This morning, in the aftermath of a national election that was both disappointing and encouraging, I am reminded of the power of persistence and faith.
Twenty-two years ago, in 1996, I had just sold the company that I and my two co-founders had spent the past twelve years building. Ours was a journey that required tremendous persistence, faith, focus, and talent, but even with all that, our ultimate success would not have been possible without the perseverance of our forbears. In that moment of triumph, I wanted to do something that would explicitly recognize the contributions of my parents who, in the face of hardships and racial bias, still persisted and made opportunities available to me and my siblings. I decided to fund a scholarship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that would recognize engineering students who embodied my parents’ values of determination in the face of adversity, faith, hard work, and education. Two of my heroes and mentors at the University, Assistant Dean Anne Monterio and Professor Leo McAfee, encouraged me to endow a “full ride” scholarship that would carry with it the honor and prestige it deserved. Thus was born, on October 17, 1996, the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan.
I still tear up when I remember the luncheon at which we unveiled the scholarship. My mother was there, as was my dear Uncle Bill (Hayden) and the pastor from our church in Flint, the Reverend Braxton V. Burgess. I spoke briefly to honor my parents and to explain the rationale for the scholarship, and then it was time for my mother to speak. She could barely finish her remarks, as she was overcome with emotion and began to cry. Reverend Burgess and I each held one of her arms to support her as she continued to speak. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Fast-forward seven years. I watched from my home in New Jersey as the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship was awarded to a brilliant engineering student from Detroit, Garlin Glichrist. I couldn’t make the award ceremony, but my brother Fred, his wife Pat, and my mother did. We were all proud to award the scholarship to such a talented student who seemed to embody the values that my parents held dear. We felt that he was destined for success, but we had no idea of the impact he would ultimately have.
Garlin graduated with a masters degree in engineering from U-M. He worked for Microsoft Corporation in Seattle before realizing that his calling was public service, not corporate software development. He moved to Washington DC, ultimately holding a key position with MoveOn.org. Then he moved home to Detroit to take a position in city government. That is when I began to see the possibilities for Garlin’s future taking shape.
In 2017, Garlin ran for and lost the race for city clerk in Detroit. The loss was disheartening to Garlin, but it also fueled his re-engagement with his home community and supercharged his passion for public service. This year he was tapped by Gretchen Whitmer to run for Lieutenant Governor on her ticket, and last night they won easily. If Garlin had not demonstrated courage and faith in his career choices, he would not be Lieutenant Governor-Elect this morning. If he had not persisted after losing the race for Detroit City Clerk, he would not have been available to help Gretchen Whitmer win the election.
All of this brings me back to the power of persistence and faith. If my parents had not persisted in the face of tremendous adversity, I would not have been able, in the wake of the civil-rights era, to build a valuable engineering company. If I had not built such a company, I wouldn’t have had the resources to endow a scholarship at University of Michigan that would support Garlin Gilchrist at a critical time in his professional development. Had Garlin not demonstrated the faith of his convictions and dedicated his considerable talents to public service, he would not have been standing on the stage, victorious, with Gretchen Whitmer last night.
We in this region, this state, this country will not get to the “more perfect union” we strive for in one giant leap. Faith, persistence, hard work, talent – the values of my parents and probably yours, too – will get us there, one step at a time.
Congratulations Gretchen and Garlin. Serve well.
November 7, 2018
Note 1: This story proves the power of persistence and the value of supporting young talent. I strongly encourage everyone with the means to support talented students, especially students of color, at the University of Michigan who want to be a positive force in their communities. If you wish to contribute to continue to build the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship Fund, please contact George Dendrinos at the University, email@example.com, (734) 647-7113, and state your intentions. Feel free to copy me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish.
Note 2: I was with Assistant Dean Anne Monterio and Professor Leo McAfee this past summer on the occasion of Anne’s 80th birthday celebration in Las Vegas. They are the heroes and mentors who helped me greatly when I was a student at University of Michigan, and who years later were instrumental in the establishment of the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship Endowment.
David Tarver is a faculty member at the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship, founder and President of the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative, author of Proving Ground: A Memoir, and an adviser and member at SpaceLab Detroit. He is a highly successful technology business executive with an incredible entrepreneurial journey.