This will inspire you!
The number of truly inspiring people I've had the priviledge of meeting along my life's path is a blessing I wish on everyone reading this. Ty Pinkins is absolutely counted amongst that number. As soon as I got word that he was writing a book, I told him to sign me up for one of the first copies! I knew a tiny bit about his story, having worked with him at the White House, but that tiny bit was barely even a scratch on the surface. 23 Miles & Running is the rest of Ty's life story that I never knew. It's deeply inspiring and has left me looking at experiences - past and present - with different perspective and renewed energy.
Ty is the dirt poor, often-shoeless, practically blind son of a sharecropper from the impoverished Mississippi Delta. The men in Ty's family, Ty included, worked cotton fields most of the year for just barely enough money to survive and, once the cotton was harvested, they did any odd job they could find or create to keep their families fed the rest of the year: pick up cans along the road to sell-back, gather pecans in stranger's yards to then sell for next to nothing a bag, fix the cotton field tractors of the land owner who already all but owned them. Upbringings like Ty's broke people and entrenched them in a ruthless, inhumane system.
But not Ty. His family's mantra was "Poor is a state of mind" (pg. 27) and they didn't think like that. He credits his vibrant, huge family and surrounding community with a lot of his drive and character.
" 'Back then, people gave things to each other. Everyone understood that their neighbor was struggling too," according to Uncle Vell...As a community, we took care of each other' " (pgs. 35-36). Ty knew money wasn't there but love, lessons, and support always were.
Ty's dad, and later his basketball coach (Coach Miller), instilled the value of hard work and consistent determination, day-in and day-out, and encouraged him to better himself in every area of life. Lesson like "Don't ever quit. In life, you're gonna get knocked down. Don't ever give up." (pg. 72) and "If you really want something you can't be afraid to go after it, and you can't be scared to hang in there when you get tired, when it hurts, and when things get tough" (pg. 119) became handholds he clung to as he began to find his life path out of the Mississippi Delta.
Ty was determined to honor the sacrifices his parents made for him by thriving beyond the delta cotton fields. At one point, Ty shares a story about a day when his dad asked him if he wanted to learn to drive the big work tractor. He jokes that he didn't want to wreck it but shares that he'd decided he never wanted to learn to drive a tractor for fear that he'd be stuck in the fields forever (pg. 148). His escape chance came in the form of an Army recruiter. The promise of traveling the world, housing, food, and a steady paycheck was too good to pass up. So off Ty went, on a 20 year adventure through multiple countries with many diverse units allowing him to meet life long friends and have a family of his own.
"Like a microcosm of black history up until that point, I'd made it from the cotton fields of Mississippi all the way to inside the White House" pg. 286.
The best part about Ty's story is his humility. There's not an egotistical boastful bone in the man's body. His proudest moments in the Army were when he took care of his soldiers and kept his promises to them: "I'd kept my promise to them. I'd watched them all leave [Afghanistan] alive, and I was the last" (pg. 223). He shares his rise from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to serving in the White House in order to light the fire of hope in anyone who'll listen.
You don't have to come from the same, razor edge of poverty that Ty and his family did for this story to resonate with you. There is something in it for everyone to be inspired by. I spent some time over the past week walking, running, and driving around Okinawa trying to see it from Ty's excited eyes when he arrived here years earlier. His constant thirst for new cultural experiences and the stories of his past had me reflecting on my life path.
At one point in 23 Miles & Running, Ty reflects on his 12-year-old self, standing barefoot in a dirt road crying after finding out he'd failed math class and would have to repeat 7th grade. That story resonated deeply with me. I was the new 10-year-old scholarship kid with shoes, shirts, and uniforms purposefully bought too big so I'd grow into them in a school of designer wearing, eventual-Porsche driving kids who frequented country clubs. I was so excited to meet my new classmates that as soon as one of them approached me I could not say - rather drawl - "Hi, my name is Sarah" fast enough.
The shocked, confused, and rejecting look my new classmate gave me, before informing me that I talked funny, is seared into my memory for eternity. (You see, I grew up in the mountains of Boone, NC. If you've ever heard anyone from the deep forests of the Appalachian mountains talk, it can sound like a foreign language.) I cried right there on the hall floor as the rest of my classmates arrived and class started. I made the determination that day, much like Ty had, that I would not waste the opportunity my parents were giving me. I would out work everyone, find a way over every obstacle, and be a sponge for knowledge and culture.
If I could go back and tell 10-year-old me anything about how we turn out, I'd tell her something similar to what Ty tells his younger self on pg 330: "You'll travel the globe one day, work for the first black president, and attend one of the best leadership schools in the country. As long as you don't give up."
Connect With Me
What would you tell the younger you if you could? How have you inspired someone recently? What resonated with you about Ty's story?
Connect with me in the comments below, any of my socials, or via email to let me know what you thought. The next book we'll be diving into is Wake Up, Kick Ass, Repeat: A guide to self perseverance within the military spouse community by Dr. Kendra Lowe. Follow that link to order a copy and get started. First post will be coming to you on June 17th. Until then, happy reading!