The call of the American Dream is powerful. We all want to believe that it is possible to achieve that dream, that success is just a pair of bootstraps away.

But is it, really?

Shawn Blanchard’s very existence seems to suggest that it is.

Photo: Timothy Paul

The very model of a self-made man, Blanchard came from humble beginnings: he was born in 1982, at the beginning of the crack epidemic, with crack cocaine in his system. 

His relationship with drugs didn’t end there — his two older brothers taught him the drug trade. That is, until one was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong, and the other was put behind bars for running an illicit empire.

Left to his own devices, Blanchard looked for mentors. He found some, men and women who helped him make his way to university, and who helped him land a job teaching mathematics in New York City.

That job changed his life. 

Blanchard told us here at Blavity that almost as soon as he walked through his new school’s doors, he was given more responsibility than he felt comfortable with. Despite being a teacher, “I felt like I was a vice-principal or principal.”

He shouldered the extra responsibility, and before he knew it, “every time there was someone that needed to speak, I was the person in front.” 

He discovered while speaking in front of his school that he had a knack for oration.

City officials took note of his elocution skills, and they made him into something of an ambassador for his profession, having him “speak to hundreds of people all about getting into the career of teaching.”

Having become more comfortable with speaking, Blanchard began to consider it all in a day’s work. That is, until he got a call from a school in his hometown of Detroit. 

They told him that they wanted him to speak to their students, and that they weren’t expecting him to do it for free. 

“It was the first time that someone was actually paying me to come and speak. So they were going to fly me out, they paid me, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome, they’re going to pay me to speak and just hear me thoughts.’”

Blanchard received a warm reception, and had an epiphany. “I was like, ‘Wow, you mean to tell me that I can get paid to just provide my knowledge and my expertise to people?’” 

Wanting more of the feeling he got sharing his experiences, Blanchard used that first paid speech as a launchpad for a speaking career.

Photo: Timothy Paul

He believes that he has found success in world of oration because “when I speak, I’m not trying to tell everyone all about my accolades.” Instead, he talks “about those hard times that [I] went through, because everybody can identity with obstacles.”

By connecting audiences to his struggles, Blanchard said that he becomes “so relatable, and people just want to receive you, and when they understand that ‘My life isn’t that bad’ or ‘If he can do it, I can do it,’ that gives people what they need to push forward.” 

One of the things Blanchard speaks about in all of his talks is the importance of having mentors. He credits those that have mentored him with his present success. 

“Every time I want to do something, I find a mentor, I ask them for some type of system or some template, I see that template, and I go beyond whatever that template is to get the outcome I want to have.”

According to Blanchard, “mentors are everywhere.”

He has a simple system for recruiting them.

“You find whatever area you want to grow in, or whatever area you want to learn about, you see who’s doing the best in that field, who’s making noise in that field, and who do you aspire to be. And then what you do is not just reach out to them and say, ‘Hey can you help me?” but you reach out to them and say, “Hey how can I help you? As a matter of fact, I have a few ways here that I think I can, but if you have some additional ways let me know, and I’d love to assist you, because I’m so inspired by your work.’ When you serve, that’s how you get a mentor without a problem.”

Blanchard has had educational mentors, fashion mentors, and even writing mentors — in fact, his writing mentor helped him to self-publish a book. 

Because of his own efforts to be a mentor, Blanchard found himself in the press, lauded for “adopting a young person and changing their life around.” 

Thanks to all of the publicity, “a book company, a large book company, called me, and asked me to write a book … I didn’t really like the deal that they were giving me, but they sparked the idea.”

However, he found having an idea for a book to be easier than writing one. For almost five years, he worked on it, but got nowhere.

That is, until he found the right mentor: a woman who became the co-writer of his self-published book, How ‘Bout That For A Crack Baby.

His new mentor sat him down, and he dictated the book to her, just like Malcolm X did with Alex Haley. After she fine-tuned it, Blanchard had his book. 

Photo: Timothy Paul

Now he wants to take what he learned in the process of self-publishing his work, and use that to mentor others.

This month, Blanchard will launch his own publishing company, Lions Dream Publishing, and has already signed his first author.

He promises that his company will be different than the New York behemoth he rejected in key ways.

“A lot of times when you go through a publishing company, you’re on their time.” Authors are one of many on a list, are subjected to a months-long editing process; there are galley meetings and marketing calls. It can take a long time for an author’s book to see the light of day.

Not with Lion’s Dream, according to Blanchard. “You can have a book that’s 330 pages and put it out within 10 months, or a book that’s 150 pages and put it out in four, five months.”

And it’s not just speed that Lion’s Dream promises, but training. Blanchard told us that he will teach all of his authors to be excellent public speakers capable of promoting their books through speaking engagements.

Although Blanchard will be busy with his new company, he plans to continue traveling around the country speaking.

He sees his book and his publishing company as extensions of the message he delivers through his speeches, and hopes that from his life and work, people can take away three things.

“One is: I want people to believe in themselves. Two: I want them to be inspired to act. And three: I want them to execute whatever they are inspired to act upon.”