"I'm never going to move!" Slowly but defiantly a 12-year-old boy's tongue struggled to bring forth the words, as peers looked on in bafflement and mocked his speech impediment.
Out of ridicule and poverty came an uncontrollable desire to not only bring financial prosperity to the family of a boy who once stuttered but would also transform Detroit, one house at a time.
"Growing up dirt poor, I was motivated to make money," explained Herbert Strather, president and CEO of Strather Associates. "I made a commitment at 12 that I was never going to move out of the city. I promised myself that as soon as I graduated from Western High School, I would buy my mother a house."
What started as a childhood fantasy began to take fruition.
At 17, Strather made good on his promise and purchased a home on Cherrylawn on Detroit's northwest side, marking the start of a one man crusade to rebuild a city that was still recovering from riots and economic depression.
Strather's turning point came shortly afterward with the purchase of a two-family flat on Euclid and Dexter.
"He wanted $1,000, and I would assume the mortgage. I went to the bank and took out a $2,500 second mortgage on the house, but I couldn't fund it. I had to wait three days," said Strather. "I gave him (the seller) a $1,000 check and told him to hold it for three days. He trusted me with his deed, and I gave it to the bank. Once the bank gives a second mortgage, there's a rescission period for three days. You have three days to cancel it. I borrowed $2,500, gave him $1,000, made $1,500 and bought a house. From that point on I would always find a way to buy property and take cash out of it."
The formula Strather used to acquire property without investing money is outlined in the soon to be released book, "Getting Rich Is Easy." In it, he tells how he massed millions in real estate deals.
"I hope readers will gain financial independence," says Strather. "That's my primary interest. The first edition will be released in Detroit. Later, I may release a second edition nationwide."
While Strather's commitment to revitalizing the city is told in "Getting Rich Is Easy," it can especially be seen on Detroit's northwest side with the construction of strip malls built on three corners of Grand River and Greenfield, an apartment complex on Meyers off McNichols, dozens of homes and other projects that have expanded to other urban areas in Highland Park, Ecorse, and St. Louis, Missouri.
"Most of my real estate is in northwest Detroit. You should buy and invest in real estate where you live, work, play, and go to church," advises Strather. "If you're a west sider, why would you want to buy on the east side? You'll find out how important it is when you've got to meet somebody and you're pressed for time. If I go to my mother's house or to Hartford Church, I can ride by it (my property) and check it out. I don't walk inside, but I make sure it's still there. I can do that because it's in the path where I live, work, and play."
"Over the years, I've had a lot of projects. In 1978, we did 13 deals that totaled $25 million worth of property and never invested any money. We owned anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the property."
Daily reflecting on his childhood proclamation, Strather actively seeks to help area youth and others to fulfill their dreams.
Over 1,300 students have attended the HJS Real Estate Academy since its founding five years ago, banking on Strather's wisdom.
"I tell my students you've got to learn math real good. You've got to learn it quick. If not, somebody will cheat you out of your money. That's rule number one. My goal is to share my knowledge with young people and make entrepreneurs."
Despite being busy with acquiring new deals and lecturing at prestigious Ivy League universities across the country, Strather still makes time to assist those that he values the most, fellow Detroiters. He is a loyal supporter of the Optimist Youth Foundation and started the Strather Foundation to further his interests.
On February 15, he will share his insight at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History during a special symposium taking place from 7 P.M. to 9 P.M. "Getting Rich Is Easy" will also be unveiled during the free public event.
Honoring a commitment he once struggled to utter at 12, Strather occasionally revisits his old neighborhood. Longtime residents marvel at the change has not only made financially but to the city.
"I won't move," he boldly exclaims, this time with no pausing between the words. "I have a great love for the City of Detroit. I believe a person should be committed to something. What keeps me here is the commitment I made when I was 12 years old that I wasn't ever going to leave. And, I'm going to keep that commitment come sunshine or come storm.