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Former CEO 7-Eleven & Blockbuster Was Poor Kid Who Rose Up: "Education Is Freedom"

The Debbie Nigro Show

Release Date: 12/12/2023

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 James (Jim) Keyes, former CEO of 7-Eleven and Blockbuster has written a book titled "Education is Freedom."

Jim passionately believes in the transformative power of education and its role in overcoming adversity and achieving success and candidly shares his own story about how education helped him rise out of poverty.

It’s a powerful book about why you need to learn as much as you can on this planet because nobody can take away what you learn, and what you understand.

Jim says, in many respects, knowledge is the only true wealth that we all have while on this earth. You can turn that knowledge into material benefits and enjoy a life of however you want it to go or help others however you want to help them. But the choice is yours. The simple truth is that education provides more options. Everybody should have access to those choices and to the freedom that comes with it. No matter what stage of life you’re at, everybody has a chance to change it up and still get whatever is in their heart, with the right knowledge. 

Jim's life journey was surely not simple. As a kid he grew up poor in a factory town with no running water. His mom left his dad when he was five lured by another man who lived large in a trailer park. His dad who he adored, passed when he was 12 and he had to go live with his mom and her abusive boyfriend, who he literally feared would kill him when he was sleeping.

It was a faraway visit one day to his uncle’s house that changed things for Jim. There he spotted what looked like a huge library of books that excited him. It was only a couple of shelves. But his uncle, a teacher, with running water who took trips to see the world, seemed to have it all - and those books symbolized success and sparked Jim’s lifelong love for learning. 

Jim shared, “Literally, we grew up with no running water, right? And a pump outside the house and an outhouse and the whole thing.  Kids have a hard time relating to that kind of poverty today. It's very different and very challenging, but the common theme is that adversity of any type, whatever you grow up with, it's a challenge. You can grow up in a very wealthy family with a totally dysfunctional environment and that adversity can actually make you stronger if you look at it that way and give you an advantage and cause you to turn to things like education as a way to escape your reality, whatever it is, poverty or abuse or whatever. Education can be that path to a better life.”

I was always amused that I had a friendship with a globally powerful guy like Jim Keyes that just kind of stuck all these years. I realized after reading his book, it was because of a crazy book thing I did myself. I held my ‘Working Mom on the Run’ book tour back a thousand years ago at 7-Elevens. Totally crazy idea I had that hey went for. I had important knowledge I wanted to share with the moms of America and I chose 7 Eleven as my vehicle.  

7 Eleven was then pitching fresh food to busy Moms on the go for the very first time and I knew I’d find an audience for my book of busy moms running in and out of their stores. I was right. I got a kick out of the fact that Jim thought the book tour was a riot and was honored he personally congratulated me on its huge success. I guess I thought I must have just stuck out in his head for being out of the box. Over the years I’d occasionally reach out to say hello and he was always quick to connect back. I never realized until I read his book, that Jim was such a passionate education guy, was so much about knowledge, so much about books, so much about curiosity and taking shots. Obviously, I resonated with him because of that. And now I am thrilled to be able to help him promote his book, "Education Is Freedom".

Getting people's attention for an important subject, to educate them about anything is really Jim’s thing, and he’s taken great pains to share his story and I think his message is very loud.

The more you learn, the more you can do at pretty much every stage in life. Whatever your journey is, there's more to it, as long as you keep feeding your mind and understanding that you can control the next act.

He said it so well in his book.

 ‘I’ll quote Jefferson in saying that the fundamental basis of a working democracy is an educated populace. It's a critical time right now, and my message to the world, to individuals first, is education is important. It's your lifeblood. And to society, we've got to focus on education collectively and to help everyone succeed to make this world a better place.

“I've wanted to write this book forever. But right now, it's so critically important. We're hearing every time you turn on the news you hear you know teachers being you know challenged for what they're teaching, and universities are under sort of attack right now. They're right in the crosshairs of a lot of cultural war issues and for a whole host of reasons the concern with The United States is falling behind the rest of the world in college graduations. Our individuals in school are falling behind and not even graduating from high school. A shocking number of students don't even graduate from high school. And where does that leave us if you dial forward 20 or 30 years? Where does that leave us individually if we're one of those kids, or where does it leave society if we have so many people that are not equipped to go forward?

Jim thinks a big part of the answer is going to be technology. The ability to harness AI and be able to modify the way we teach to the way people learn. Today there's really no excuse not to find a way to learn with the technology that's available. And he wants corporations to step up.

Jim said, “My challenge to my peers in the corporate world is step up especially with the availability of technology to invest in the technologies that can be then brought to the education process and allow everyone to benefit from it. The ultimate beneficiary being the corporation with an educated workforce coming up. Their investment isn't a gift, it's not charity. I think they can look at it as a return on investment which is what I'm encouraging.”

Enjoy the podcast of this live warm conversation with Jim Keyes author of ‘Education is Freedom’ on The Debbie Nigro Show.