DAN ASKINS: Felton Capel's Story Is a True Inspiration
On a recent morning, I had the privilege to introduce Felton Capel to a class of Southern Middle School eighth-graders that I was teaching through Junior Achievement.
For the past eight weeks, I had asked the students what they wanted to do when they grew up, and then I followed up with a more difficult question: "What are you going to do this week to achieve that goal?" Most of the students have dreams, but they really don't understand how to turn them into reality.
One student wants to become a gospel music producer, so I gave him the name of a local pastor who has a recording studio. The student, however, kept coming up with reasons why he couldn't seem to connect with this great resource.
Another student wanted to become a professional golfer, so I called a local pro and asked if he would be willing to play a round with this student. Of course the reply was, "Yes. Tell him to call me to schedule a time." The student couldn't seem to get that done. Something always came up. A girl in the class wanted to be the next Tyra Banks. When I asked her if she had entered any beauty contests, she told me they were too expensive.
All of the students allowed small barriers to get in their way and stifle their dreams. That's where Felton comes in. I asked him to simply share his story.
Felton Capel is a black man in his 80s. We can piously say that race doesn't matter, but for people of Felton's generation it did. After leaving the U.S. Army as a master sergeant during World War II, Felton came back to the States to try to get an education and get ahead. His choices were limited to black colleges, but he did receive a degree in chemistry from Hampton University.
When he came back home, the best job he could get was as a waiter for the Pinehurst Hotel.
One day in 1968, after a family funeral, a friend approached Felton about the possibility of selling cookware with a company out of Los Angeles. Reluctantly, he agreed to try it out, and within six months he was in the top five in the nation in sales. To this point, nobody in the company leadership had met Felton and didn't realize he was black, or the opportunity to sell the cookware wouldn't have been there to begin with.
Within two years, he was the top-selling distributor in the world, and the company wanted to throw him a victory banquet. Felton had a challenge. Hotels didn't serve blacks. All that changed for one hotel in Winston-Salem when Felton told the managers he wanted to book rooms for 700 to 900 people and host a dinner.
He went on to buy the cookware company and sit on many corporate and community service organization boards.
Not satisfied with success in the business world alone, Felton ran for and won a seat on the Southern Pines Town Council. In large part because of efforts by him and Voit Gilmore, Moore County integrated without all the ugliness that other areas endured. Felton Capel is a black man, but we don't care.
It is a rich irony that a man who once was only allowed to serve tables in a local hotel is now in the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame. Many people have faced the same challenges as Felton Capel. The difference for Felton is that he refused to allow his roadblocks to hold him back. He also chose never to become bitter about his experiences. The same man who was told his lips were too big for radio ended up buying the radio station. He chuckled when he told that story. It made me want to cry.
Perhaps you can understand why I invited Felton to speak to these eighth-graders. Their excuses fade in comparison to the real barriers Felton Capel, and many others like him, faced on a daily basis. He is famous for saying, "Your attitude, more than your aptitude, determines your altitude." Every time I think about quitting, or turning away from a challenge, or making excuses for my own laziness, I think about Felton Capel.
Sir Isaac Newton once said, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Felton Capel is a giant man, and we all see further.
Dan Askins, with Fore Properties, lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at 910-528-7003 or by e-mail at Dan@DanAskins.com.
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