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The Real Richie Mills

A well-written book by Albert and Comfort Ocran titled Speak Like a Pro, explained, “the passport to enter the world of public speaking (or blogging in this case) is not eloquence or knowledge, but credibility.” It went on to say that one must earn the right to speak to an issue by virtue of something they have discovered, experienced or studied that might be of interest to the audience.

I quickly looked at the description for Rich Honesty which reads: “…a blog that shares the experiences of a young Ghanaian-born writer whose work ethic and passion to inspire others was spurred by adversity, challenges and circumstances beyond his control….” I think I’m on the right track.

Usually, people like me who have a passion to inspire and mentor others don’t just wake up one day and decide that’s something they want to do. Most of the time, those people have overcome many challenges that should have kept them down or prevented them from being where they currently are/want to be in life. When you’ve been through a tough situation and overcome, it builds character and makes you yearn for more success. It also gives you a disdain for mediocrity. I have learned to channel that dislike for mediocrity into something positive by pushing others to take advantage of opportunities and to do their best. A few things I have learned about this mentality are that some people are offended by it because it seems like you want them to become like you. Others don’t respond well to it, and a few actually appreciate it and yearn for more. Those that yearn for that accountability are those that have inspired me to start a blog like this. Those people also keep me accountable because I can’t allow them to see me be average. If I’m going to push them to be the best, I have to be the best even in tough times. This same mentality is why I am the biggest Kobe Bryant fan. Put his personal life to the side (no one is perfect), when he is on the court playing basketball, he gives you his all. Those who can’t keep up with his drive and his “no-excuse mentality (Dwight Howard) can’t play with him. The sign of a great leader is someone who can identify the different ways others respond to feedback.  

So what experiences have given me this mentality? I’m nowhere near where I want to be in life, but I believe where I am today is a blessing. If I have overcome the two things that I believe have shaped who I am today, then I truly think I can overcome anything this world throws at me.

What situations shaped who I am today?    

  1. The struggles I overcame as a teen immigrating to a completely different culture and having to make up the years I spent outside of the United States.
  2. The struggles I overcome everyday living with Sickle Cell Anemia.

Let me explain both of these reasons:

I was born in Ghana, West Africa, and I didn’t immigrate to the U.S. until I was a teen. The tough part about moving to the U.S. was that I was on a path to success in Ghana. I went to the best schools and had built a network that I could lean on. My mom is a high court judge in Ghana and there was nothing I didn’t have. Life was beyond great, and life is always good when I go back to visit her. The negative about living in Ghana was that the medical system was not conducive to someone like me who has Sickle Cell Anemia. Not just the medical system, but the presence of Malaria was not good for my immune system. Immigrating to the U.S. meant I had to give up my life in Ghana to start all over in a foreign land, but the positive was that I was moving to a country where Malaria isn’t an issue and the medical field is leaps and bounds better. I was essentially picking great medical care over a comfortable life. The reason this decision was a no-brainer was that I wasn’t really giving up the “good life,” heck, I was immigrating to the United States of America-- the land of opportunity. I could live a better life in America, but the key now was that I couldn’t lean on mom’s success. I now had to pave my own way and work a little harder to be successful. I had to do it in an uncomfortable environment.

I would go to bed many nights and just cry. But I would always remind myself (after I ran out of tears) that I was in America to seek better medical care in my fight against Sickle Cell Anemia.

I was lonely, frustrated and angry because everyone at school wanted to ask me about Africa and wanted to know if we slept in trees and had pet lions. The African jokes didn’t stop. The outgoing little boy inside me just wanted to be back in Ghana where life was comfortable. But in my heart, I knew I had a mission to accomplish. If you want to be successful, you have to go through some uncomfortable times.

I could sit around, pout and sing, “I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me…” or I could get to work, figure this American culture out and catch up. There was no turning back.

My mom called me every day from Ghana to remind me that my peers born in the U.S. naturally have an advantage over me because they’ve been here longer. They didn’t have to worry about adjusting or didn’t have to go through what I was experiencing. She was right.

The key to being successful as an immigrant is to work harder than those around you. The opportunities will come. You have to realize that the race started long before you got here, so you can’t take breaks. You can’t have pit stops like everyone else. And that mentality is why I have adjusted and have fit in so well. I am not where I want to be, but I have given myself an opportunity to be successful in an America that isn’t always kind to foreigners. 

Sickle Cell Anemia: The other obstacle that I faced and continue to face is Sickle Cell Anemia. A disorder that actually gives me every right to just be average and go with whatever life throws at me. But I’m too competitive and hungry to allow some disorder to stop me from being great. I was born with a form of Sickle Cell disorder known as Beta Thalassemia. Sickle Cell is a blood disorder that reduces the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells throughout the body.

The worst part about having Sickle Cell is that your red blood cells take on a crescent shape and will often get trapped in your joints and cause the most excruciating pain ever. If you don’t have sickle cell, you will NEVER be able to imagine the kind of pain Sickle Cell patients live with on a regular basis. I encourage you to read more about the disorder to better understand it. The condition is very prevalent amongst African-Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent. My dad is half Lebanese, so it was no surprise that his bloodline carried the disorder.

Only those close to me know that I have this disease, and the reason is because I promised myself growing up that I would not use Sickle Cell as an excuse or a crutch. I have goals and aspirations, and I want to be able to accomplish all of those goals without a free pass or handout. It’s also difficult explaining Sickle Cell to someone because it’s not a well-known disorder in America. A lot of people will immediately treat you differently just because they don’t understand the disorder. 

When I have pain, I deal with it, and most of the time will still go to work even if it means taking my prescribed pain killers and going against the wishes of my doctors and loved ones asking me to stay home. I’ve almost forced myself to become immune to pain because like I said, moving to America as a teen means I have a lot of catching up to do. Using Sickle Cell as an excuse doesn’t help my efforts to overcome the challenges that come with immigrating to a different country at a tough age.

I can’t play my favorite sport (soccer) anymore, because the lack of oxygen to major organs is much more evident as I get older. Sickle cell has also shortened the blood supply to my right hip, and my doctor says being too active will only hasten the process for a hip replacement. I’m not ready for that. If you see me limping every now and then, you now know why.

Competitiveness drives me, and sometimes I think having Sickle Cell has protected me from myself. I just don’t know when to stop. Two years ago, I was hospitalized for three days because I (over)played soccer. You think I didn’t know what I was doing? I knew the entire time that I was putting myself in a terrible predicament, but my competitive nature is like an addiction. I’ve gotten better at accepting the things I cannot do. I’m getting better at accepting that even though I may be good at certain activities, I’m probably better off channeling that competitive nature into something that isn’t harmful for me-- something positive. Maybe I will start a blog called Rich Honesty.

So why is opening up about Sickle Cell Anemia and the obstacles I had to overcome in order to assimilate into a new culture important?

I believe having to live with Sickle Cell and having to work a little harder is a privilege. It is the root of my passion to inspire others. Every year, I am invited to talk and answer questions about Sickle Cell anemia for first-year medical students at the University of Oklahoma. My goal is to educate doctors on how Sickle Cell patients need to be treated and to make research of the disorder a priority.

I am here to inspire young adults and to use my experiences to tell you that, there’s nothing you can’t do. A little bit of hard work, dedication and passion is the formula you need to be successful. My work ethic, desire to be the best and my passion is fueled by the fact that I know I have overcome the difficult times (with many more to come). I can accomplish anything I want.

It kills me when I see young people get the same opportunities I had to work extra hard for only for them to throw those opportunities away. This is why mentorship has become a big part of my life. I want to encourage and push someone to chase their dreams. Don’t settle. Why be average with all the talent you have? Why be mediocre when you have an opportunity that many others wish they had?

A disease, disorder, a difficult childhood, the color of your skin, your gender, your age, having to assimilate into a different culture or anything else for that matter can’t stop you. The only obstacle to your success is yourself. We all want an easy way to the top. We want a handout, a short cut. But the key to success is to work hard and make no excuses. We all have things in our lives we cannot change, but we can’t use that as an excuse to hinder our success. It’s okay to experience some uncomfortable situations. They will only make you stronger. 

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