At first glance, one’s first impression of Benjamin Raymond might be that he is a man who has always had it all together, or that he was born into a long line of privilege and wealth.
While Raymond has been very successful in business, as an author, and as a philanthropist, he would be the first to explain that his life was not easy at all and that his path to success wasn’t a straight one by any means.
“When people first see me, all they see are the suits and assume that I come from this long line of wealth. My life was the complete opposite,” Raymond explained, sharing how he grew up in multiple foster homes as the result of having a drug-addicted mother with mental health issues and an absentee father whom he didn’t reconnect with until his adult life.
“There were a lot of dark days for me,” Raymond admitted. Keep reading after the jump…
“My mother lost me to foster care when I was six months old. She had to go through the criminal justice system for the next 2-3 years to earn me back. She battled with a severe crack addiction. She was also bipolar and manic-depressive. It was just me and her, and then she would lose me.
“My father was nowhere in the picture. I saw him once at the age of seven for five minutes and didn’t see him again for 20 years,” he continued. “So, I really didn’t have a lot of stability, a lot of mentors around me growing up.”
After a continuous cycle of drugs, foster care and reuniting with his mom, Raymond made a difficult decision at when he was in the eighth grade. Sensing that his mother’s lifestyle would be destructive to his own future, Raymond contacted his middle school coach, who helped him escape the situation with his mother once a for all.
Over the next four years, the troubled young teen lived with three different families. A true pioneer of turning his trials into triumph, Benjamin turned to sports and realized that being an athlete was where he could drown out all of the negative things going on his personal life.
Whether it was at the local high school gym or a park nearby, Raymond played his heart out and knew that sports could open up more doors for him if you stuck with it.
And sure enough, doors eventually opened for the tenacious student-athlete. After completing high school, Raymond earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he eventually became captain of the team.
“For me, playing sports was a foundation,” Raymond said. “I had the opportunity to play throughout my high school and collegiately as well. Doing so, gave me confidence — when I was on the court, I wasn’t thinking about the problems off the court.”
With his first book, “Playing the Game Without a Coach,” Raymond has used the details of his checkered past to inspire those who may be going through similar experiences.
“I wanted to help a lot of families, a lot of others out there who are struggling…knowing that if I can I overcome the cards life dealt me, you can also,” he explained.
Raymond also used the writing process to heal.
“For me, growing up, I was always embarrassed by my story,” he shared. “So, a lot of me writing this book was a healing process, taking me back to a lot of dark days. Then also, another portion (of the book) was to inspire people to motivate themselves to not only help themselves but to also help others.”
Embracing the act of forgiveness is a major part of Raymond’s platform and is one of the reasons why he is so successful today. In fact, it was through the practice of forgiveness that Raymond was reunited with his father after a 20-year absence.
“Forgiveness is a powerful word and is a power within itself,” Raymond said. “The ‘Antoine Fisher’ movie inspired me because I was going around in life very successful but on the inside, I really didn’t know my identity.
“I conducted an internet search for my father’s last known address and saw that he was doing a 13-year sentence in a federal prison,” he continued. “I had my first man-to-man conversation with my father in prison. I had to go on a journey forgiving my father, forgiving other family members for a lot that happened. I had to learn that you have to love people for who they are, not for what they do.”
Despite his tough upbringing, Raymond credits an inquisitive nature to identifying successful-looking people and picking their brains with questions. Even now, when he is talking to youth, he shares with them how important it is to seek out conversations with successful people.
“Growing up, I was a talker,” he said. “Sometimes it even got me in trouble in school. I was the kid who, if I saw success, or someone who looked the part, I wanted to find out what they were doing because I didn’t see that everyday.
Whether it’s learning to tie a tie or teaching younger men how to interview and talk to people, Raymond stressed that it is important that people are unafraid to seek out the knowledge they need to get to the next level.
“Sometimes, we’re so afraid to ask for help when it may only be just around the corner,” he added. “Just by initiating a conversation, you never know what door you may be opening.”
Because he believes in helping others in various ways, Raymond also is a major proponent for financial literacy. He advises his clients in his insurance agency but also has taught financial literacy courses throughout Atlanta and Dallas.
“Like forgiveness, I think ‘financial literacy’ is a powerful concept,” he said. “The biggest foundation we have a problem within our community is credit.”
Sharing how he was once in the same financial hole as others, he learned how to build on the go and is now taking that knowledge and giving back to schools and churches.
Aiming to put more programs into the black community to teach financial literacy, Raymond shares how his State Farm agency partners and sponsors workshops and programs in high schools with individuals who share the same passion of educating the youth about finances.
“We have the resources and we have the money, we just have to put more programs back into the community.”