentleman [Bob Brown] and he educated Nelson Mandela’s children. He was a nominee for the ambassador of South Africa and I worked for him and traveled all around the world with him. He was also a special assistant to president [Richard] Nixon, so we had very close ties to the White House. We had a network of folks that we would do work for as a business consultant and South Africa was one of those places that we came to.”
Graham saw the suffering of the South African people and although he is black, he never bore the wrath of racists.
“…as a South African you experienced the racism, but if you were an American you were treated differently.”
Almost 20 years since his first visit to South Africa, Graham retuned in 2013, to speak at a Mega Partnering Event on maximizing one’s potential to achieve success, and was surprised at what he saw.
“I love the way that you’re transitioning and transforming the country. I love the diversity of South Africa and I think that’s the key word… The message [for the people of South Africa] should be: If you want to invest in South Africa, invest in yourself.”
As for Graham’s secret to success, it is all about making the most of the 24 hours you have each day.
“I know that success is when preparation meets opportunity. Now, South Africa has the opportunity, it’s about how you prepare the people for the opportunity. When you prepare the people for the opportunity you’re going to get a booming economy. Your country is only as good as the skills of its people, it’s only as good as the education of its people,” says Graham.
Although South Africa has made many strides, Graham says one of the country’s biggest challenges is the belief that it can succeed on its own. He says businesses need to make use of the resources and opportunities that international investors want to offer.
“It’s like Nelson Mandela said, ‘this is not about black empowerment, it’s not about white empowerment, it’s about people empowerment. When we get along, we realize that we’re all in this together and it’s about a world-wide economy and what we want to do is empower as many people as possible worldwide and educate them worldwide.’”
Beside every strong man is an even stronger woman; but beside every strong woman is a man who is secure in his identity.