Don’t call it a comeback! That opening line from LL Cool J’s Grammy-winning record “Momma Said Knock You Out” is a winning mantra for many, especially in the case of the recent rags-to-riches tale of Ted Williams. Often referred to as “the man with the golden voice,” Williams has dominated news coverage since a YouTube clip of him popped up online nearly a week ago. Williams’ story is just one of several noteworthy returns to spotlight after having a fall from grace. Hence, BlackEnterprise.com is recognizing those who have reigned supreme after hitting on hard times. —Alana Wyche and Janel Martinez
TED WILLIAMS: It was the first feel good story of the New Year: homeless man with a “golden voice” becomes a YouTube sensation overnight and receives a job offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers, a home, and an emotional reunion with his estranged mother after more than 20 years apart. For Williams, this was more than a come up, it was a second chance to redeem the man he once was, the man he lost to decades of drug abuse and crime. Williams’ inspiring story has reinvigorated hope in millions of Americans that miracles do happen.
JUDGE GREG MATHIS: Once a high school dropout and gang member who was incarcerated for a slew of criminal offenses, Judge Greg Mathis claims it was his mother’s deathbed wish and a compassionate Detroit judge who sentenced him to get a GED that encouraged him to abandon the thug life. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, a law degree, and became the youngest judge in Michigan’s history. Talk about a comeback! Today, the TV personality uses his past experiences as a troubled youth to mentor African American male inmates through his national Prisoner Empowerment Education and Respect (PEER) program.
VICKIE STRINGER: From college dropout to CEO, Vicki Stringer’s unique journey of entrepreneurship took her from federal prison to pioneering publisher of hip-hop literature. The Detroit-native was once a drug queenpin and escort service proprietor who grossed $30,000 a week. Stringer’s street hustling lifestyle was splintered after she was busted for selling a kilo of cocaine to a police informant. And it was while serving her five-year sentence that she discovered a new passion—writing—and began penning a fictional account of her life titled, Let That Be the Reason. Today, Stringer is the CEO of Triple Crown Publications, an international leader of urban fiction with nearly $2 million in revenues.
DESIREE ROGERS: When President Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s first African American Commander-in-Chief in 2008, he handpicked fellow Harvard Alum and longtime friend Desiree Rogers to join his dream team. Named among BE’s Top 75 African Americans in Corporate America, Rogers would make history as the first Black White House Social Secretary. She later resigned in February 2010 after reality TV stars Tareq and Micheale Salahi (Real Housewives of DC) crashed the Obama administration’s first state dinner. Today, she serves as CEO of Johnson Publishing Co., which ranked No. 22 on the B.E. 100 Industrial Service Company, with $200 million in revenues and publisher of EBONY and Jet magazines.
CHRIS GARDNER: Entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and philanthropist Chris Gardner overcame homelessness to become a self-made millionaire. Gardner chronicled his challenges of being a single father and an ambitious businessman living below the poverty line in his New York Times’ bestselling autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness. His rags to riches story also served as inspiration for the 2006 motion picture The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith.
TONY DUNGY: The first Black coach to win a Super Bowl wasn’t always a football favorite. Dungy, the man responsible for turning around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was fired after failing to lead the Bucs to the Super Bowl—despite several playoff appearances. The Indianapolis Colts hired him as head-coach and in 2007, he led the Colts to their first Super Bowl win against the Chicago Bears. He was able to do so in spite of the tragic loss of his 18-year-old son. Dungy has three New York Times’ bestsellers under his belt: Quiet Storm, Uncommon and, the most recent, The Mentor Leader. He’s also penned a children’s book, You Can Do It! After seven years with the Colts, he retired in 2009.
VANESSA WILLIAMS: Actress and award-winning R&B singer/songwriter Vanessa Williams broke ground in the world of pageantry as the first Black woman crowned Miss America in 1983. But Williams’ historic win was short-lived after nude photos featuring her and another woman surfaced in Penthouse magazine. As a performer she rebounded with a stellar music career—highlighted by her 1991 release The Comfort Zone, which earned five Grammy nominations—and acting roles from Broadway to the big screen. Today, the timeless beauty stars in ABC’s comedy Desperate Housewives.
MARION JONES: The Olympic track and field star has bounced back after her career took an unexpected turn in 2004 when BALCO founder Victor Conte claimed to give Jones illegal performance enhancing drugs. Speculation swirled around the once celebrated athlete and, in 2007, she came clean, admitting to using the designer steroid “the clear” prior to the 2000 Olympics. She plead guilty to lying to federal investigators and was later sentenced to six months in prison, two years of probation and community service. Jones returned all five of the medals she won. Since serving time, the track retiree has bounced back, becoming a member of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock in 2010, writing her newly released book, On the Right Track and being featured in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. Catch Jones at this year’s Women of Power Summit.
MICHAEL VICK: After serving 18-months of a 23-month prison sentence for operating a dog-fighting ring, the former Atlanta Falcons star scored a one-year deal, with a one-year option, as quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Vick’s involvement in Bad Newz Kennels cost him endorsements with big names such as Nike, a large fan base and his reputation. After being released from prison, the man formerly known as the league’s highest paid player worked a $10-an hour construction job, then switched over to assisting in children’s health and fitness programs at the Boys and Girls Clubs. Now, two years later, Vick has just completed a successful season with the Eagles and is a prospective free agent.
El DeBARGE: The R&B singer’s two-decade old battle with drug addiction not only stunted his music career, but also sent him to prison in 2008. The 49-year-old entered the music business as lead singer of the 80’s family group, DeBarge, later emerging as a solo artist following their fame. DeBarge found success at Motown, releasing the self-titled El Debarge and, second-album, Gemini—both albums included tracks on the top 10 on the R&B charts. His move to Warner Brothers in 1992 wasn’t as successful and in 1995 the crooner left the spotlight following the death of his brother Bobby. Nearly 20 years later, DeBarge is back with his fifth solo album, Second Chances. The album captures the singer’s liberation after moving past a tumultuous time in his life.