Introduction to Michael A. Folkes:
"The Foundation means a lot to me. It is going to help me to use the computer and develop my skills. The Foundation is helping me to learn more about helping others – each one teach one. My attitude and behavior will change, and I will become a better person. I love this Foundation because it is helping my school to be the best school in the country."
Initial meetings with Michael Folkes are beyond impressive; they’re life-altering. People are instantly drawn to him as an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a CEO and a personality. They study the courteous demeanor, the crisp appearance, the astute decision-making, the savvy business sense, the concise speech and the laser-like focus––and then automatically assume that Michael was always thus, born and raised from Day One to become immensely successful.
They would be wrong. Michael’s life began In Friendship, Jamaica, in 1968, where his poverty-stricken mother, who was unable to care for him, handed him off at age four to his paternal grandparents. Michael’s grandfather Melbourne was a farmer, a loving yet strict guardian who taught the importance of discipline, honor, integrity, hard work, forgiveness and faith in God to a little boy who adored him.
By age 15 Michael returned to live with his mother, where he frequently experienced neglect and abuse. Michael recalls many days when all he had to eat was a slice of bread, a cup of milk and the mangoes that grew wild on nearby trees. At Donald Quarrie Secondary School he would often wander away from his friends at lunchtime so he wouldn’t be embarrassed by his rumbling stomach. He would then sit, staring at the ocean, weeping with hunger, praying to God and dreaming of a better life.
He seized control at age 18 when he enrolled in catering school, then secured a wait staff position at a nearby mansion/bar/restaurant and learned that impeccable service to customers equaled not only job security, but also terrific tips. He later joined a cruise line, where he provided the same level of over-the-top service. He eventually found his way to New York to live with a relative, but entered a dark time––unemployment, two failed marriages with ensuing death threats from one ex-wife’s family, homelessness which included living in his car, and being flat-broke.
How did he rally? By creating a business plan for a 3rd party logistics, pallet manufacturing/value-add Company, and approaching the global logistics manager of a well-known Fortune 500 company. After a difficult selection qualifying process, Michael was accepted, and in April, 1997, the M.A. Folkes Co., Inc., became a reality. At first, eighteen-hour workdays were commonplace, but Michael was never one to plead exhaustion, let alone give up. What fueled him was the certainty of his mission and a refusal to be bogged down by bitterness.
He still loves the land which he calls “perhaps the most beautiful country in the world,” still takes care of close family members, including his mother, still treats everyone he meets with kindness and respect, and still pays tribute to the now deceased grandfather who shares the name of his Foundation. At Mount Waddy Primary School in Friendship, Jamaica, Michael is making certain that children will receive the help they need from the Foundation which understands the magic of everyone’s childhood dream.
Coleen Armstrong, Freelance Editor