I’ve never felt lost in a Boston Market until I met James Dukes.
Lost as I walked inside to talk to a man I had never met, I was soon lost in a story more compelling and powerful than I expected to encounter.
ABANDONED. BROKEN. MISPLACED.
Words that seem to describe James’ story as his mother left him on the streets of New York to follow addictions and destructive patterns of living. Alone at age four with little to eat and a six year old sister who James says served as his mother, they were homeless and living each moment hoping to survive. From begging to being forced to eat out of dumpsters, the two lived together on the streets in a box for months until they were taken into an impoverished and abusive home. After a stint of feeling like an unwanted addition in a family as extra mouths to feed, James and his sister moved to Atlanta to live with their grandparents. 8 years later he finds his mother on the same street that he had moved to without knowing she was there.
As someone who has never experienced homelessness I had to know in detail what its like: “As a kid you are scared to death. You learn and see a dog eat dog world at a young age. People would steal from us and the weather is something you can’t hide from. You beg and hope for support. It can be humiliating in a sense but you had to do whatever it took to survive.”
When you sit down with James there is a unique feeling you get. One that I have experienced only once before with someone from a similar story and background. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. There’s a mix between intimidation and relief. Mostly relief. 84% relief. 16% intimidation. Give or take. A calm feeling in the presence of someone who has obtained wisdom in their life, but not all from positive personal growth experiences, wisdom from painful and unwarranted circumstances intertwined. He spoke with a calm and grateful demeanor. Never too high or low.
As James grew he lived without a mother or father so he credits much of the virtue and morale he carries to his grandparents who raised he and his sister to the best of their ability in the midst of their circumstances. In spite of everything he had to overcome, James has always been a hard working individual. To be successful he had to be. He volunteered in the summers throughout his neighborhood doing lawn service and through word of mouth slowly began to earn money because of his reputation for brilliant work.
INVEST IN ONE PERSON, CHANGE THE WORLD.
At age 16, James reached a turning point. For someone who had never seemed to catch a break in life, he finally found a place to call home in a place that provides food. A man named Jackie Collier took a chance and believed in him. Jackie showed him that he could be someone and that he was talented. Handing him a pair of work boots to call his own. The boots symbolized the trust and belief that Collier had in James when his tattered shoes seemed to indicate otherwise. Jackie’s influence shows the difference that one person can make. The opportunity to take a chance and invest in someone who needed it most. To show them that although the past can be heartbreaking, it doesn’t define our future. Dukes says, “his investment changed the course of my life.”
THE PAST CAN BE HEARTBREAKING,IT DOESN’T DEFINE OUR FUTURE.
To see the light come on in his eyes describing these early stages of his career is remarkable. Now with 25 years in food service starting at McDonalds, James moved his way to the Assistant Manager, Manager, and Director of Operations positions before being recruited by outside food service businesses to use his skill and expertise. James’ story offers hope when there seems to be none. When asked who is James Dukes he replies, “a servant.” James has been married for 35 years and has two sons along with 2 grandchildren. People call James “coach” because he believes and practices servant leadership by mentoring and preparing young adults in his restaurants to succeed. When I asked James why he decided to stay in the food industry instead of branching out into other areas of business he replied, “Here I develop people, teach goal setting and I get to dream about how I can move something to fruition. It’s not just about fast food but about exceeding people’s expectations when they come in one of the restaurants.”
James has an entrepreneurial spirit that comes from a life marked with characteristics that any young entrepreneur would understand. Struggle and heartache on the front end with hopes that the work and investments you have made will become future success. For James it has. From working his way through the food industry to now beginning his own company he has become a success in life and work. Although the earliest years of his life were unimaginable, he is truly a success. Someone to look to for advice and encouragement. Someone to use for personal development and to speak a message of hope to tribes of people. James continues to pursue and dream of how he can lead teams of people and is now the CEO of Awesome Results Enterprises, a leadership training and development company that is working with clients throughout the metro Atlanta area.
Teacher. Mentor. Leader. Self-made. Success.
These are the words that now define James Dukes.
We are very thankful for this article to have a photographic documentation by Aaron Coury. Aaron is a humble leader in Atlanta with a gift of collaboration through art and we are grateful to call him a friend.
If you are interested in speaking engagements, mentor training, or personal development with James Dukes you can contact: AwesomeResultsENT@gmail.com