Landis Graden of DCG Strategies: “Your past is not your future”

Your past is not your future. I wasted years thinking I would live down to my father’s example until I learned that I had a choice to be different. As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Landis Graden. Landis Graden is President, […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Your past is not your future. I wasted years thinking I would live down to my father’s example until I learned that I had a choice to be different.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Landis Graden.

Landis Graden is President, CEO and Founder of DCG Strategies, Inc. (A registered and certified Benefit Corporation.) DCG’s mission is unique in that it focuses exclusively on providing real estate consulting and development solutions for community-benefit organizations such as faith-based entities, public-school districts and non-profits.

He is also called to interrupt the school to prison pipeline and as such he helped co-found and is a board member of United Tech Cities, a non-profit focused on preparing underrepresented and marginalized minority youth for careers in the tech sector.

Landis’ calling to write was born out of a desire to use his story, anecdotes and experience to help people.

There are lessons in his survival, re-education and ultimate triumph and what better way to encourage and inspire others than to provide a real-life example of what lays on the other side of embracing vulnerability as a tool to usher in a mantle of wholeness.

Graden says his #1 ministry is as a father to his son and daughter, which often brings with it the title of a basketball coach. He is active in his ministry Kingdom Builders Christian Fellowship in Oakland, CA. He received a BS from the University of San Francisco, an MBA from Holy Names University and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Divinity from Claremont School of Theology.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My childhood was complicated. On the one hand, I had this young beautiful, enterprising nurturing mother who was a “family first” type of mother/wife. She was intelligent and drop-dead gorgeous. On the other hand, I had this dysfunctional, absent, abusive and distant father. He was a career Navy man and was always overseas. When dad wasn’t home everything was peaceful, loving and safe. When he was home, life was hard. He drank, beat my mother and was basically emotionally and verbally abusive to me when he was disappointed, which was all the time. Through it all, I was a great student, a great athlete, had lots of friends and otherwise lived a dual life. One as a happy-go-lucky kid. One as a protector, deflector and survivor. I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, spent my elementary school and most of junior high school in San Diego and High School back in the bay area.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

As a young child, I would read the World Book encyclopedias daily. They inspired me to think about the entire world and everything in it as a playground. I used those books as an escape to take me away from the tense, trauma-filled environment at home. Although I loved reading, learning about the world made me feel like I could accomplish anything.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

A few years ago, my team and I were competing for a contract. Our team aced the interview, and I knew we were the best team for the job. Unfortunately, they hired an old friend from another company instead. Although I truly wanted to win their business over, I knew the competitors’ prior relationship trumped our interview. A few months later, my organization was invited back to compete for another project. Although, reluctant and unenthusiastic to prepare for another interview that could potentially go to another old friend again. I decided to take the interview, and my team and I spent several weeks preparing. After preparing for two weeks, I decided this would potentially be a waste of time. So, I called the project manager in hopes to cancel the interview and give them a piece of my mind. After several failed attempts, missed calls and voicemails, I decided to continue the interview without canceling mainly due to the fact I couldn’t reach the person in charge to opt-out.

Well, we showed up ready and prepared to kill the interview knowing we weren’t going to win because of politics. When it was our time to go into the room, I saw the woman I had been trying to reach a couple of days earlier. She gave me this huge smile and said “Hi Landis, I’m so glad you and your team are back. We were very impressed with your last interview but we hired the person that we’ve been working with for years. As fate would have it, he retired and will not be competing for this project”.

Well, we won the account. Not only that, the project we won turned out to be a mega-contract. My lesson was to always remember what is for me is for me and to show up ready to win no matter the odds.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Men, especially Black men often struggle with being vulnerable. Not only that, many times it’s hard to shed the shame of past mistakes and failures we’ve had. So over time, we accumulate all of this emotional weight. Sometimes it’s so heavy it stagnates us. I want to free us from that bondage. My book is intended to give men and women permission to forgive themselves and others, in order to move forward in ways that harness the best future. To connect or reconnect with our purpose and destiny, while recognizing that the life we’ve lived both good and bad is a symphony of experiences that we can use to thrive.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

My first visit to the White House is one of the most interesting stories told in this novel. I was invited as a VIP guest of the White House during Obama’s term, and while I’m there I’m overwhelmed with insecurities. I felt like I didn’t belong and there was only a matter of time before someone realized a mistake was made. At the time, I did not realize that was imposter syndrome but knew something was not right.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

One day I was watching my son sleep and was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I thought “what if he finds my closet where I hide all my junk?” It was at that moment I knew I needed to heal and tell my story.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Several male friends who are leaders and publicly visible in their own right wanted to privately talk about their infidelity. They didn’t know how to free and forgive themselves. They were trapped in codependent dysfunctional relationships. All chose to heal. A few found ways to save their relationships and others divorced but committed to thriving.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1 — Stop promoting and marketing brands as perfect. It’s impossible for anyone to honestly live up to

2 — Normalize mental and emotional health in mainstream media. .

3 — Be public about issues they had to overcome, which makes it easy for others to process their own issues. No one is perfect. We need more imperfection on display, in order for others to know being imperfect is normal.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leaders should help make others better. We should be lifting others up to pursue their purpose or in friendly competition with others, which essentially promotes growth for all parties. Overall, leaders should always leave people better off than they started.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 — Your past is not your future. I wasted years thinking I would live down to my father’s example until I learned that I had a choice to be different.

2 — No matter how tough it gets, keep grinding. I would get knocked down, and throw in the towel. It hindered my ability to accomplish anything, due to my reactions being based off emotion. A few years ago, a seasoned executive — that worked for me — told me off in a meeting. We were dealing with a tense situation and I was coming apart. He looked at me and said, “Landis you need to develop rigor”. I grew from that moment.

3 — Failure isn’t final, it’s feedback. Due to suffering from Imposter Syndrome for many years, I took things going wrong as permanent. Although I’ve grown to be resilient, I learned the hard way. Had someone like my dad taught me to take setbacks in stride, I would’ve saved a lot of time and pain

4 — Love yourself before you try to love someone else. I didn’t develop my love, intimacy and empathy muscles until later in life. I spent too much time seeking validation than learning how to love myself first.

5 — Pursue purpose over passion. Had I known to seek out my purpose, I would’ve saved a lot of heartache as a result of running around chasing my passions. I had too many toxic people in my life who were not good for me. They filled superficial or otherwise spontaneous needs I thought I had, and fed my need for validation. Once my purpose became my true passion, the people that I began to surround myself around moved me to higher heights, and together we focused on future destinies.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The longest day comes to an end”. Something my mom said all the time. I think it’s an Irish proverb. It reminds me that no matter how tough things get there’s always tomorrow, and tomorrow is a brand new day to live.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Denzel Washington, because I know he has great life advice. He’s a man of faith and wisdom.

How can our readers further follow your work online?



This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    “Why you should go outside to nature.”With Dr. William Seeds & KJ Landis

    by Dr. William Seeds

    Isabel Wang and Margot Bellon of ‘Bridging Tech’: “ Stay focused”

    by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.