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May 14, 2018

Chris Gardner: From Homeless to Hero

If a man were to be abandoned by family, abused by his stepfather, raped by a gang member, put in jail, divorced, raise his only son by himself, and be homeless for a year, the odds of that same man being able to overcome his adversities and turn himself into a multimillionaire and CEO of his own company, would be looked at as slim to none. However, Chris Gardner has done exactly that, defying all odds in his extraordinary life, living one of the most influential “rags to riches” stories in American history.

On February 9th, 1954, Chris Gardner’s unlikely journey to the top began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was born. The start of painful events for Gardner began the day he was born, as he grew up not knowing who his father was, because his father lived in Louisiana. Not only was Garner’s father not involved in his early life, but Garner also lacked any positive male role model, as he lived with his mother and his aggressive and abusive step-father, Freddie Triplett. Triplett abused Gardner throughout his childhood, to the point that he kicked Gardner out of his home on Christmas Day one year, and held Gardner at gunpoint as he stood unclothed in the snow. Eventually, when Gardner was eight years old, his mother became fed up with Triplett’s abusive behavior and tried to set fire to the house while Triplett was inside. Gardner’s mother was sentenced to multiple years in prison; however, Gardner was never told where his mother was; instead, he was placed in foster care.1 However, at a time of great confusion and darkness for Gardner, he found a source of positivity when he met his Uncle Henry. Henry served as the positive male role model that Gardner desperately needed in his life, as Henry encouraged him to join the U.S. Navy and travel the world when he was a little older. Despite the void Henry was able to fill for Gardner and offer encouragement doing so, tragedy struck again as Henry drowned in the Mississippi River when Gardner was nine years old. Gardner attended his Uncle’s funeral where he then learned that his mother was in prison, as she was being escorted to the funeral by a prison guard. Gardner not only had to deal with the uncertainty, abuse, and abandonment from his family at a young age, but he also was raped by a local male gang member. Gardner certainly faced enough adversity and gruesome events to make someone give up on having a bright future; however, Gardner has stated that his motivation for not letting his childhood events hold him back came from his mother’s advice, saying “You can only depend on yourself. The cavalry ain’t coming.” This  became Gardner’s motto, and it would push him to depend and believe in himself to succeed.2

The dynamic father and son duo of Will and Jaden Smith, play Chris Gardner and his son Chris Gardner Jr. in the moving film 2006 | Courtesy of Google Images

As Gardner finished secondary school, he decided to follow his Uncle Henry’s advice and join the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in North Carolina as a hospital corpsman. Gardner met a cardiac surgeon, Dr. Robert Ellis, who offered Gardner a job to assist him in clinical research at the University of California Medical Center and Veterans Administration hospital, located in San Francisco. In 1974, at 20 years old, Gardner left the Navy and accepted the job in San Francisco, where he was responsible for a lab and helped Dr. Ellis write several articles in his first two years on the job. Gardner married Sherry Dyson in 1977, and now with a wife and a promising medical career ahead of him, Gardner was finally starting to feel success and a sense of accomplishment.3 Yet again, things started to change drastically for Gardner, as he expressed to his wife that he believed pursuing a medical career might not be what’s best for him, as changes in health care would soon occur and his profession in the medical field would be much different. His wife strongly disapproved of him not pursuing a medical career, because she felt it would provide stability for the both of them. This conflict resulted in Gardner and his wife being driven apart and eventually divorcing. Gardner then met Jackie Medina, a dental student, and he had his first child with her. They named their child Christopher Gardner Jr., and now with a son to raise, Gardner knew he needed to look for an opportunity to make more money. He started selling medical supplies to whoever he could.

After working this new job and saving money, Gardner tracked down his father and visited him in Louisiana. Gardner then returned to San Francisco, and a life changing moment occurred for him, as he came upon a well-dressed man in a Ferrari. Gardner asked the man what he did for a living, to which the man replied, “stockbroker.”4 From that day, Gardner knew he wanted to pursue a career in business and be able to make enough money to support himself and his son. Gardner persistently looked for any opportunity to get his foot in the door in the business world, and luckily enough, he was accepted into a training program at E.F. Hutton, an American Stock brokerage firm. Gardner wanted to give this opportunity everything he had, resulting in him giving up his job selling medical equipment. However, when he went to the office for his first day of work, he found that the manager who had hired him a week before had been fired and Gardner’s job no longer existed at the brokerage firm. Not only was Gardner’s door of opportunity slammed shut, leaving him jobless, but he also had insult added to injury as he was sentenced to jail for being unable to pay $1,200 in parking tickets due to his lack of income. 5

When Gardner was released from jail, he went to his apartment, only to find it empty. Jackie had taken his only son with her to the other side of the country, to the East Coast. Gardner found another stock brokerage training program to join. However, it only paid about $300 a month, and with Gardner having no savings to live off of, he became unable to pay his rent. Drawing on the advice his mother had given him, “the cavalry ain’t coming,” Gardner knew he’d have to fight and grind his way out of the dark situation he was in, so he ended up becoming one of the firm’s top trainees, and he passed the Series 7 Exam on his first try, making him a full employee of the firm.6 After four months of Gardner having his son taken away from him by Jackie, she returned to San Francisco to leave their son with Gardner, as he willingly accepted full custody of the child. Despite Gardner becoming employed, his job still didn’t pay enough to support him and his son. Thus began a whole new chapter in Gardner and his son’s lives, as they now had to fight for survival while becoming homeless. For about a year, Gardner managed to raise his son by himself while trying to eat in soup kitchens and stay at flophouses, parks, public transports, airports, and even in a locked bathroom in a transit station, while keeping the fact that he was homeless from all of his coworkers.7 During this struggle, Gardner had to leave his son at a poorly ran, yet affordable day care center, named “Happyness.” This undesirable lifestyle for Gardner and his son soon changed though, due to Gardner’s motivation to be the successful and positive father figure he never had.

Chris Gardner was played by Will Smith in the film, Pursuit of Happyness, which is based on Gardner’s book 2006 | Courtesy of Google Images

Determined more than ever to get out of the position he was in, Gardner took a job at Bear Stearns & Company and became one of the highest earners in the company. In 1987, Gardner opened his own brokerage firm named Gardner Rich & Co., in Chicago, Illinois. Gardner grew the brokerage firm for almost twenty years, and then sold his small stake for in a multimillion-dollar deal in 200. He then became CEO and founder of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, and opened offices in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Gardner also expanded his companies business by visiting South Africa to talk with Nelson Mandela about investment opportunities there. After starting from the bottom and completing a long and treacherous journey to the top, Garner had succeeded and had a life story that has been able to inspire people all over the world. Gardner reflected on his own life and decided to write an autobiography titled The Pursuit of Happyness, spelling “happiness” incorrectly with a “y”, the same way the daycare center that Gardner took his son to had spelled it. Gardner’s book became wildly successful and was even turned into a movie called The Pursuit of Happyness, which starred Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith, playing Chris Gardner and his son.8 However, Gardner wasn’t particularly thrilled that Will Smith was selected to play him because he felt Smith wouldn’t play Gardner accurately. But Gardner was able to laugh it off and appreciate Smith’s work as he saw the message of the movie was portrayed correctly, resulting in helping Smith earn his second Best Actor nomination.9 Gardner wanted to take the message from his autobiography and the movie based on his life and spread it to everyone he could by becoming a motivational speaker. This message of Gardner’s includes prioritizing what’s important, staying persistent, and remaining hopeful in whatever situation you’re in, in order to become successful. Gardner claims that he travels about two-hundred days of the year as a motivational speaker, and has now spoken in over fifty counties. Gardner also sponsors many charitable organizations and has given back to the community in San Francisco by helping fund a $50 million project that helps create low income housing and opportunities for employment in the same area where he was once homeless.10

Chris Gardner travels the world 200 days a year and has been to more than 50 counties, speaking as a motivational speaker 2012 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When some people think of a multimillionaire. They may associate them as a greedy, self-absorbed, or money driven individual, however, in Gardner’s case, he has been able to avoid any of those characteristics and only expressed how much he wants to help those around him with the money and experience he’s gained in his inspiring life. These characteristics of Gardner show the man he is and where his morals and priorities stand, which are all due to the determination, hopefulness, and persistency that he has maintained throughout his entire life, and with his selflessness and generosity, he’s been able to not only transform himself from being homeless to being a hero, but also from being someone without a role model into being a role model for everyone.







  1. Chris Gardner, The pursuit of Happyness (New York: HarperCollins e-Books, 2014), 1-12.
  2. Chris Gardner, Hasnah Daud, and Hidayah Kasuma Abdul Hadi, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Batu Caves, Selangor, PTS Professional, 2012), 12-14.
  3. Basak Guner and Chris Gardner, Flora of the Silk Road (London, United Kingdom: I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., 2016), 10.
  4. Basak Guner and Chris Gardner, Flora of the Silk Road (London, United Kingdom: I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., 2016), 16.
  5. Chris Gardner, The pursuit of Happyness (New York: HarperCollins e-Books, 2014), 47.
  6. Barry LaBov, Becca Watson, and Chris Swymeler, The Corporate Entrepreneur: The Small Way to Get Big Results at Your Corporation (Ft. Wayne, IN: LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications, 2003), 27.
  7. Basak Guner and Chris Gardner, Flora of the Silk Road (London, United Kingdom: I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., 2016), 5.
  8. The Pursuit of Happyness, (2018), (film) directed by G. Muccino, Alameda, California: Sony Pictures.
  9. Lisa Iannucci, Will Smith: A Biography (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2010), 53-54.
  10. Nate Berkus, The Things that Matter (Spiegel & Grau, 2016), 12-15.

Tags from the story

Chris Gardner

Rags-to-Riches story

Recent Comments

Olivia Tijerina

I found in this articles to have a profound meaning displayed in the message; readily for readers is an article that does an magnificent job to take the readers on a journey to illuminate a very important part in the life of Chris Gardner. A specific part of Chris Gardner life that would transform a life he grew up into and then to a life he decided to make out of it, which turned out to be a marvelous one.



7:19 am

Cassandra Sanchez

This story is truly inspiring because it tells how even after losing everything, anything can be accomplished with faith, hard work and a positive mindset. I admire how after finally achieving success, Gardner created an organization dedicated to improving the lives of those from where he was from and who might be in a similar situation that he was in. Also, the fact that he was aware that he could do better for his family and recognized that, speaks volumes and is inspirational to those who are unhappy where they are and know that they too could do better.



7:19 am

Emmanuel Ewuzie

This story really motivates me to do better and always stay positive. Personally, I’m a very determined and stubborn person. When I put my mind to something, I do everything in my power to get it. Chris Gardner’s story has inspired me to keep trudging on and served as a testament to what is possible contrary to any odds.



7:19 am

Charli Delmonico

I’m so glad I read this article! I had never heard of the movie before, and now I am really excited to watch it. I can’t believe that Gardner had such a difficult life growing up. It seems as though every possible obstacle stood in his way throughout his life, and yet he was able to put all of it behind him to become successful. He and hiss on must be very close.



7:19 am


you said garner twice



7:19 am

Janie Cheverie

I really enjoyed this article because it was very inspiring to read about Chris Gardner’s. His story is a great representation of the American dream and how everyone has the ability to change their life if they are unhappy with it. he faced so many obstacles and he continually was able to persevere and put it behind him to become successful.



7:19 am

Andrea Laguna

Interesting and captivating article! I’ve read about Chris Gardner before and watched the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness”. His effort and self-motivation was what made him the great man he is today! I really admire the fact that he cared for his son above all and never gave up on him. Also, he still demonstrated the same values as before he was a multi-billionaire. He is the true representation of the American Dream. I really enjoyed this article, very nice job!



7:19 am

Rafael Macedo

Chris Gardner is just one of the examples of people that had turned their life around and from been homeless to a millionaire. Examples like this are what make people wake up in the morning and believe that through hard, and smart work you can get anywhere. One of the things that I learned in life is that everything depends on you. If you want something badly enough, and you are determined enough to work for it, you will get it



7:19 am

Dhwani Chandi

In the end, I had goosebumps all over my body this article was so emotional yet very motivating, I have also watched the movie the pursuit of happiness and I would say the movie as an article. Also, there is a good elaboration in this article about what we think about the multimillionaire people we associate them with greed or self-absorbed, or money-driven individual or selfish minds but the story of Chris Gardner’s life and how he overcame all those things in his life are worth read! and I believe this article Is a must-read article especially by all the business-related major students!



7:19 am

Abbey Stiffler

The story itself is incredibly motivating because it shows that anything is achievable with faith, perseverance, and an optimistic outlook, even after losing everything. I respect Gardner for starting a company devoted to enhancing lives after eventually succeeding. I never would have imagined that someone from those backgrounds might one day become a multi-millionaire and the CEO of his own business. You will succeed if you work hard enough and desire something with enough passion.



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