In ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’

Abby Laner

Man behind bestselling book, hit movie speaks at Stark campus, encourages change

Christopher Gardner speaks to a packed house at Kent State Stark Campus’s Grand Timken Hall last night. Gardner’s life was the basis for the new movie The Pursuit of Happyness. LESLIE CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

Happiness has a different definition depending on who you ask, but for Christopher Gardner happiness has always been one thing — providing for his family.

The author of “Pursuit of Happyness” and entrepreneur spoke last night to a group of about 1,000 to 1,100 people at the Kent State Stark campus.

Gardner delighted guests with his compelling story of faith, family and a hard work ethic.

“I want people to learn to break the cycle,” he said. “I broke the cycle of men who are not there for their children.”

Gardner, who went through a series of unforeseen circumstances, ended up on the streets of San Francisco with his toddler son in the 1980s.

“I was just a man taking care of my son. That was my baby,” he said. “I did everything from cut grass, cleaning basements, hauled trash … anything to take care of my family.”

All the hard work eventually paid off for Gardner who is now the owner and CEO of his own company, Gardner Rich & Company. He said he attributes his hard work ethic to his mother who offered him endless support throughout the years.

“My mother would look at me when I was a 5-year-old boy impersonating Miles Davis and say, ‘Baby, you gonna make millions someday, I know you will,'” he said.

His life has been turned into a film, starring Academy Award-winning actor Will Smith. The film, which has been at the top of the box office for the last several weeks, portrays the hardships Gardner faced on the streets of San Francisco.

“Everything you see in that movie was approved by me, even down to the details in the clothes that Will wore. Those bell-bottom jeans, Adidas shoes covered in paint and an old jacket is what I actually wore into interviews at brokerage companies,” he said.

Gardner said the producers used $70 million to recreate his life. In his attempt to continually help homeless people, he and the film producers paid actual homeless people on the streets $500 to appear as themselves in the film.

“The most touching thing that happened during the filming of the movie was when an actual homeless couple who was hired for the part in the movie came to me and told me the money they received helped them make their financial goal to put a down payment on a home,” he said.

Gardner still devotes his time, energy and monetary support to charitable organizations across the United States. He is an active member in the Cara Program and the National Fatherhood Initiative. He is also starting a charitable organization in South Africa to educate more people about the social issues involving homelessness.

The movie was filmed after Gardner wrote his book titled “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The book is currently at its eighth week at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List.

“The film and movie have done so well because it is a love story between a father and child and a dream that wouldn’t quit,” Gardner said.

Cynthia Williams, public relations coordinator at the Stark campus, said the event was booked before the publicity of the movie and book started.

“This is the biggest turnout we have ever had, and, unfortunately, we even had to turn people away because of fire hazards,” Williams said. “We knew it was going to be a big turnout, but this is amazing. We have people in overflow rooms and standing in the hallway watching the speaker.”

Michelle Limle, resident hall director for Stopher and Johnson halls, attended the event with fellow hall director Julie Jackson.

“This is one of the best speakers I have seen in a long time. I saw the movie recently, so to see the story behind it was truly inspiring,” Limle said.

Gardner left the audience with some powerful last words regarding life struggles and a strong work ethic.

“Be a constant change in the cycle: for your family, your community, your country and your world,” he said.

Contact regional campuses reporter Abby Laner at [email protected].