Skip to Main Navigation | Skip to Content
University of Central Missouri
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Contact: Mike Greife
WARRENSBURG, MO (Oct. 27, 2008) – Christopher Gardner - author, entrepreneur and philanthropist - will share his story of conquering seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve his life goals as the keynote speaker for the 2009 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Scholarship Dinner Tuesday, Jan. 20.
Life Story Inspiration for "The Pursuit of Happyness"
Gardner is best known for his autobiography, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which was the inspiration for the 2006 Columbia Pictures movie of the same name starring Will Smith in the role of Gardner. Smith received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actor Guild nominations for his performance, and Gardner was an associate producer on the film.
Raising Funds for Freedom Scholarship Program
The annual event is the highlight of UCM’s 2009 Dr. Martin King, Jr. Celebration and the key fundraising event for the Freedom Scholarships, which are presented annually to high school seniors from Kansas City metropolitan school districts and Johnson County, Mo.
Learning from Life
Born in Milwaukee, Gardner never knew his father and was raised by his single mother, surviving a childhood marked by poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse and family illiteracy. Gardner acknowledges his mother’s strength and determination in providing him with the “spiritual genetics” that allowed him to chart whatever path he wanted in life and attain whatever goals he set for himself.
Career Change Brings Challenges
Following his service in the U.S. Navy right out of high school, Gardner moved to San Francisco and worked as a medical research associate for a scientific medical supply distributor. With the birth of his son, Christopher Gardner, Jr., in 1981, he became determined to find a career that would be lucrative and fulfilling. Fascinated by finance, but without and college degree or an MBA, he earned a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program. When he could not make ends meet on the meager trainee’s salary, he found himself homeless with a son to raise. With the departure of his wife, Gardner was determined to retain custody of his son, remembering his own childhood and the absence of his father. That struggle tested his will and determination to survive.
Personal and Professional Triumph
Gardner later became one of Bear Stearns and Co.’s top earners. He founded the Gardner Rich brokerage firm from his home in Chicago in $10,000 in personal capital. The company now has expanded into Christopher Gardner International Holdings with business interests abroad.
Dedicated to Well-Being of Children
Dedicated to the well-being of children through positive parental involvement, Gardner is a board member of the National Fatherhood Initiative and received the group’s Father of the Year Award in 2002. He serves on the board of the National Education Foundation and sponsors two annual awards, the National Education Association’s National Educational Support Personnel Award and the American Federation of Teachers’ Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel Award (PSRP). He also serves on the board of the International Rescue Committee, which provides access to safety, sanctuary and sustainable change for millions of people whose lives have been shattered by violence and oppression.
Gardner still is committed to the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, where he and his son received assistance in the early 1980s. He has helped fund a project that creates low-income housing and opportunities for employment in the notoriously poor Tenderloin area of the city.
Recognized for Achievements
Gardner also has been honored by the NAACP Image Awards program with awards both for the book and movie versions of “The Pursuit of Happyness”; Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women’s 2006 Humanitarian Award; The Continental Africa Chapter of Commerce’s 2006 Friends of Africa Award; The Glaucoma Foundation’s Kitty Carlisle Hart Lifetime Achievement Award; the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association; and by Covenant House, Common Ground and other organizations committed to combating violence against women, homelessness, financial illiteracy and vision diseases, all issue of importance to Gardner.
A Message for Future Leaders
“We’re exciting about being able to bring Mr. Gardner to UCM for the Freedom Scholarship Dinner,” said Jesus “Sonny” Castro, UCM’s associate vice president and chief diversity officer. “His message is one that fits perfectly with the purpose of the Freedom Scholarship program – helping young people achieve their full potential through hard work, initiative and strength of character.”
Tickets for the Freedom Scholarship will be available Dec. 1. Corporate and individual table sponsorships are available by contacting Dale Carder with UCM’s Office of Corporate Relations at 660-543-4475. Proceeds will fund the continuation of the Freedom Scholarship program..