Walgreens' Chief Diversity Officer Steve Pemberton Inspires Chicago boys

Steve Pemberton, author of A Chance in the World and Fortune's Top 20 Chief Diversity Officer (Walgreens), inspired Chicago boys at Midtown Center on Monday, July 8th, candidly sharing about his rough past and journey through life's obstacles. 

Christian Alferez, a student from Midtown's Summer Journalism Apprenticeship, also reflected on the engaging visit, through their newspaper and blog, The Midtown Voice.  

"None of us look like our story," opened Steve Pemberton, Divisional Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreens, speaking to an auditorium filled with over 300 7th-12th Midtown boys from across Chicago. You cannot tell by virtue of his job, where he lives, or by everything he has accomplished, where he comes from--but his message to the boys at Midtown Center on Tuesday morning was, "Born into circumstances that I didn't create, it was my responsibility to overcome them."

Reading Saved Pemberton as a Child

Pemberton did not know his father, his mother, or even his own last name. He did not know where he came from, but growing up he knew one thing: he wanted to go to college. He overcame a traumatic and violent childhood in abusive foster homes to find success and liberation through a good education. He began by giving the boys of Midtown a piece of advice: read everyday. Steve listed Watership Down, Tolkien, and Moby Dick among his list of life changing books. He read so much as a child that when the time came to write his autobiography, A Chance in the World, the ability to write was naturally present. 

Overcoming Obstacles with Perseverance

He told the boys, "By being here, you've chosen to be something; to end a cycle of depression. The question is, will you?" Steve's message was fitting for Midtown in Chicago, as every day a team of a two dozen college advisors and sports coaches work with at-risk boys to help them overcome their own obstacles to achieve transformational success. 

Steve heroically lives out many of the virtues that the staff and volunteers at Midtown instill in the students at Midtown. He shared examples of his own perseverance in getting into college. He applied for every scholarship that he could find, only to face many rejections. He even applied for a Daughters of the American Revolution scholarship. When he was turned down because it is only for girls, his response was, "Are you sure??" Needless to say, his tireless efforts paid off, and he entered Boston College with a full scholarship. 

His Book is for the Midtown Boys in Chicago

Professionally accomplished with a family of his own and well on the path to healing, why did Steve Pemberton feel the need to write his book and relive the brokenness he experienced as a child? "Even though I just met you," he told the boys at Midtown, "I did it for you." 

He wants kids and people who are down, despairing, or doubting to realize they too have a chance in the world. "Don't make the mistake to think I have a talent or ability that you don't," he explained, "I see in you not what you can be, but what you already are."

He parted encouraging the boys to "take advantage of all the wonderful people at Midtown, and recognize that one day, they are going to ask you to be that for someone else." Hopefully all of the boys at the Midtown Center will be as courageous, hard working and giving with their time as Steve Pemberton. 

Steve lives with his wife, daughter, and two sons. His favorite role is being a father and husband, which "brings [him] peace." Thank you, Mr. Pemberton for your generous time at Midtown Center for boys. We are grateful to you and congrats on your hard work as a role model to us all! 

To explore the rest of the Midtown Voice newspaper and read Midtown's Journalism apprentice Christian Alferez' account on Pemberton's inspiring visit, click here.