Growing up in the legally segregated Mississippi Delta, Clifton Taulbert was inspired by “change agents” who helped shape him into who he is today. The Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce is hosting the author and entrepreneur, who will speak about “unlocking the entrepreneurial code,” at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort on Friday, Sept. 26.
Talbert, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and author of “Who Owns the Icehouse” and “Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored,” said one change agent, his Uncle Cleve, became a success despite the barriers of the Deep South in the 1950s.
“He could have done what everyone else was doing and put his dreams aside, but I saw those dreams fulfilled in my presence,” Taulbert said. “I saw it up close, and because it was up close it made a tremendous impact on my life. That’s why I believe in mentoring today. You can watch from a distance the Mark Zuckerburgs, the Steve Jobses, the Oprah Winfreys. But to see that tremendous change up close, and ride in a truck with it, it gave me reason to believe.”
Taulbert worked for his uncle in Glen Allan, Miss., selling ice from his icehouse to blacks and whites during a time when businesses were segregated.
“He didn’t just serve the black community,” Taulbert said. “He served the entire community.”
Taulbert said his Uncle Cleve was an entrepreneur and didn’t even know the word.
In the 1980s, Taulbert serendipitously became involved with someone in the oil industry in Oklahoma, whom he assisted with purchasing a small business.
“I heard someone had a business they wanted to sell and hadn’t found a buyer,” Taulbert said. “I don’t know why I thought I had the nerve to bring a buyer and seller together. I had never done anything like that before in my life. I didn’t have any references. But something inside of me said I could.”
Taulbert said, to find a buyer, he had to step way outside his comfort zone and approach “the founding families” of Tulsa.
“I heard a rumor of a young son of an oil family in Tulsa who was looking to purchase a small business. I did my due diligence and met with him, and looking back, it worked. But I didn’t know any of the rules or regulations. But it sold.”
Taulbert said he immediately sought the advice of an attorney.
“I told him I was scared because I’d never made so much money in my life. That sale provided me the idea that I could start the Freemount Corporation,” Taulbert said of his marketing business and first entrepreneurial endeavor.
When a partner in another oil company invented the Stairmaster Exercise System, he looked to Taulbert and the Freemount Corporation to “introduce it to the world.” Taulbert delivered a huge government contract and has since gone on to start the Building Community Institute, a consulting company focused on human capital development and organizational effectiveness, and start Roots Java Coffee, the only African American-owned coffee company in the country, he said.
“That was pretty scary,” Taulbert said of getting into the ultra-competitive coffee business four years ago. “But I’m sure it was scary for my uncle to start a business where he had to have day-to-day interactions with white Southerners.”
Taulbert said an additional pursuit, writing, would be yet another entrepreneurial leap of faith.
“I thought I could be a writer, and as a kid I couldn’t go to the public library because of the color of my skin. My first book [“Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored”] took 24 years to get published and eventually became movie. It caught the attention of people around the world as to how a good community could look and how to sustain it,” he said. Taulbert has published eight books, including three children’s books.
In “Who Owns the Icehouse,” he writes of the life lessons that he’s learned since his boyhood in Mississippi. He said the culmination of those experiences have taught him his greatest lesson:
“I could do something different and live beyond the norm. It’s a lesson I’ve kept with me throughout life.”
To register for the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce event featuring Taulbert, go to http://events.SignUp4.net/csbcpresentscliftonltaulbert or call James Stewart at 641-0480 with questions.