For the warm-hearted celebration of Earl G. Graves Sr., the people who adored the business mogul, gathered at Morgan State University on April 6 to honor the late visionary and founder of BLACK ENTERPRISE with personal stories of love, respect, and the impact he made carving out a tremendous legacy.
BLACK ENTERPRISE CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., the son of the company’s founder, was the first speaker to stand at the podium and reminisced about when his father poured wisdom and indelible lessons into his children.
From learning how to address the patriarch properly to weekend landscaping work that wore out Graves Jr. and his brothers, the emotional namesake son shared stories about keeping in line with his father’s sharp values.
In a light-hearted fashion, Graves Jr. recalled the memorable times that have shaped him and his two brothers Michael and Johnny into men.
Graves Jr. praised his father, who passed from Alzheimer’s on April 6. 2020, for upholding what it means to be a “complete man.”
“Dad always taught me…you can either see the glass as half full or full empty…we always chose the option of the glass is 90% full and we were out feverishly searching for that last 10%. There was no need for anybody to feel sorry for me because my Dad lived an extraordinarily full life for 85 years, and I got a front row seat of what it means to be a complete man!” said Graves Jr. wiping away tears.
“My dad was strong, handsome, charming, smart, ambitious, organized, hardworking, confident, distinguished, trustworthy, generous to a fault, and immaculately dressed at all times.“
“My dad was a true original,” Graves Jr. said.
Graves makes a point to say that his father lived by the “creed” of not “instituting” business casual. On numerous occasions, Graves recalled hearing “there is nothing casual about conducting business.” This conviction is still implemented to this day in the flourishing culture at BLACK ENTERPRISE, he said.
Graves Jr. recalled how his dad imparted a vital business lesson about being dressed to impress.
“Black people already have one arm tied behind their back as they navigate the business world…why on earth would you put the other arm behind your back by dressing inappropriately,” Graves Jr. recalled his father saying.
Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, senior pastor, Grace Baptist Church of Mount Vernon (NY), spoke lovingly about Graves Sr., saying he was a great patriot, a “relentless critic of racism,” and “he cared about the advancement of African American people, a function of his religion that caused him to be powerful.”
“Earl had an otherness, a soul,” Richardson explained. “That otherness caused him to live out his life as a functioning person of faith. He was grounded in his love for family and his faith and in his character and his relentless pursuit to see African Americans receive their proper place in the American dream,” Richardson concluded.
And being proud of his people was part of his superpower.
“He was unapologetically proud of his African American ancestry and would spend his life fiercely fighting for opportunities for Black people. Whether on a sales call for BE, or sitting in the Boardroom…he was never confused about who he represented nor did he entertain or suffer those black people who were not willing to walk in harm’s way,” Graves Jr. remembered about his father.
Graves, a visionary entrepreneur, corporate board pioneer, activist, and philanthropist opened doors for many people. His family, though, got his full attention, his son said.
“My Dad absolutely loved his family, and he was willing to share details of that love with literally anyone he encountered. He spoke glowingly of my mother whom he loved, respected, and honored like no other husband I had ever seen. She was his Queen, his partner, and closest confidant and he spent his life making sure everyone knew that.”
Before concluding his speech, Graves Jr. began to wrap up his stories in a witty bow. He called the words and advice in which he learned from his “hardworking” and “ambitious” father, the “Earls of Wisdom.”
“As each of us grow older and wiser…the things that our parents used to say to us that seemed so ridiculous at that time all begin to come true. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my mother and father. It brings me great joy and laughter, as I replay the “Earl’s of Wisdom” that my Dad shared with me. To my family, and close friends’ dismay they keep saying ‘Oh my God you are becoming just like your father.’ They are critiquing me like I am a part of the Geico commercial, but I honestly don’t see it! They say, ‘you walk like him, you look like him, you sound like him, you are too slow, you are too meticulous, you are too old fashioned’…and my response is, If the worst thing you can say about me is that I am just like my Dad…then thank you…I am proud to be his son, I am proud to be his namesake…and God has indeed blessed me beyond every measure! I love you Dad!”