Unfiltered: Robert Shumake on Running the Race
Robert S. Shumake is the founder of Inheritance Investment Group, a real-estate investment and development firm.
More importantly, he is a runner. It is what kept him going as a teen; it still fuels him as an adult.
This Saturday, he will put on those running shoes again – to raise money for scholarships. Here is his story.
The great educator and social activist Benjamin Elijah Mays once said, “He who starts behind in the great race of life must forever remain behind or run faster than the man in front.” Coming of age in the Jim Crow South as the son of former slaves, Mays knew exactly what it meant to “start behind.” But he also knew that it was indeed possible to start behind and still come out a winner. He went on to graduate from college, earn a Ph.D., and even mentor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who urged all oppressed people not to concede the race, but to run faster, as it were.
Today, the City of Detroit is behind in many races. Most notably, our high school graduation rate is well below 50 percent (just 38 percent of Detroit's students graduate high school according to the study Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap, released last April). But with hard work, I truly believe that we can win this race. We can run faster. And literally running might be the answer. It was for me.
Growing up in Detroit, I saw a lot of kids go down the wrong path in life. Crime, drugs and a general lack of motivation took many of my friends out of the race for good. And that very well could have been me. Why wasn't it me? Well, among many other factors (including the amazing example my parents set for me), I credit organized sports for helping me avoid that detrimental path so many of my peers found themselves on.
At Edwin Denby High School, I was fortunate enough to find my way onto the track and field team. Just having something to do after school was a step in the right direction. And through the leadership of my coaches and the camaraderie of my teammates, I learned the value of setting goals and working hard to achieve them. Every day on that track, I was literally running for my life.
With time and practice, I became a strong competitor. I was All City in high school and went on to run in college. My success on the track taught me that with a little discipline and hard work, anything was possible.
Since my time as an athlete, I've worked hard to become what I am today – a successful entrepreneur and CEO of my own company, The Inheritance Capital Group. But just because I have “run faster,” in Mays' words, that doesn't mean the race is over. It is up to those of us who have found success to set an example for our kids. We can give them the tools to get back in the race, however behind the starting line they may be today.
To this end, I founded the Robert S. Shumake Scholarship Relays. Since its inception in 2005, it has grown into the largest private track and field competition in Michigan. But it is more than that. This race is my way of giving back to my community and helping young people achieve their dreams. It is unique among athletic competitions in that it highlights academic achievement right alongside athletic ability. In fact, you're just as likely to hear an athlete's GPA announced as they cross the finish line, as you are to hear their time.
Athletes at the Shumake Relays are given medals and trophies for doing well in the races, of course. But what makes this event so special is that we also recognize the top academic scholars on each team, and award scholarship money to students from participating schools.
Since 2005, we have awarded more than $30,000 in college scholarships to high school students in Southeast Michigan and around the nation. In fact, each high school student whose track and field team participates is eligible to apply for up to $2,500 in scholarship money.
There are many young people with athletic talent and academic skills who desire a college education but are unable to afford it. I really want to see these young people reach their full potential. This event has the power to encourage students to strive for a successful future and make college a reality for many of them.
Our 6th Annual Robert S. Shumake Relays event takes place this Saturday at Detroit's Renaissance High School. More than 2,000 people who believe in this city's potential will be in attendance. I urge anyone who thinks Detroit is dead to come to the race and see just how successful our kids can be if we just believe in them.
My success on the track inspired me to succeed in all aspects of my life. And I truly believe that I could not have gotten to where I am today without a solid foundation rooted in education and the core values I gained through athletics. Through teamwork, dedication, perseverance and discipline, we can inspire Detroit's youth to rise above their obstacles and succeed where many think they will fail.
Amid the overwhelming glut of press focusing on Detroit's shortfalls – our abandoned buildings, high dropout rate, skyrocketing unemployment and dwindling population – this weekend's race can show just how wrong so many people are about this city.
We do have kids who know the value of hard work. We do have students who graduate with honors and go on to college. We do have the tools to lift our youth up out of the ashes, and show them that no matter where they start the race, they don't have to remain forever behind. They can run faster. And they can – as I believe our great city can – come from behind and win this race in the end.
The meet will be held on Saturday at Renaissance High School's track located at 6565 W. Outer Drive, Detroit. Check in starts at 7:30 a.m. and the field events will start promptly at 8 a.m. For further information, please contact 248-443-0939.