Television Talk Show Host, LaMont Graves
Philadelphia native Lamont Graves is a reality television show host, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He created the television show, Everyday Heroes, to showcase people who have embraced the ideology of paying it forward. People have given to them and they have made the choice to give to others. Everyday Heroes allows Graves to spread his message of hope and giving back to millions of people across the country.
His determination to showcase others who do good has paid off in many ways. Although only six episodes of the show aired on Comcast Television Network's CN8, the show recently received two Emmys and has been nominated for three others. That is an unprecedented amount of recognition for a reality series and proved the point that reality television can be a dynamic tool for change.
As a child, Graves endured nights on park benches and days trying to navigate tough schools. He promised himself that if he were to become successful in his life that he would give back to others in various ways. After being laid off from a job as a mental health therapist for The Developmental Center for Autistic Children, Graves was able to convince McGettigan Corporate Planning Services in Philadelphia to give him a job. Working in their planning department for five years gave him an in-depth understanding of the meeting planning business. After leaving McGettigan he moved to South Florida where he launched OnSite Meeting Management. He's owned the meeting and event planning business for more than 19 years.
Holding true to his promise, he began supporting their south Florida community through Thanksgiving and Christmas giveaways. Soon, he was spreading his joy throughout the country. Five years ago he began his mission in earnest as he serviced more than 800 families in five cities. Since that time, he has continued to give to people in cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.
Beginning in the winter of 2006, Graves and a team of writers and producers talked about the creation of a show that would put a positive spin on the reality television genre. During discussions, it became obvious that the show should reflect his life's mission. He believed it would be fitting to tell the stories of others who overcame odds and in return gave back to their communities.
After a year of pitching the show to various interested networks, the first episode of the show aired in the spring of 2008. Appropriately enough, the debut episode focused on Graves' story of beating the odds to achieve success. Other shows focused attention on issues ranging from adoption through child abuse.
It can often feel a little cliché and insincere to hear some talk of giving back. LaMont Graves however is an inspiring example of what it means to truly give from the bottom of your heart and when it takes everything and costs a lot. Always in search of the silver lining, LaMont Graves is truly an Everyday Hero...
DR: Tell me about winning two Emmy Awards.
LG: Yes. I just picked up two Emmys. I started a television show called Everyday Heroes. We have aired about six or seven episodes...
It all started because I had borrowed $15,000 dollars from a friend. Before I could pay him back, which took me a year and half, he passed away. When he died it bothered me so much that I did not get a chance to pay him back and that ignited my passion for giving back.
I was trying to figure out what I could do with the $15,000 and I came up with this idea that I would go to our community church. We went out and bought Toys 'R Us gift cards and gave them to the church to bless children and families for Christmas. The following year I wanted to do more and I wanted to get my children involved so we asked the church and the community outreach centers if they had families that were in need of Christmas gifts. After we identified families, my wife and my children and I took the families to Toys ‘R Us and bought toys for the families for Christmas.
By the third year we were reaching 800 families. We did a tour of Florida, Miami and Los Angeles and that is when somebody said that I was like Oprah with all of this gift giving. They suggested that I do a TV show. That's how we created Everyday Heroes. I have a producer friend and we pitched the show to a network and wound up getting picked up. And that was the beginning of us getting two statues.
DR: How are you feeling about all of that right now?
Everyday Heroes documents the triumph of the human spirit. Each week the show will highlight the efforts of people who go above and beyond to make their community better. They have survived the worse life has to offer and used it to jumpstart giving back to those in need. They are the nameless, faceless people who represent the best in all of us. During the episode, the profiled will receive a surprise to help them further their work or give them a chance to enjoy life. Host Lamont Graves takes you on a journey through their lives, giving you the details that make their stories special. In the end, you’ll be informed, engaged and ready to do good for your community. Their stories are your stories. They are our Every Day Heroes.
LG: I feel a sense of accomplishment. Prior to winning the Emmys I was really down about the TV show and I was wondering if I was doing the right thing.
On the show we find ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities. Then we chronicle their lives and at the end of the show we give them some kind of reveal like a celebrity coming on the show to meet them or some kind of personal gift that we hope will blow them away. It's kind of the same concept as Extreme Home.
It really bothers me that I turn on the TV and all I see is Snooky and The Situation on the Jersey Shore. These guys will be making 5 million dollars at the end of this year and I can't even get a "pay it forward" show on the air, and, I was willing to do it for free!
I spoke to my friend Vanessa Williams, the actress, and I was complaining to her after I won the Emmys (here I am complaining while I am still winning Emmys) and I told her that I was upset and that I was having a hard time pitching the show and yet, The Situation who adds no value to people's lives will be making all of this money. Vanessa summed it up by saying:
"Apparently you must be on the right path if you are holding two of "them" in your hand."
I do really feel a sense of accomplishment...
DR: So now what? Where would you like to see the show go from here?
LG: We are actually revamping the whole show. Because a lot of networks want entertainment, I am adopting the concept of the Montessori System.
The Montessori System is where children go and learn at their own pace and where they learn to play. I wanted to be a little bit more creative and play a little bit more. So our new program is called Celebrity Angels. What we are doing is tapping into celebrities and their foundations and we are going to give back through entertainment.
A lot of people look up to entertainers and so we can learn through entertainment to give back. I'd like for viewers to see entertainers giving back. So everybody is happy. The networks will be happy with the entertainment value and I can keep Everyday Heroes going as a result.
If Beyonce is giving back then Beyonce's followers want to give back...
DR: There seems to be such a climate right now of "I got mine, you get yours", with the accusations of Socialist behavior and making people wrong for expressing concern for their neighbor – would you anticipate that what you are doing is something that will be welcome in this seemingly hostile environment?
LG: I think it will. We are all in this together. We all have to help each other. There are so many resources and so much money out there. It's sad to see where all of the money is going but the thing is we can change lives.
I was just reading something that suggested that when we give we are much happier. And you don't have to give money only. You can give your time. You can go and read to someone who is shut in.
DR: I think that your show offers is a nice balance to some of the empty calories on television and also some of the negativity in politics.
LG: What I would like to see is corporate America getting involved. There are some corporations who are doing some really great and positive things that we don't hear about. In California for example, there is a pharmaceutical company that is providing healthcare weekends to provide care for people who cannot afford healthcare. There are companies out there that are helping and I think a show like ours would urge companies to get involved and show the viewers what they are doing to help the community.
We are not going to change the word but we sure can put a dent into helping people get by.
I want the show to be a platform to help more people and to get everybody involved in giving. There is just so much money out there. There is no reason that people should go without...
DR: Why is it so important to you to help people?
LG: I think it's because of my life experience. Growing up we were poor and my father was very abusive. He would put us out of the house in the middle of the night and we would sit up all night and fall asleep in the cold in the park and go to school directly from there. I just remember sitting on the park bench and thinking that if I were ever able to I would help others in need. That is why.
I know what it is like to be homeless and abused.
There are just so many people out there who just need an opportunity. We have this misconception that everybody is looking for a handout. People aren't looking for a handout. They are looking for the opportunity to be able to do for themselves. Part of the show is about providing opportunities for people and giving them a platform to succeed.
DR: What do you hope will be the ultimate contribution of Everyday Heroes?
LG: I would like to see more people giving back. Those who have the resources, and again, it's not all about money. We all have something that we can offer whether it's taking somebody shopping or taking someone to the doctor...
DR: Or I'll go so far as to say whether it's giving your seat to someone on the bus or subway...
LG: You are right. Holding the door open for someone.
I want the show to challenge people. Just on one day I want everybody to do just one kind thing. I wonder what that would be like. For one day if everybody did just one kind thing for someone else...
My grandmother used to say:
"How can you accept things with a closed fist? If your fist is closed and you are not willing to give up anything, how can you expect anyone to be able to give to you? "
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
LG: I want to be remembered as the guy who helped changed lives...
THE DREAMLINK FOUNDATION
Connecting people with their dreams is the simple premise behind the DreamLink Foundation. The Florida-based organization’s mission grew out of La’Mont Graves’s outreach projects at his local church. He began donating gifts to the church—including meals—for the less fortunate during the holiday season.
Three years ago, he decided to up the ante. Instead of just giving items directly to the church, he asked the church and its affiliated organizations to identify families who most deserved a helping hand.
So what started with 20 families mushroomed into 800 children receiving gift cards last Christmas. And by this time the giving stretched beyond Graves’s Pembroke Pines, Florida home base into four additional cities: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Dallas. Again, Graves happily covered the cost.
Now the DreamLink Foundation affords Graves a national platform from which to fulfill more dreams. With the aid of a seven-member advisory board as well as key corporate sponsors, Graves plans to widen his dream scope to not only include needy families but also at-risk high school students. He and his team are currently mapping out various concepts, ranging from educational initiatives and scholarships to reality “help” shows.
To connect people with their dreams and turn hope into action.