It's been more than 20 years, but Richard Phipps remembers one of the best days of his life like it was yesterday.
The business owner, veteran and published author was "driving and driving" to what he thought was a graduation for one of his eight daughters. (He has 10 children in all!)
"I'll do anything for my girls," he said, proudly. "But we're driving and driving, and after an hour and a half, I said, 'Listen, somebody tell me what's going on because we're not going to any graduation.'"
Richard was right. What you need to know is that this inspiring man started to lose his sight in 1997 but didn't allow that to hold him back in any way.
Richard had entered the Air Force decades earlier with the goal of traveling and flying. He did just that, but when his sight began to fail him, he knew flying a plane, at least solo, would be a thing of the past.
"I'm no superhero, my goal wasn't to fly a plane blind on my own, but have a co-pilot there helping me to control the plane," he explained. But in the late 90's, before automation, this wasn't yet possible.
Back in the car with his daughters, Richard still had no idea where they were taking him, but this man who had already accomplished almost 95% of his bucket list, was about to check one more box.
"Why don't you just be quiet and enjoy the ride," one of his daughters teased.
Then his girls started to play oldies music and asked their doting father about his time in the service. It was a precursor of the day to come.
"Hours later, we get to this place. Now, I can't see, so I don't know where this place is," he continued, laughing. "Bottom line, it was this old antique plane holding facility and they had everything set up for me to accomplish my goal. To make a long story short, they took me up in this old fighter plane and it was a special day to say the least."
That day, Richard went up in the air for 30 minutes, had a co-pilot guiding him the entire way to which his daughters proudly replied, "Now, you've completed your top priority."
"Having taken that off my bucket list, I had to create a whole new list of things to keep me moving forward," he said.
Black History Month as a Way of Life
It's a story like the one featuring the bond, respect and love between Richard and his children that he carries into Black History Month in 2021, which is different for so many reasons, including effects from COVID-19, recent social unrest and so much more.
But it's also about how this owner of three companies – Consumer Financial Services, Inc., CFS Investment Capital INC. and Atlas Realty Investments, LLC – carries himself and affects others, including his family.
The Massachusetts-based businessman also does things outside business like host Phipps Talk on Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN) TV where he offers advice to small businesses and families. And his children have taken his message of hope and help and ran with it in their own ways.
"I spend a lot of my time now serving the community and with the folks who have difficulties so I can be able to guide and help them," he said.
In the midst of all his success, he also found TD Bank a couple years back after his positive spirit sparked a true relationship with Boston-area Assistant Store Manager and like-minded philanthropist John Vu.
"I didn't have a great past growing up but was able to turn that around and started giving back later in life to misunderstood youth," John explained.
Richard came into the store one day and the two just started talking about their work with the community – Richard's work with a local urban development program and John's volunteering with the local police and Boy's & Girl's Club.
They instantly grew a bond built on their dedication to uplifting others.
"He has my direct cell phone number," John said, laughing. "He'll often come to the store looking for me because he wants to refer a potential customer to TD or has an idea he wants to run by me."
He added, "It's a really strong relationship on both sides and isn't that what it's all about?"
Since that chance meeting, Richard has moved accounts he had with other banks to TD or somehow consolidated things to reduce costs and get better control over the businesses he operates.
"I've looked at increasing the relationship with TD in the future, possibly in residential/commercial real estate," he said.
'Don't appreciate the negative'
Family is the most important thing in Richard's life. Three of his children are involved in his businesses, while others are making their own way in the world and running their own companies.
"I love to not only guide them but hear them reflect on growing up and what they learned from me," Richard added. "I've really had a great life and have been able to enjoy it with them."
It's easier said than done, but it's hard not to get consumed and "appreciate" the negative when that's all we see on TV and the news.
"Many years ago, I used to work as a supervisor for the Department of Welfare and at a conference, I met a reporter who told me and I'll never forget it, 'People complain about the bad news, but when we give them good news, people don't want it. Our ratings go down,'" Richard said. "That makes absolutely no sense to me."
Richard certainly believes you can't ignore what's going on in the world and should always support and try to affect real change, but also try and focus on what you can do to change your life for the better.
He's amazed at how those he coaches, and his children have taken this sense of hard work and integrity and used it in their lives for their businesses and their families.
"I always tell them, 'What you reap is what you sow,' and I believe that," he said. "Think about what you're doing and how that particular course of action will affect you and others before doing it."
"I've had very open, honest conversations with my kids since they were very young," he said. He's taught them that the best way to address an issue is to be honest and deal with it head-on.
"If they made a misstep, I tried not to be hard on them," he said. "We'd have a discussion and then we'd move on."
It's what he calls the "power of choice." Owning up to your mistakes and learning from them.
Getting back to a culture of trust
When asked how friends and colleagues of various races can help to support and affect change in a diverse culture, Richard doesn't talk about race, point fingers, but gets back to human basics.
A lot is said about how people in power, especially those who come from privilege, can help move the needle and create real equality.
"We need to get back to trusting each other," he said. "Even before COVID, you walk down the street say, 'Hello' and people think you want something. That's a crazy way to live."
Richard truly believes that humans are meant to be "gregarious creatures," intended to live together and support each other, however, we are frequently "taught to distrust and to question everything."
"There's no faith in the process," he said. "I know it's hard, but you can question things forever. Every 'Why" can be followed by another 'Why."
"We have to get to a point, where we trust and look to each other for help," he said. "We all need each other at some level for something."
So maybe the best thing you can do this month and every month hereafter is not ask "Why," but ask "How." Ask someone what and how you can help.
"You'll never know what that means to someone until you try," Richard said.