'Making It' When Your Family Doesn't Today, more African Americans are earning PhDs, heading companies, and making more money than ever before. But success can come at a price — in the office and at home. What happens when your achievements create tension and pressure within your family?
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'Making It' When Your Family Doesn't

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'Making It' When Your Family Doesn't

'Making It' When Your Family Doesn't

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This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Moving on up, we're talking about black Ph.Ds CEOs and high tax bracket individuals. But what if you moved on up and your family didn't? Success can come at a price in the office and at home. Today, as part of our family series, we take a look at African-Americans at the top of their game and how their success causes drama in the family.

Joining us today, Sabrina Samuels, founder and director of the Beckman Company; that's a finishing school near Orlando. Also, Reginald Clark, who runs the consulting firm Clark and Associates; and Dr. Brenda Wade, a psychologist in San Francisco. Thanks for coming on, folks.

Ms. SABRINA SAMUELS (Founder, Director, Beckman Company): Thank you, Farai.

Dr. BRENDA WADE (Psychologist, San Francisco): Thank you, Farai. It's a pleasure to be here.

Mr. REGINALD CLARK (President, Clark & Associates): Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: Yes, it's a pleasure to have you guys.

Now, Reginald, let me start with you. You're the oldest of five siblings and you grew up in the projects in Chicago, what was your role in the family? You know, everyone, oh, he's the cute one. Were you the smart one?

Mr. CLARK: Of course, I was. I was the smart one. I was the - also the responsible one. I was the one who was delegated the responsibility of taking care of my brothers and sisters as my mom tried to go back to schooling; get her education.

CHIDEYA: Did that make you feel under pressure? What were the - what do you remember emotionally about being in a position like that as a child?

Mr. CLARK: Well, a psychologist called that the parent to find(ph) child these days, but I didn't feel pressured at the time; I took it as an honor. However, in retrospect, I realized that I was probably not fully equipped to play that role because it involved being a disciplinarian, and that's not an easy thing to do when your siblings are very close in age to you as mine were and are.

CHIDEYA: Did you ever find yourself being resented by them?

Mr. CLARK: Absolutely. But that came out actually in my young adult years. In my 20s, my brother, in particular, had a reaction that estranged us for about 10 years actually, where he felt that he had not been given the same kind of honor that I had been given. And so he chose to act out and actually, he came to an event that I was participating in. I was directing a play at a college at that time as part of a summer program, and he came and yelled out and trashed the play and just went off literally. And that's when I became aware that he had issues about anything that had to do with my success. We resolved that, however, and ironically, now, he's actually earning three times more than I am.

CHIDEYA: Wow. Well, before I go to you, Sabrina, Dr. Wade, when you listen to Reginald talk, is this something that happens a lot of times, that there - one person makes a path through life and other people have ambivalence or even negative reaction to it?

Dr. WADE: Absolutely, Farai. This is - it's classic, unfortunately. In my second book, "What Mama Couldn't Tell Us About Love," I focused on the emotional legacy of slavery and racism. And the fact that we have this conversation today about successful black families is amazing, and it's actually miraculous that we have successful black families, and that Reginald can tell his story from the position of being a professor today.

All of our history says - the history on these shores says that we shouldn't even be here today. So that's why I say it's miraculous that we have families everything under the institution of slavery, Jim Crow, share-cropping - all of these institutions depended on one thing, and that was dividing and conquering the African people on these shores.

So for us to have families - and, Reginald, for you to even have a brother to fight with, where there's enough connectedness in the family for him to be mad at you, says that there are some deep bonds.

But our success really always has behind it an invisible reservoir of pain. Until we dip into that reservoir and clean it out, it's going to show up in things, like somebody's brother or sister showing up. And I've had that happened in my family, too, getting cussed out by a sister. You know, people will show up and say, who do you think you are?

Mr. CLARK: Right.

Dr. WADE: And the answer to that question is, I am one with you, but I've chosen a different path, it doesn't mean I don't love you. But these eruptions always indicate that we had a successful people bought into the idea that, gee, it looks good on the outside, so it doesn't matter how it feels on the inside, and we've got a lot of work to do to deal with the inside.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: Sabrina, you have a very successful business, and when you were younger, you were someone who was prized for your beauty as I'm sure you still are. But your sisters didn't necessarily fall in line when you won Miss Black Gary, Indiana, did you - did they?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, my sisters supported me, but, naturally, there was a little bit of jealousy going on. And I think it's just normal jealousy that happens when you have sisters who are also beautiful, who, perhaps, did not have that same opportunity. So what I try to do is instilled in my sisters that we all are beautiful, we all are unique, and we all are different in our own ways, but we all have something to offer. I was a little bit more outgoing, and so I had an opportunity to be exposed to more things and, therefore, had the opportunity to be Miss Black Gary as well as one of the first African-Americans to integrate the prelude into Miss USA and Miss Universe.

CHIDEYA: When you think about your childhood, what were the expectations that were put on all of you to succeed, because right now, you're very, you know, you've been running your own business for years, you do motivational speaking, live in an upscale area, what were the expectations put on you and the rest of your family? Were they the same expectations? You can have the same parents but not the same expectations sometimes.

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, the expectations were high. I'm from the offspring of the Beckman's. And Alfred Beckman - Dr. Alfred Beckman was a famous chemist. As a matter of fact, in Gary, Indiana today, a gifted school called Beckman Junior High School is still in memory of my uncle, so we are from a legacy of very brilliant people. I took that legacy and I wanted to make something happen for myself. I understood the background; I understood what our family contributed to society. So I wanted to take that and make something happen. And, of course, the Beckman company is in memory of my family - my father who was outstanding in his own right and my mother who was also a very beautiful woman and outstanding. They always instilled in all of us to be the very best you can be. Put God first, and with hard work and perseverance, you will make it. And if you fall on your face the first time, get up and try even harder the next time.

CHIDEYA: Did you ever have a situation, as many of us have, where someone comes and asks you for money and you say, no; or someone asks you for something that you think is inappropriate, crosses the line in terms of what they expect of you? And how did you handle it?

Mr. CLARK: Oh, I certainly had that experience, and I handle it differently in different situations. One of the dynamics that I understand that permeates my family historically is an enabling kind of behavior that actually trickled down probably from my grandmother to my mother and now to some members of the sibling group. I am vociferously attempting to not fall into that pattern while, at the same time, be supportive of the development of my siblings.

But I do have a particular sister, for example, who will regularly call and say, you know, I can use a couple hundred dollars, can you send me some money? And then she will recount for me the various successes that she's had in her sobriety as evidence that she deserves the money, and so that's a challenge that I encounter.

Dr. WADE: And it's hard to say no to anyone but especially to someone - and, Reginald, I'm feeling a lot of sensitivity to your position as an oldest sibling. I'm the second of seven, and there is that sense that I have an obligation to help my younger siblings. And it's tough to say no, but at the end of the day, one of the most important things we can do in our families is to support people in their growth by saying, you know, I won't hand over 200 bucks, but, you know, if you decide to go to school, if you decide to do X, Y or Z, I'll contribute to the tuition.

Mr. CLARK: Right.

Dr. WADE: And that's a good way…

Mr. CLARK: Yup.

Dr. WADE: …to be in support.

But I want to circle back for a minute, because you said something else, Reginald, that struck a chord for me. When you said this enabling trickled down from your grandmother…

Mr. CLARK: Yes.

Dr. WADE: …to your mother, and you're fighting it, most people don't recognize that we do have intergenerational patterns. In every one of my books, my first book, "Love Lessons," "What Mama," my new book, "Power Choices," I talk about the power of understanding your genogram, how genogram is different from a family tree.

It's the emotional story of those kinds of patterns like enabling. For some people, they have patterns with money. A lot of people have what I call a feast or famine pattern. There's success for some people in the family, famine for other people in the family.

CHIDEYA: Well, Dr. Wade, I just want to jump in and reintroduce everybody in case you're just tuning in. This is NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

We are talking about how financial success can lead to family tensions and how to handle that. We were just hearing from Dr. Brenda Wade, a psychologist in San Francisco and an author of several books as well. Also talking to Reginald Clark, he runs the consulting firm Clark & Associates, and Sabrina Samuels, founder and director of the Beckman Company - that's a finishing school near Orlando.

Sabrina, have you gone back in your family history and tried to figure out if your way of dealing with family stress mirrors anyone in the past?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, family stress is something that I think we all have to deal with sooner or later. But I'd like to, if you don't mind, Farai, mention about the money. I felt a little guilty and would give money to my family from time to time. And I found that they constantly ask me for money. And I don't think your family members really appreciate it when you are able to give and give and give.

I think that it can be a resentment from time to time when you do overextend yourself. And I found that instead of me giving now or even saying that I don't have, that I'm broke because when you put that kind if information out to the universe you will actually be whatever it is you create in your mind.

Dr. WADE: Sabrina, say that again. I love it.

Ms. SAMUELS: Hey, Dr. Wade. Isn't that the truth? So I say, you know, my money is tied up in the universe creating positive and dynamic things for me.

Dr. WADE: Oh, that's wonderful.

Ms. SAMUELS: And absolutely, and with God on your side and you pray and ask Him for the same advantages I receive, he'll help you too. So I don't give up the money anymore. Unless there's a dire emergency, I will do that. But I think the stress of just being who you are and all the outside pressure you have to deal with and then having to be loving and compassionate to your family and hopefully they will understand it, you've caught ATLL(ph) to get where you are. It's just a stress.

Dr. WADE: Yes. And it's funny that you say that. I was just thinking of a story. When we published our book "What Mama Couldn't Tell Us About Love," we couldn't get a black publisher to publish the book because all the black publishers we went to said slavery had nothing to do with us. That was years and years and years ago. And the publisher of the book is a Jewish woman, Harper Collins, who called us up and she said, I'm publishing this book because my family went through the Holocaust, and I recognize all of these things in the black families that you're talking about.

So when you said we went through H-E-L-L, we went through a holocaust and we have to look at the emotional trauma. Maybe we don't see all the symptoms in ourselves because we're the ones who made it, but other people in our families are suffering. And, Sabrina, you said one other thing that is so critical, just because we made it doesn't mean that we don't need the support, the nourishment of a close-knit family. And if we can't get that from our family by blood, I always recommend to people, in fact, the last chapter of "What Mama" is how to create your own support group. I call it an abundance group because you need that support.

CHIDEYA: Let me ask Reginald. Who's in your support group? I mean, when you've crossed certain boundaries, whether they're economic or educational or in your case both, do you then turn to people, maybe people you went to college with or graduate school with? Do they become, in some ways, an easier home base for you than family or how do you balance that?

Mr. CLARK: That's an excellent question. And I'm definitely going to have to read Dr. Wade's last chapter because I have certainly done what she's describing more intuitively. And because I am into self-help orientations, I do recognize the importance of keeping out the negative folk and bringing in the positive folk.

And I recognized that I have a limited amount of energy. When I woke up this morning, I knew I had a bunch of energy. And I also know that by 10, 11 tonight I'm going to have very little. So the question is, what can I do in terms of bringing people into my life that will preserve that energy at the maximum level and make efficient in doing what I need to do.

Dr. WADE: In other words, you don't want toxic people in your life.

Mr. CLARK: Correct. Correct. And so I have a network of folk that is small but powerful, and it includes people from my work group from, you know, colleagues. One, I actually have one person in my network who was quasi-toxic actually, but I keep them in there because he reminds - he's from my roots. He goes back 50 years when we were - when were kids in the Chicago in the projects.

And he's - he actually is out here in LA and he's trying to do his thing. And so we connect up and. And I find ways to, you know, to interact with him positively, but as I share with him and to other friends, you know, I won't take him to the company picnic.

CHIDEYA: He'll think of you. Anything could happen. Well, Dr. Wade and everyone, we're almost out of time. Very briefly, any last thoughts, Dr. Wade?

Dr. WADE: You know, the most important thing is for us to remember our history shapes who we are, how we feel, how we approach our lives. And it's one of the things that I encourage people to do. This is the first power choice in my new book is investigate. Investigate. Do your genogram.

Figure out the patterns in your family because you can break those patterns. You can transform them. And sometimes in doing that, like Reginald just said, you form a family of your very own, of people who really can be there for you or you transform that bio family.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, Dr. Wade, Reginald, Sabrina, thank you s much.

Mr. CLARK: Thank you.

Dr. WADE: It was a pleasure, Farai. Thank you.

Ms. SAMUELS. Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Dr. Brenda Wade is a psychologist in San Francisco. She is also the president/CEO and founder of Heartline Productions. Reginald Clark is the president of the consulting firm, Clark & Associates. He's also a lecturer in the Department of Child and Family Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. And Sabrina Samuels is founder and director of the Beckman Company. She joined us from member station WUCF in Orlando.

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