A Chance in the World. That is all any of us really want. Especially growing up as a black male in America. It was most certainly what Steve Pemberton wanted as he grew up in New Bedford, MA. Today, Steve is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Workhuman and now lives in Chicago with his wife Tonya and their three children, sons Quinn and Vaughn and daughter Kennedy.
Steve, however, came from very humble beginnings. He never knew his father and was taken from his mother at a very young age. He was an orphan, forced to live with an abusive foster family for majority of his adolescence. Steve did not know anything about where he came from, not even fully knowing his ethnicity. He just knew he had fair skin, curly hair, and the last name Klakowicz. He spent much of his childhood reading books as his way to escape the mental anguish from the abuse he was receiving with the goal to get into college. He knew that would be his ticket to freedom. His ticket to a better life. But at every turn, his foster parents tried to derail his plan. Towards the end of high school, Steve was finally able to escape that family and was taken in by one of his teachers who recognized his potential.
He was able to graduate high school and made it to his dream school, Boston College. After graduating college, he began to learn more about who he was, finally discovering who his mother and father was. He learned that Klakowicz was the name of his mother’s ex-husband. Upon learning more information about his biological parents, he changed his last name to Pemberton, that of his father.
Once Steve had a family of his own, his young children began asking him questions about his childhood and relationship with his father. Thinking his childhood was a thing of the past that he survived, the questions from his kids made him realize he needed to start writing it down.
“I thought for me, I was past it. I’m on to raising a family. That’s behind me. But he [Quinn] at six years old asked me when I was his age did I have a daddy?”
So, as he began writing down memories from his childhood, it turned it to a book, titled, A Chance in the World. Steve told me even when the first print of the book came out, he thought “I’m glad I did that. I see my name on a book.” But he never anticipated the reaction he would receive from the book. It was released almost 10 years ago and everyday someone reaches out and tells him how impactful or powerful the book was. I can attest to that. I read the book leading up to my interview with Steve and it was so much to process. To know what he endured and to see where he is today is truly a miracle.
His story could have gone so many ways. I asked him what gave him the strength to get through it all. He described it as having a combination of two different things. One was to have a vision. That vision needs to be hourly, weekly, monthly, etc. But you have to see yourself outside of the shadows that you are currently in. And the second thing is a “lighthouse” to guide that vision. For him, his vision was college and some of his lighthouses were an old neighbor that gave him books, a judge in a spelling bee that smiled at him when he spelled a word correctly, and a high school teacher who took him in when he had nowhere to go.
“My faith tells me that those lighthouses do show up in our life. It could be a coach, a teacher, a neighbor, or mailman that whispers something to you. I call those God’s whisper. And God has the loudest whisper in the universe.”
Now as a father, he stares at his children in amazement. He shared a story with me about how he was on his way to do the interview with me, he saw his sons together heading in the opposite direction. He said they were just enjoying life, riding in the jeep and listening to their music, being best friends. He said he had this moment of joy seeing them. He had to stop them and just say, “it’s really cool to be a father to you two and your sister.” He went on to say that every road he’s traveled and every situation he’s been through is what led him to be their father and because of that, he would not change a step of it.
“For a hurt man, a child is God’s way of trying to heal you. And trying to set that crooked road straight.”
Since Steve was in his early 20’s when he learned who his father was and never got the opportunity to meet him, I left it up to him to do a Dear Father letter. He obliged.
I better understand now what you lost and the enormous struggles in your life. And how you were not in a place to deal with them and it explains why you were not there for me. You should be mighty, mighty proud of your grandchildren. I am living the dream that was denied you and I hope that has brought you some peace.
Before, I wrap this up, I do want to mention that Steve’s children are some pretty good student-athletes. His oldest son, Quinn, plays basketball at Steve’s alma mater, Boston College. His younger son, Vaughn, was named Illinois Football Player of the Year and is heading to Ball State as a running back. And his daughter Kennedy, is still in high school and plays Volleyball and Lacrosse.
Please check out Steve’s book, A Chance in the World. There is an adult version and a young readers version for your children. A keep a lookout for his upcoming book, The Lighthouse Effect! This is set to release in September.
Make sure you follow Steve to stay updated with him.