LIMA — Despite the years of abuse and child neglect, corporate executive Steve Pemberton has overcome the odds and has dedicated his life to empowering children in the community so that they can have a “Chance in the World.”
Pemberton did not grow up in an ideal living situation. His father was murdered and his alcoholic mother could barely provide for him and his siblings. He and his siblings often spent most of their time being cared for by his mother’s friends. One particular day when one his mom’s friends picked him up, that individual expressed how disturbed he was when he saw his appearance.
“He said ‘This little boy does not have a chance in the world’,” recalled Pemberton, author of “A Chance in the World.” “So early on that seemed like that would be the case because I did head off into foster care, and though there are many positive stories that come out of foster care, mine was not one of them.”
Pemberton was placed into a foster home, where he felt he was lost in the gap, left in a home with family that manipulated the system for their own financial gains. He experienced physical violence daily, was not permitted to call his foster parents mother and father, had to ask to ask for permission to go into the refrigerator and even to read. All of these obstacles, he said, made it difficult for him to learn and caused him to break down mentally.
Throughout the 13 years that he was in that home, he also yearned to know more about himself.
“I had no memory of family at all,” he said. “I wanted to know where I came from and who I look like and ultimately ask where I belong. It made it all the more difficult living with this family.”
Finally, at age 14, Pemberton finally had a enough and decided to start on the journey of emancipating himself.
“I realized that they were going to do anything they could to stop me from going to college,” he said. “I was very aware that they had already taken my childhood away from me and the things that I could not do, but I also knew that they were trying to take my future away and I could not let that happen.
By age 16, he finally left that foster home and, through the help of a social worker and a caring school teacher, a neighbor who provided him with books and a family who taught him the fundamentals, he was able to graduate high school at 17 with honors and go on to Boston College on a full scholarship.
“I have learned a great deal about service through the people I met along the way, which was very important to me,” he said. “Those people were not presidents and CEOs. As a society, we tend to look to people who are accordingly above us because of where they went to school or their title, or the large company they work for or the public office that they hold. But if you want to see who the real heroes are, they are in our communities.”
Through his survival book, “A Chance in the World” and through a movie sharing that same title that debuts in theaters May 30, he hopes to inspire other children who have gone through a similar situation and help them realize that they too can make it through.
“When I think about ‘A Chance in the World’ I often smile to myself because its usually thought of in a negative context, and yet I have learned to think of it the complete opposite way,” he said. “Perhaps that’s all we need to bend the arch of the life is just a chance — which is all I needed all along.”
On Wednesday, Pemberton will be the guest speaker at the Community Enrichment Dinner, an event that he said he is happy to support and looks forward to attending because it represents the thread of humanity.
“It comes back to community,” he said. “Businesses have support and access through the fundraiser opportunity to find their own way through the Chamber of Commerce. This community-based approach brings together the community and allows people to see the commonality of the human experience. The enrichment dinner, through the Walter Potts Foundation and community, extends the village so stories like mine will happen a lot less frequently, and that’s why the support is necessary.”
Reach Camri Nelson at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @CamriNews.