Dr. Tommy A. Watson is a successful entrepreneur: author, speaker, executive and professional coach, consultant and investor. His is the ultimate story of beating the odds, from homeless and living out of a trunk to Dr. and successful entrepreneur.
Dr. Watson grew up in the Five Points area of Denver, a crime-ridden neighborhood with gang violence, drugs, and poverty. This kind of neighborhood creates numerous obstacles and challenges for young people; however, Dr. Watson's biggest challenges were behind closed doors.
Throughout his childhood, both parents were addicted to heroin, shoplifted, and were unemployed. Family life for Dr. Watson and his siblings was chaotic and they were often unsupervised and uncared for. Living in foster homes, shelters, motel rooms, and with family and friends were common occurences.
Due to the help of others and in part through his own personal drive, Dr. Watson was able to avoid the trappings of drug addiction and gang affiliation that eventually consumed the lives of some of his siblings.
In spite of some negative classroom experiences, he persevered, graduated from high school, and earned an athletic scholarship to play Big Ten football for the University of Minnesota.
After a career as an elementary school principal in Minnesota, Dr. Watson is now a mentor and speaker, who shares his story with youth and organizations to provide the inspiration they need to experience greater success.
Member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated.
Dr. Watson, thank you so much for joining the show, for taking the time to talk to us. You're an inspiration, and as I've read more and more about your story, I'm just blown away by the man you are today. And maybe we start there. Maybe tell us a little bit about your background, what it was like growing up, and how you found the resilience to continue.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yeah. Well, first of all, Clint, thank you very much for having me, and I appreciate the work you guys are doing with your show as well, and getting the word out there about CEOs and overcoming obstacles as well.
So as you mentioned, resiliency is a big part of who I am. It wasn't by choice, it was by happenstance. As you mentioned, growing up in Denver, Colorado, things were pretty tough. I grew up with parents who were drug addicts and shoplifters who actually were arrested 121 times by the time I finished high school, Clint. Imagine that. Yeah, 121 times.
So as a kid, I spent a lot of time in foster homes, crisis centers, motel rooms, bouncing around from place to place, and numerous schools. Matter of fact, between my second and third grade year school, I went to four elementary schools. Met my oldest brother by pure coincidence, Clint, in a foster home in second grade. And then in third grade, I found myself living with my aunt.
And I was a very distraught young man. I was a person looking for connections, and the gangs seemed to be very, very appealing to me. But luckily, during this time, my aunt got me involved in sports and sports kind of became my saving grace, and got involved in basketball, did that for a number of years.
By my seventh grade year of school, Clint, I was back with my mother and father for two years. We found ourselves in another very difficult situation on a beautiful sunny day in the city of Denver. We were kicked out of our house in front of all of our friends. All of our stuff is thrown into the front yard. And then my family of nine moved into our seventh motel room with nine people, one room, two beds, one bathroom.
For my entire eighth grade year of school there were six adults using drugs in the room, and me and my little brother and little sister left to fend for ourselves. And during this time, the thing that kept me going, Clint, was my yearning to stay involved in sports. So I was literally walking seven miles from Commerce City to the recreation center in Denver to stay involved in sports and going to school as well.
I didn't know quite sure where that was going to take me until I got an opportunity to meet a coach from a private suburban Denver high school who came to the inner cities of Denver and talked to me and my comrades about the chance of going out to this private suburban Denver high school. And I remember he mentioned the words, Clint, he mentioned the words, "If you come to this school, there's going to be a pretty good chance you can go to college."
And I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that because no one in my family had ever gone into college. But I said, "There's something that I want to experience." So while living in that motel room, for the first time ever, I went and got on the honor roll. And again, this is no parental support. Honor roll, became a wrestling champ at my school, won an award that was given to a handful of kids in the entire state of Colorado while living in that motel room, and was blessed with the opportunity to go to that high school.
But initially, my parents were not supportive of me. So my parents ended up going back to prison at the end of my eighth grade year of school, and my little brother and little sister and I moved to my grandmother who came out of retirement to take care of us. And she moved us into the heart of our neighborhood, which was now being called Little Compton because all the gang members that had migrated from LA were now in Denver.
And it was my grandmother's wish that I'd go out to this high school and do well every day. So Clint, I took three city buses one way, starting at 6:30 in the morning to high school every day. And then would do the same thing on the way back when sports were over with, I get home anywhere between 8:00 and 10:00 at night. I did that for a number of years.
By my junior year of high school, my grandmother I was living with had developed Alzheimer's and had to be placed into a nursing home. My little brother got heavily involved in gangs and was shipped off to a juvenile prison after taking a gun to school. My older brother was now coming back around because he had ties to the same gangs with my little brother. My older sister was now addicted to cocaine on the streets of Denver, Colorado.
During this time, my mom got out briefly, but no one would give her a second chance, even though she was trying to do the right thing. And my mother ended up selling drugs to take care of us. And in the middle of my senior year of high school, I received a daunting call and my mother had just been busted for selling drugs and was on the way back to prison again.
So this time, I'm a senior All-American football player, got over 30 scholarship offers, and my life is falling apart. My mom goes back, she's arrested now for the 44th time, my dad was arrested for the 77th time. I didn't have anywhere to stay. A friend of the family comes through and says, "Hey, I'm going to let you sleep on my floor, but you got to be out come May."
And I struggled to graduate from high school, barely graduated from high school, and then was shipped off to University of Minnesota a couple days after graduation. And I remember leaving Denver, Colorado, and not knowing what the future was going to hold for me. And I got to the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind, the University of Minnesota is like the third-largest college in the country. They had never had a student athlete come there in my circumstance.
So I got there, my mom was in prison, my dad was in prison, my little brother was in prison. My grandmother who was my last legal guardian was in a nursing home. Oldest brother was back there involved in gangs. My oldest sister was back doing crack cocaine. Second-oldest sister was in foster care in Iowa. Between my junior and senior year of high school, I lived in five locations and came to University of Minnesota with no home address.
And it came down to either going to the NFL or academics. And I was certainly sold on the NFL dream until I got injured. And then once I got injured, I had to turn my vision to making sure I was going to get the degree because I knew I couldn't return to where I'd left in Denver, Colorado. So I went and got my degree. When I got four degrees, became a school principal and turned a low income school around and did some great things for students and staff. Had a great, great, great, great, great, great, school. And then left doing that about 13 years ago, started my own business coaching, consulting, and speaking.
So I've been doing that, going around the country, I’ve written a number of books, and just trying to motivate people to be the best they can be. Corporations, speaking to the NFL, to McDonald's, spreading the message of motivation and resilience to whoever wants to listen. So again, it's a pleasure and honor to be here to share that story with you.
Well, wow. It's unbelievable to hear your story, and I've read a lot of that. But man, just hearing you talk about it, it's inspirational, man. I have a question for you. When you were in that motel for a whole year, you said there were like seven or eight folks, right?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Nine of us, nine.
Nine folks, and then six of the adults were doing drugs in the hotel room. I'm just so curious, what were you thinking about? What did you think your future was going to be?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yeah, that's a great question, Clint. And again, it's a motel room, not a hotel. I tell people hotels are the fancy ones.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dr. Tommy Watson
We were at the motel. I never gave up my dream of going to the NFL, I mean, to the NBA. So I was always dreaming beyond my circumstances. So when this coach came to the inner cities of Denver and talked to me and my friends about the chance of going out to this high school, I said, "That is going to be the blueprint I'm going to use. That is going to be the ticket I'm going to use to get out of this situation." So I was constantly dreaming beyond my circumstance. There was never a piece of me that ever came to a place where I said, "Hey, this is going to be my future."
And in fact, I had a disdain for it so much that it was almost a hatred. I hated being hungry, I hated not having clean clothes, I hated not having my parents around, I hated being made fun of at school, and I wanted something different. And so I was so hungry to make it out of the situation that I was willing to do everything that it was going to take to get me out of that situation without doing anything that was going to be illegal.
So I never gave up. I'm a big fan of being able to dream beyond your circumstances. There's amazing things that happen when we dream beyond our circumstances, and it's a transferable skill that we can do in every aspect of our life. So even in that motel room with nine people, everything around me telling me I shouldn't dream, I kept a dream of what was potentially possible for me going forward.
When you meet with various clients and I know you have these speaking gigs and you're a coach, how do you encourage them to dream beyond their circumstances?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yes. That's a great question. Clint, oftentimes I tell people that you've already survived 100% of the things you didn't think you could survive. So oftentimes it's a matter of getting people to reflect back on their journey and recognizing that they have shown resilience in a number of situations. Albeit doesn't mean if it's big or small. You have to be able to take those aspects now and use it in other areas of your life and your journey. So one of the big pieces of resiliency starts with motivation. And you have to connect to your values because again, one of the things that I valued while living in that motel room was the fact that I was going to go on and play in the NBA someday. So that kept me motivated, kept me going, and then I had to have a vision.
So I began to dream. I would watch the Denver Nuggets who were doing very, very well in the playoffs. I would watch guys on the team and I'd say, "I'm going to be like that someday." I would listen to other stories of hardship. And then I finally got a chance to go to this high school and met some great educators in my life, and they helped me to begin to create some additional traction to that story of how I was going to possibly make it out of there and begin to make the journey a little bit more specific.
So again, I tell clients that I'm working with, you have to be able to dream beyond your circumstances. But it starts with one, reflecting on your journey, knowing that you have it in you to do this, identifying your values, and then coming up with those visions and those best practices and those models of success for you.
And then you have to become your biggest cheerleader. You have to keep yourself self-motivated. It's one of the best ways to do that. And in the area of sports, we do this a lot with coaches. They're very, very savvy on doing this. You have to be able to come to your biggest cheerleaders that may be finding music, finding quotes, finding books, finding stories that keep you inspired. So those are some of the basic things that I tell people you have to do to be resilient and stay motivated in the journey to be able to see beyond your circumstances.
And then what do you do when your dreams change or your dreams don't work out and you need to make that pivot. Like you said, you got injured and so all of a sudden, your dream had to change and you had to pivot. What do you do in those circumstances?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yeah, that's a great, great question there. One of the biggest things you can do is you have to look for stories of other individuals who have also had to pivot and know that it's okay to pivot. Sometimes we think when one goal doesn't work out that we're a failure. But I tell people, "Failure and success are a circle." So sometimes you're going to be in the valley, other times you're going to be on the mountain. It's okay when things don't work out.
What you don't want to do is be stuck in the valley. So you gotta ask yourself when you're in the valley, "What do I need to learn?" That's when you have to become a student, you have to become a student. What am I learning? What am I getting from this situation? How can I do something different if I find myself here again? And then when you're on the mountaintop, you want to be able to share those best practices that you receive from being in the valley.
So again, the pivot always goes back to, and it starts with, what am I learning in this particular situation? Because again, we all find ourselves there during particular times in life.
I'm super interested, for some reason, the motel room is sticking out in my head as I hear you talk about a foundational moment in your life where you had a choice to make. And it seems to me like the choice was, do I treat myself as though I matter? Or do I not treat myself as though I matter? And there's a very obvious path I can take, maybe even an easy path, although really difficult.
But at the time, I'm sure it seemed somewhat easy. And what you managed to do, which I think is so inspirational, is treat yourself as though you matter in that moment, even when the circumstances were so dire as they were. And also treat others as though they matter just as much as you do.
That's a really hard thing to do. And the fact that you were doing that at such a young age and you've continued doing this through your life is just remarkable. This idea of no one matters more than me, and I don't matter more than anyone else.
I'm just so fascinated where that came from. What led you to, "I matter right here."? And when everybody else around you was treating themselves in some way or another as though they don't.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Absolutely. That's another great question, Clint, as well. And now, keep in mind, by the time I was in eighth grade, eighth grade is young for most people. But by the time I was in eighth grade, I'd gone through so much. I mean, I'd lived in numerous foster homes, crisis centers, motel rooms. I'd been through this stuff at an early age. So I got the sting of what it felt like to be made fun of at an early age, go to school with dirty clothes, not having food, only getting my meals from school, having my parents disappoint me, being shuffled around from place to place. I experienced those things at an early age.
So by the time I was in eighth grade in that motel room, I was gung-ho that that was not going to be my future. I didn't like that. So I kept that feeling inside and that drove me to say, "Hey, I'm going to do something different."
Because again, I had siblings in that motel room, and we would watch my mom and dad come in from a day of shoplifting and going to the motel room and shoot up drugs and come out like zombies. My sister ended up on drugs, and my brother who became a drug addict, and my brother who got involved in gangs, they almost came to a point where that became a little familiar to them. Is that it? I'm curious to know what happens to mom when she comes out of this state of intoxication or whatever it may be.
But for me, I was a kid who was like, I don't want any part of that. I was angry about it. And I just kept driving myself and I said, “It’s going to be like being on a plane with the oxygen mask. I have to take care of myself first.” But others who have the same drive and want to do something as well, I'm going to try to bring along with me. I'm going to be the encourager.
Many of my friends from my childhood don't necessarily know my personal story, but they always say, "You were a pretty positive guy. You were the guy who was always telling us we should consider doing this, consider that." And again, some people said, "Hey, you're being preachy." and all this other stuff. But I really wasn't. I was just being a natural motivator, just saying, "Hey, man, let's do something different than what we're seeing right now."
Because again, the gangs, the battle was becoming between being an athlete or being a gang member in my neighborhood. So I'm saying, "We have a choice. Let's uplift and stay focused on the sports aspect because we can't change the tide of the gangs, but we can show people a different aspect of that." So great question though as well.
Was there some freedom around this idea of, "Hey, the worst has already happened to me. And so now, let's just go out and make something out of it."? I imagine even in sports, hey, I'm going to miss a shot, or we're going to lose a game, or whatever it is, I can't imagine that affecting you as much as it may affect other folks. You're like, "You know what? The fact that I'm here is a miracle."
Dr. Tommy Watson
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, you're so right in that. One of the things I learned how to do during this time, I can't say that I was always saying, "Hey, if I do this right here, I know this is going to work out." One of the things I learned how to do was just simply put my head down and keep grinding and keep grinding and keep grinding and keep grinding.
Even when I was a senior in high school, and shout out to Bridget here who's on as well, her aunt was one of my all time favorite teachers at Mullen High School, Sister Brendan. I kept grinding because I had people supporting me. But I somehow suspected though, if I kept grinding that, in the end, something would eventually break and work out in my favor.
So again, it wasn't that I had a lot of evidence initially that it was going to work out this way, but I just kept simply grinding and grinding and grinding. I didn't spend a lot of time talking about my circumstances well. I spent more time focusing on my vision. Because again, talking about my circumstances when I was going through it was going to take my focus off of where I was trying to get to and focus more of my time and attention on where I was.
And in order for me to get beyond where I was, I had to have something bigger than that was going to be bigger than where I was. If you have a dream, but your dream is not bigger than your circumstances, your circumstances would trump your vision and your dream. So you have to have a vision and a goal that is big, that gets you excited to get you pumped up, that's going to keep you going on your darkest days, and it's going to be bigger. That becomes your reason to say yes when everything else around you is telling you no.
At what point did your dream become, I'm going to be a doctor and this is the life I'm going to lead? And what led you to that decision?
Dr. Tommy Watson
That's a great question. And actually, ironically, it came when I was at the University of Minnesota, getting ready to get kicked out of there, Clint, can you believe that? I got to the University of Minnesota, and after two years of partying and hanging out I was sitting before the athletic director. His name was Dr. McKinley Boston. He was a former University of Minnesota great, African American athletic director.
And I remember him telling me, I'm looking at his name tag, I'm looking down seeing, Dr. McKinley Boston. It was the first time I ran across a Black guy by the name of doctor of anything. And he's telling me he was about to kick me out of the school. And I'm like, "Yeah, okay, okay. Yes. Yep. I got you. I got you." And it planted a seed in me to say, "Wow, if this guy right here can become doctor, I think I could do the same thing."
Now, again, I didn't know what the blueprint was going to be to get there, but it struck me this curiosity to say, "Well, I've come across an African American guy who was a doctor, maybe I could do the same thing." And that always stuck with me over the years. So in that moment of downtime, getting ready to get kicked out of University of Minnesota, it sparked in me a yearning to know what it was going to take to become a doctor.
And on my journey, once I became a principal, there were people who told me, they said, "Okay, you're a principal now. You don't have to become doctor." I'm like, "No, I want to become doctor because it's so personal."
Because at that point in the stage, Clint, it was more so about showing other—not only African American kids—but other kids who were coming from tough situations, that you can achieve the highest level of education that you could. Now, keep in mind, I was also a kid who had a learning disability. I struggled with reading.
So to come from all that right there to obtain the highest level of education that one can obtain, I wanted that to be an inspirational and aspirational fact for many people who were searching for reasons to stay in school, stay connected to your goals, stay connected to your dreams, to say, "This guy went from being homeless to doctor, I can do the same thing."
And at what point did you decide, "Hey, I'm going to get my doctorate in education."? Or I'm just assuming you got it in some version of education. Why education? Why did you want to go into that field?
Dr. Tommy Watson
You know what, education is the frontline to a lot of the challenges that we see in this world. I think if we can get people to buy into education, if we can get our politicians to fully fund education, support our teachers, and giving them the salaries that they need, inspire our teachers to be the best they can be and have them to inspire their students, we can break the hold many challenges have on our society.
I'm a big fan of education equals opportunity. Education can be the answer to a lot of the challenges that we face and see taking place from the inner cities to suburbs to rural communities. If you get the education, show kids how to become enlightened and not just be a student who knows the right answers, but knows how to get to the right answer, knows how to think beyond school, we can have a population of individuals who can be very, very productive and be citizens that can add to our society in many different ways.
So I wanted to pursue that because I'm a firm believer that education opens up opportunities that can be the element that prevents a lot of the things that take place with poverty, homelessness, and a lot of other things that take place in our society.
Your circumstances now are obviously drastically different than when you were growing up. They're incredible. And you've really made something and shown up for yourself, and in this world, had incredible accomplishments. And there's something that I want you to talk about that you're working on that we'll get to.
But you've written books, you've done all these various things, and I just wonder now, how are you dreaming beyond your current great circumstances?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yes. That's another great question there. One of my biggest dreams now is to create a feature film that's going to inspire millions around the globe to have hope.
So my team and I, we've been working on this, I've been at this since 2017. I've just gotten a team that we've been at this for the last year where we're really working on getting the feature film nailed down, bringing on talent, and then raising the money so we can get this film out there within the next year.
So again, and even the mission behind this, Clint, is to make sure that people see a story, because yes, I've written a book, but there are a lot of people who aren't readers out there. So I wanted to create a number of avenues to be able to reach people where they were, depending upon what your learning style was, what your preferences were. I even rapped a song, Clint. It wasn't good, but I attempted to rap. So when I go to schools and talk to kids, I say, "You can be a rapper and a doctor at the same time." They find that pretty humorous.
But I'm looking forward to this movie being a point of inspiration to a lot of folks globally and connecting with a lot of folks on a wider audience.
What lessons did you learn as a principal? That must have been rewarding and seeing kids, putting yourself in their shoes, and how do I help them improve and things like that. What lessons did you learn in leadership and really, just about life when you were doing that?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Well, the lessons I learned probably started before I became a principal. I was actually managing with McDonald's before going into a principalship. So one of the great lessons I learned in the McDonald's management training program was to learn how to lead through other people. You have to be able to work through other people to get things done.
So when I became a principal, yes, I wanted all my students to be great, but I had to be able to work through my teachers and educators in my building to be able to reach the students, to be able to reach the students. So if I was not making my educators feel great, appreciated, feel as though they were valued, that they can accomplish all their goals and dreams, they were not going to do it with the students. So yes, I was there for the students, but I had to be able to work through the educators to get it done first.
And one of the things I did, Clint, after I got the position, I looked around and I went into the teacher's lounge and they had fold up chairs in there. It looked really depressing. So one of the things I told my secretary, I said, "Get rid of all that stuff." I went to a hotel liquidation store. I told them I was at school, told them I was trying to change the culture of the school, and they gave us this executive office equipment. It was beautiful. So when you walked in the conference room, it was an oak table, it was a red oak, it was beautiful, just beautiful. We changed up the lounge, we repainted the lounge, we made the office look better.
And my message to my staff was that, yes, we were serving students who were low income, but we were not a low income school. We were a first class school serving first class students, and we were going to be first class in everything we did.
And that was our mindset and everything we did, we expected students to rise to the occasion. We expected adults to rise to the occasion. We expected families to rise to the occasion. So in my school of 700 kids, we only had one suspension the entire year. We had heavy parental involvement. We had the mayor involved. We had the police chief who was also a mentor. We had school board members who were serving as mentors.
So whenever you came to my low income school, you got a chance to see adults everywhere. And oftentimes they weren't necessarily adults who were parents of the students. So we simply had to shift the game and the mindset to say, let's bring in the resources. Because oftentimes, what happens in organizations, we want things to happen one way. So I have to get the staff to shift to say, okay, even if the parents aren't coming in, we just need adults to support us in making sure that the kids are being successful.
Even with organizations, we get used to doing things a certain way. There's a certain culture. You have to be able to step back sometimes and say, "Okay, what is the end goal we're shooting for? And are there other pathways to get there other than what we've traditionally done?" And oftentimes, when you sit back, have some team meetings, feedback and other things, you start to discover that there's other ways to get there without going about it the same way you've done in the past.
I wonder what you think about the current state of education, the future of education. AI, obviously, is throwing a wrench in a lot of these things for teachers, but I just wonder generally, the programs, how we are dealing with children. I mean, COVID-19, taking kids out of school for a year. I just wonder what you think the current state of education is?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Unfortunately, COVID exposed what was already there. One of the things, a lot of teachers aren't getting the pay they did. I mean, teachers should be getting paid far more than they're getting paid. I mean, think about this. Your teachers touch every element of our society in terms of careers. Our teachers are being asked to do more than just be teachers. And when I say teachers, I need to expand that. Educators in general are being asked to do far more than what they're being told that they do on paper. So a lot of them are nurses. You got to be social workers, you got to be the counselor, you got to be the therapist, you got to be friends, you got to be mentors. So they're being asked to do all these things.
And then with the new administration that comes in, they have their agenda, you have to adjust. And so we got to find ways to better support our educators, period. And then when we know when the educators are motivated and supported and inspired, that trickles down to our students.
And then before our educators, we had to go to our leadership. We got to get good leaders in there who are stable leaders who know how to lead and not simply occupy a space because some leaders in some situations occupy spaces unfortunately. We have to have leaders who are willing to make courageous decisions when it comes to decisions in education, you have to be able to scrap some of the things that your teachers were told to do for many, many years that aren't working and start new and start fresh and be innovative and be change makers.
But you gotta be open to new ideas. But we know that we can support our teachers better, because one of the things I experienced, Clint, during COVID was the great teacher resignation. A lot of the teachers who resigned, they talked about the workload, but again, it was bombarded by not being or feeling appreciated from the pay.
So when you value people, when you value people, you get a level of commitment that is far greater than what we see in most organizations. And it didn't just happen in education though. Organizations across the country experienced people leaving in great numbers. And part of it is in the past, we have had people who have been compliant with organizations.
People worked for paychecks and other perks, but the organization themselves didn't go deeper and find out what drove the person, what it was that they enjoyed. We didn't invest in the people part of running a business like we should have. So when the opportunity came for people to jump ship and find something different, it was very, very easy, including the education as well.
So now, when we start spending more time, when we start talking about more motivational aspects, the biggest part of motivation is you got to start with first, what is it that your employees value? So that means I need to spend some time coming up with my own strategies and ideas of what I think they value and go spend some time and connect with my employees to find out what it is that they value, what's important to them. What's their goals? What's their dreams? What's their aspirations? And how can I paint a vision of how they can get that done within this organization? And then how can I, as a leader, become their greatest cheerleader?
Because leaders, oftentimes, we look for people to praise us, but your greatest coaches, you think about Tony Dungy. On game day, Tony Dungy didn't do a lot of coaching. He simply praised, he praised his players. He let his assistant coaches do the work, and he became a cheerleader. That's what great leadership looks like.
Yeah. It's interesting when you talk about valuing and what we value in a society, how we value various professions and various walks of life. As you think, I think about the great resignation of the teachers. And why wouldn't they resign? I mean, that was an impossible task, an impossible task for, like you said, very little money.
And it's interesting, you can really tell how society values people by money. Money's information, first and foremost, more than anything else. And so the information that money gives us is like, hey, educators aren't that important, teachers aren't that important.
How do you change that? I don't really understand how that could possibly be true. It seems to me like educators would be one of the top and most important professions in society, right up there with a doctor or lawyer or whatever the big professions are in society. It blows my mind still to this day that they're not valued the way that they should be. And I just don't know why. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on how that might change?
Dr. Tommy Watson
That's another great question. And when you look at where the US stands academically against other countries around the world, we're slowly, slowly dropping. And if we're going to change that, we have to invest more because what we focus on grows. So we're going to invest more in education. It has to start with paying people their value and what they're worth and what they're putting in.
So we gotta get the right politicians in place who know and understand what it means to be a teacher, to be an educator, to work inside these buildings, to know what it's like to be that best friend to a kid who doesn't come to school with any food, to know what it means to take your lunch break and spend it connecting with kids who couldn't do math problems or reading problems.
You start seeing education totally different when you get a chance to get in the building and see what it is that they actually do. I would love to see a requirement where more of our politicians, our community leaders, our business folks, actually go into our schools, spend a day with teachers, actually walk in their shoes, do a career swap, let our teachers become the CEOs of some of these companies for the day, and let our CEOs and politicians go into school buildings and teach classes for a day. That right there, my friend, will begin to change the trajectory of how we value educators and how we pay them as well.
I love that. And I can tell you, the CEOs and politicians would think, "Man, this is really hard,” spending a day in a classroom. And the teachers would spend a day in their shoes, and be like, "Man, this is actually rather easy."
Dr. Tommy Watson
Absolutely. I'm being paid millions of bucks for this. This is good.
Which again, is just so crazy how we value things. I wonder, even just broader outside of education, as you look at the world, the state of the world, the state of leadership, not just in the United States, but particularly in the United States, and it seems like the world has become super divisive and kind of division leads, hatred leads, controversy leads, all that type of stuff.
One of the things that inspires me about you is you seem to just tune all that out, and you're about lifting others and focusing on the positives and treating everyone as though they matter. How do we get that broader? How do we get more use in leadership positions throughout the country and throughout the world?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yeah. Another great question there, Clint. One of the things I think we got to get to a place where we see each other's humanity in each other. Part of it is what we're experiencing in our country right now is we are making up stories about who other people are.
One of the things that happens, Clint, when I get a chance to sit down and hear your story, I gain a level of insights and compassion, empathy for you that I probably didn't have before hearing your story. I would love for us to go around the country during story circles where we just simply share our stories. Those people who are on opposite polar ends, get with someone on this side, get with someone on this side, and just let them share their stories.
So now, you begin to understand why that's driving the emotions. Because one of the things that allows us to connect as human beings, you may not necessarily have lived in foster homes or crisis centers, but you darn sure have been in tough circumstances before. You've been in situations where the odds have been stacked against you, and that made you feel a certain way.
And when you're able to feel that certain way, we're able to connect with our emotions based upon our feelings. And now, we have a level of empathy for each other that probably wasn't there prior to us not connecting our stories and our feelings. And when we do that, we start to have a different perspective of who this person may be, and we start to understand the reason behind what it is that they're doing.
I mean, one of the biggest pieces of marriage is discovering my wife's why, because I'm sure I drive her nuts and she has to discover my why. And she drives me nuts so many days. But knowing the why behind a lot of the things that we do allows us to come together and work together.
And again, when you do that, Clint, you move away from a system of compliance to commitment. We now become committed to each other. We may not necessarily agree on everything, but there's a level of commitment that we have with each other where we can share resources, share ideas, and respect each other at the end of the day.
Because again, as long as we continue to stay over here, we make up stories about each other to fill in this gap, we never get to the place where we can come together and really connect. So the way we come together and connect is through our stories and through our emotions.
I think that's beautiful. I've always thought stories are at the heart of a community, and stories are at the heart of a relationship. We all know someone, whether it's a sibling or a cousin or a close friend that we grew up with, who has vastly different political views or disagrees with all this type of stuff. But you just count it all out because you know their story.
And you're like, "Who cares? I'm just not going to talk about that with them." But I know their story and they were in the thick of things, and I was there. And once you understand someone's story, you become empathetic. And you become understanding and you become compassionate, which is pretty beautiful. And we could sure use a lot more than that.
It's interesting you said I may not have been in foster care. I actually was. I didn't have anywhere near your childhood that you've described here. But I actually spent the first couple years in childhood, and then I was adopted. Me and my older brother were adopted when I was about two or three. So yeah, there is this thing where understanding those stories, understanding what the circumstances people have been in, understanding kind of how they've gotten to where they've gotten. I mean, it's really hard just to stay alive.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yes. Thank you so much for sharing as well. One of the beautiful things that happens when we share our stories, we allow other people to feel comfortable sharing their stories back with us. So again, I appreciate you sharing that, and we make a connection as well. So I love it, man. I love your resiliency that you've shown as well, and with your brother as well. So kudos to you.
Yeah, it's kind of a crazy system, actually. I didn't mean to go into this topic too much, but what do you think about the foster system and the adoption system and that type of stuff? It does seem like that might be a little bit broken as well, and maybe there might be some ways to improve that.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yeah, I think the foster care system and adoption system is kind of dealing with the repercussions of what we're seeing. Very similar to what's happening with schools, the breakdown of the family.
Imagine my parents were arrested 121 times. Imagine the amount of pressure that it put on my extended family members, the foster care system, to continue to try to take us in. So I think you have all these family breakdowns that are happening, and it's overloading the system. So it creates a system that was probably initially designed to do well, to put it in a place where it's not functioning well because of the overload that's taking place.
Even with our schools, one of the things that is happening in our schools is teachers are being asked to do things that they weren't necessarily committed to going to college for. So when we get to a place, we have to get to a place where we get back to the family structure.
How do we build up that family structure again? How do we build up parents to be at a place where they feel good about themselves, they can get an education, that they can create opportunities for them to become a part of the American dream, become owners, acquire assets in our country, become business owners? That's where we start taking a lot of the pressure off the system.
Because I think the foster care system, the adoption system, is simply responding to a lot of the overload that is taking place and coming at them. But there's certainly things that they can do better. I can't speak to the specifics of that because I'm not necessarily into it, in the system, but it relates to the school organizations, it all goes back down to that family unit. We got to strengthen the family unit.
With that becomes a system, and use the foster care system or adoption system as a short-term system to help people get back on their feet and then put the kid back with the family.
What became of your parents and siblings, and what relationship do you have with them now, if any?
Dr. Tommy Watson
Unfortunately, my mother passed away from poisoning her body from heroin about 20 years ago.
Dr. Tommy Watson
We had a great relationship during the last 10 years of her life. My father passed away during COVID, unfortunately. And for my siblings, the situations we went through made us very, very close as siblings. So we're almost more than siblings. So two of them live here in Charlotte where I live as well. Unfortunately, I lost my sister to cancer here a couple years ago, my oldest sister. And then my oldest brother and second-oldest sister live in Denver, Colorado.
We love each other greatly. We have a great deal of compassion for each other, and we're just so glad that we've been able to make it to the other side to be able to see where we are as we're nearing a middle age.
What led you to Charlotte? I'm interested in that.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Well, I'm from Denver, Colorado. We had the mountains. I spent a lot of time in Minnesota where I had the water. So Charlotte, North Carolina, gives me the chance to get the best of both worlds. We have the mountains here, we have the ocean here as well. So just a great city, great place. Reminds me a lot of Denver, Colorado. Very up and coming city. So it's just a great place to be.
Yeah, beautiful city. You got Michael Jordan hanging around there all the time which is probably pretty fun.
Dr. Tommy Watson
That's very cool. Tell me more about this movie that you're working on and how that came about and how do you even go about doing... I mean, that's an enormous thing to just create a movie.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Absolutely. One of the things I wanted to do, my movies and stories are very similar to the movies Blind Side and Pursuit of Happyness. But oftentimes, I tell people what you're going to see in this story is what it's like to grow up in homelessness, which is very, very different from poverty. Because people talk a lot about poverty and they kind of throw homelessness in there.
One example I'll tell you that makes homelessness different from poverty is when I was in eighth grade, and we talked about that motel room. My friends lived in the projects, not to minimize their situation, but when they came home from school every day, they were getting government assistance. They knew where they were going to be every day. They were getting help and everything else. Wasn't easy. We came home, we were living in this motel room, we didn't know where we were going to be. We didn't get food often. We got it back to the school. We were invisible to society.
So my school didn't have my telephone number, and didn't have an address for us. We were off the radar screen for a lot of family members. And then in second grade, now keep in mind, we lived in seven different motel rooms at different times in my journey. I was in second grade. We were in a motel room, Clint, and we returned from doing some school or something like that.
And I remember my dad went to put the key in the door, Clint, and the door wouldn't open up, and he turns to the owner who was out in the parking lot watering the dirt in the parking lot, and he says, "We can't get in the room." And the guy says, "You're not getting in the room." And they go back and forth and the owner finally says, he says, "Get out of here." He says, "You haven't paid rent. Get out of here before I call the police."
And Clint, in that moment as a second- grader, I knew that everything we owned was behind that door. We had to get back into the car, go down the street to the next motel room and start life all over again as though it never happened.
So this is going to be a movie that's going to shed light on what it really means and what it looks like to be homeless in America. We have about 2.1 million kids a year in families who are dealing with homelessness in this country. So I'm very, very passionate about it. I've been working on this project for a lot of years. I got a lot of books that I've been reading to learn more about the industry because I'm not necessarily in the industry.
But one of the things I've been able to do is surround myself with a great team who are in the industry. So I've got a great director that I brought on board, and we're acquiring a number of talents, and it's been a bit of learning, but it's been a great process. The short film that I created a few years ago won eight awards globally.
We've shown that the proof of concept is there to get a movie that's going to get out there to the public, to the world, that's going to inspire them and show them something different that has not been on the screen before again. Because even with Pursuit of Happyness, you see a guy who was homeless, but you don't see the resiliency of a homeless kid and how they're fighting in this movie here.
So it's very, very insightful for a lot of folks to be in tune, be ready. And it has my prints all over because again, it's my story that I want to tell, I wanted to tell it with fidelity.
Man, I can't wait. Unbelievable. When that comes out, you have to come back on and talk about that so we can promote it to our audience. My last question, and this is the last question we ask everybody who comes on here, and again, I can't thank you enough for taking the time, Dr. Watson, this has been inspirational, so thank you. But the final question we ask everybody is, we believe at CEO.com that the chances you give are just as important as the chances you take, right? We all get to take chances on ourselves, but it's just as beautiful to have a chance given or to give someone a chance, and that is just as meaningful in people's lives. I wonder if there's someone, and it sounds like you've mentioned a couple during this conversation, who gave you a chance, who you think of when you think about someone who may have made a difference in that way.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Yes. I have to first start off with my oldest sister, Melinda Watson. She was the kid who, when my parents weren't there, she was my sibling, but she was taking the role far greater than just the sibling. She was the one who was staying at home with my baby sister when we went to school to get food or stole food or what have you.
And there was my grandmother, Helen, who sacrificed much of her senior years taking us in and out of foster homes and bringing us into her home as well. And my Aunt Mildred, who brought us in with her kids and family.
And then I had an amazing teacher in high school who believed in me. Her name is Sister Brendan Jordan. And one of the characters in my movie is also Mrs. Jordan as well. But she believed in me when a lot of people didn't believe in me and she stuck with me. She passed away several years ago. I think she was 92 years old. But she was still reading my emails and my newsletters and giving me feedback on my newsletters. She was just an amazing, amazing person. I love her to death.
And then of course, my high school football coach, Pete Levine, and then a number of other folks on the journey. And my wife now. My wife is supporting me big time in this movie endeavor. It's risky when you're trying to create a movie. So she's supporting me in this and wants to see it happen as well.
And we both know that at the end of the day, this is going to be about inspiring others to be the best they can be and have hope, because a lot of people who are looking for hope are out there.
So those are the folks who really inspired me and I'm hoping to be half that to the kids that I'm mentoring and the people that I'm working with as well.
Oh, I can tell you you're more than half of that, Dr. Watson.
Dr. Tommy WatsonAppreciate that.
Thank you so much for coming on. Really appreciate it. Again, when this movie comes out, let's have you on. You're going to be big time at that point. But think about us, remember us, and come back on because we'd love to promote it.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Hey, I love that. I'm always committed to people who supported me on the journey and you got it. We're going to be getting back on and do this thing.
Thanks, Dr. Watson. Appreciate it.
Dr. Tommy Watson
Okay, good seeing you. Take care.