One early morning in 1974, Michael Taylor, a 14-year-old Black kid growing up in the inner-city projects of Corpus Christi, was walking to school when he heard an argument between two adults in the garage of a bike shop that drew him closer to the conversation.
The argument was between the bike shop owner and a mechanic who worked in the shop. The mechanic was upset because the owner wanted him to sweep the floor of the garage but the mechanic felt cleaning was not a part of his job.
Instead of seeing the argument as a bit of early morning entertainment he could tell his friends about at school, Taylor saw it as an opportunity. He confidently walked up to the bike shop, into the garage and headed straight for the owner. “I said, ‘Look, I got a solution to your problem,’” Taylor said. “Why don’t you pay me to sweep the floors?”
The shop owner looked down at Taylor with a smile and appreciation for his hustle. He asked Taylor if he was sure he wanted to sweep and clean the garage. “Absolutely,” Taylor said. “I tell you what, when I come back from school I’ll clean your garage. And after I finish, you pay me what you think it is worth.”
The shop owner thought that was a fair deal and Taylor trotted off to school having secured his first contract and officially starting off his entrepreneurial journey. “I cleaned that garage and man, you could have had dinner on the floor it was so clean,” Taylor says. The bike shop owner was so pleased with Taylor’s work, he agreed to pay Taylor $5 an hour to clean the garage. In a matter of weeks, Taylor had secured contracts with three of the owner's friends who owned their own shops.
Since those days, Taylor has become a leader in the Black community, teaching other men how to succeed despite societal obstacles, while trying to shatter stereotypes.
By age 17, Taylor was installing stereos in cars and had become a premier DJ for parties and events in Corpus Christi. Then an opportunity presented itself with such promise that Taylor dropped out of high school to pursue it.
“When I got to 11th grade, I went to this seminar and this guy convinced me I could get rich selling vacuum cleaners,” Taylor remembers. “I got all fired up about it [and] dropped out of high school to sell vacuum cleaners.”
Taylor never sold a single vacuum cleaner. In fact, Taylor now says he made a really poor decision to drop out of high school to sell vacuum cleaners. Instead of letting that decision define him, the supreme optimist kept fighting and eventually landed a job at a building supply center.
Looking back now, Taylor believes that making that monumental decision was essential in his self-development. “I learned a really valuable lesson,” Taylor says. “I wasn’t afraid to take risks.”
By 23 years old, the Black kid from the projects was living the American dream. Taylor was married and had worked his way up to a manager position for the building supply company he was working at. Taylor said his promotion made him the youngest manager the company had ever hired and the second Black manager.
“But in a six-and-a-half-year time frame, my American dream turned into the American nightmare.” Taylor says. “[I went] through a divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure and a deep deep stage of depression.”
During the darkest period of Taylor’s life, and while too depressed to sleep, he was sitting on the edge of his bed in the middle of the night glaring at his bookshelves when he noticed every single book on those shelves had something in common. They were all focused on making money.
Taylor recalls his epiphany: “I’m sitting at the edge of my bed looking at all these books and this question just popped in my head, ‘Michael, what if you took all the energy and effort you have been using trying to get rich, and simply figure out how to be happy?’”
As soon as he asked himself that question, his depression seemed to lift and he knew he would be able to rebuild his life.
“I stopped reading books on how to make money and started reading books on psychology, philosophy, metaphysics and spirituality,” Taylor says. “Then I went on this amazing journey of transformation.”
On that journey, he did the firewalk with author and motivational speaker Tony Robinson. The firewalk is a ritual in which participants walk across blazing coals to symbolize how they can conquer other fires and fears in their lives. In 2016, at least 30 people had to be treated for feet burns when Robinson held an event in Dallas, but most the people made it across the coals without getting burned.
After his spiritual journey successfully walking across hot coals, Taylor was back in his groove. He had continued to face adversity head on and kept fighting until he was victorious. Taylor is now a life coach, motivational speaker and the author of eight books that primarily focus on the empowerment and self-development of Black men.
Taylor didn't always know that writing and public speaking would be his purpose in life. In 1994, he was eating at a restaurant and overheard two educated Black men having an eloquent discussion about the inevitable eradication of Black men from society. Taylor said he got up from his table and approached their table and asked the men if they truly believed what they were saying to each other.
One of the men asked Taylor if he had been watching the news lately. Next, the man told him that he believed all Black men would either be dead or in jail in 20 years. Taylor knew that nothing he said would have changed that man’s mind that night, so he patted the man on the shoulder and said, “Don’t believe the hype my brotha, don’t believe the hype,” before walking out of the restaurant.
“As I walked away, there was something inside of me that said, ‘Man, I got to do something,’” Taylor says. “I had to do something to change the mindset of Black men. Because of all the work I had done through my own journey, I knew there could be something I could do.”
Taylor had no previous writing or public speaking experience before writing and publishing his first book, Brothers Are You Listening: A Success Guide to The New Millennium.
He published his first book in 1995 after he received 59 rejection letters from publishing companies. The last letter that he received came from a publishing house in New York. They said they loved the book and would publish it if he made a few minor changes to the title and content.
“[The publishing house said,] ‘Please don’t take this the wrong way but our research shows Black men don’t buy books,'" Taylor recalls. "So if you’re willing to change the title and make a few minor adjustments, I’ll be glad to publish the book for you.”
Taylor said he really could have used the little amount of advance money he would have received from the publishing house but he was not willing to sell out his audience just to get his book published. “That would be like asking a parent to change their child’s name,” Taylor says. “This book was specifically written for Black men.”
Taylor respectfully declined the offer extended from the publishing house and instead decided to start his own publishing company, called Creation Publishing Group, where he has published all of his books. Most of Taylor’s books have a central focus on the empowerment and development of Black men in society.
Almost 20 years after publishing his first book, Taylor is still enlightening the minds of young Black men all over the country. He still faces criticism and backlash from other Black men who hard time understanding his positive mindset.
Among other things, Taylor has been accused by other Black men of smiling too much. One man approached the author after one of his speaking engagements and told him that he really appreciated the information he had shared with the crowd, but he did not like the fact that Taylor smiled so much during his presentation.
The man told Taylor that his father had warned him never trust a Black man that smiles too much.
Taylor told the man, “Do you simply believe because I’m happy and smiling and joyful all the time that I’m not trustworthy?”
He completely understood the man's perspective, Taylor says, but Black men thinking about themselves or other black men in such a way is the reason why Taylor is still writing, speaking and finding new ways to empower Black men.
“We have to understand that there was a time as Black men, where laughing would have gotten us killed,” Taylor says. “That was how we survived. But we have to remember, that was then and this is now. We no longer have to wear those masks of invulnerability and to be tough and fearless.”
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It's important for Black men to make the distinction between being cautious and being fearful, Taylor says. He adds that the constant news of Black people being killed by police has made other Black people fear it could happen to them. And yes, it could, but being fearful could potentially hold that individual back from doing great things in their lives.
"It’s a process of having them wake up to this idea because it’s so engraved in our society that we are always on the defense,” Taylor says.
Taylor will continue to share his story and experiences with Black men looking to overcome adversity. He is currently writing three books while planning for a busy speaking schedule in the fall and winter. Some of his speaking engagements have turned into racially mixed crowds as more white people want to educate themselves on Black America, he says.
For Black men struggling to overcome the adversity in their lives, Taylor’s message will always the same. “Be optimistic and don’t believe the hype of the negative media. … Black men are not an endangered species.”