diversity and inclusive excellence month logoGive someone an opportunity and see what they do.

Clemson alums Javis Austin and Richie Parker live by this mantra, and they recently encouraged Clemson students to do the same. But it’s not just about giving someone an opportunity; it’s also about preparing yourself for an opportunity, expecting one and then making the most of it.

An opportunity is just that — a chance to show what you can do. And the underlying theme of their talk was make it count.

Their talk — titled “Outside the Box: Redefining the Diversity Label” — was part of early events for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Month, which is happening in October. Be sure to check out the full schedule of events and pick one you want to attend. Continue reading to learn about Austin’s and Parker’s inspiring stories of overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles.

Javis Austin’s story

In storage at his mother’s house is a box of letters. Well wishes from people all over the world who heard about his suicide attempt and wanted him to feel loved. Hundreds and hundreds of them.

Clemson Alum and former football player Javis Austin

Javis Austin

Javis Austin was a student and football player at Clemson when he attempted to take his own life with a pistol. Right after the gun went off, Austin stood up, looked around, realized it wasn’t his time and called EMS. Then he waited for them on the front porch.

He lost his right eye and the majority of his vision in the other. But he was alive.

It was an opportunity. A chance for him to change course. And he did.

Now, Austin — who graduated from Clemson with a degree in marketing — works at a staffing agency in Houston, Texas. Along the way he has been a special education teacher’s assistant, a motivational speaker and a football coach.

“You have opposition in pretty much everything that you do,” Austin said. “For me, it’s another hill to climb — mountain, whatever. I don’t let that stop me. Get my boots on, backpack and climb that mountain and get over it somehow, someway.”

When it comes to adversity and obstacles and challenges; you can’t be afraid.

“I don’t have time to sit around and think about whether someone’s focused on my skin color,” he said. “When an individual believes that they are better than another individual or judges that person based on the color of their skin, at that very moment they become less of a person in my book.”

Richie Parker’s story

Every single person deals with challenges. Richie Parker is no different.

Clemson alum and Hendrick Motorsports engineer speaks at a Clemson University event.

Richie Parker
Image Credit: Clemson University

He might have been born with no arms, but that hasn’t stopped him from modifying and restoring cars with his dad, driving those cars, going to college, working in NASCAR and getting his MBA.

A mechanical engineering graduate from Clemson, Parker had an opportunity for a 10-week internship at NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports. That turned into a several-week extension, which turned into a full-time job.

“They asked me what I needed, and I said put a keyboard and mouse on the floor, and I’m good to go,” he said.

That internship didn’t come with a guarantee of a full-time job. But it was an opportunity. And 10 years later, he’s still there and recently started working on his MBA at Clemson.

“I feel like it’s one of the points in my life that I need a new challenge,” he said. “Always create new goals. I don’t like when my life becomes stagnant.”

And life has never been stagnant for Parker. When he wanted to ride a bike with the kids in the neighborhood, he and his dad built him a bike. When he wanted to learn to drive, they bought a 1964 Chevy Impala SS and partnered with a company called Drive Master to develop a system that allowed Parker to drive the car on his own by steering with his feet.

Parker may have to think through things that “normal” people take for granted (like how to eat or use a computer keyboard), but his life is no different.

“When I walk in the door, people only see my skin color and that I have no arms. But when you get down to it, we’re all just people. I’m just Richie.”

Check out a full schedule of events during Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Month.