The experience of Kweisi Mfume, former Maryland congressman and NAACP president and CEO, is an object lesson in how to turn one’s life around. He was born Frizzell Gray on Oct. 24, 1948, into a family that struggled to stay financially afloat. Eleven years later, his father abandoned the family and five years after that, his mother died of cancer, leaving him and his three younger sisters on their own.
That’s when Mfume’s life “spun out of control,” as the Baltimore native told U.S. News and World Report. He dropped out of high school and went to work to help support his siblings. He also began running with the wrong crowd. Before he knew it, he was the teenaged father of an eye-popping five children.
But one night he had an epiphany and realized that wasting time drinking and shooting craps with people who had no hope for their own futures was no way to live. He walked away and earned a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree, with honors, from Morgan State University. He adopted the name “Kweisi Mfume,” which means “conquering son of kings,” in the early ’70s.
Mfume was elected to Congress in 1986 and also served a term as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1996, he left Capitol Hill to become president of the NAACP. Mfume currently works as a consultant and corporate adviser.