RYSE Magazine: Saved by Grace

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What started as seemingly a typical Monday during Lucas Daniel Boyce’s internship at the White House in spring 2002 quickly became a life-changing moment he’d remember forever.

A photo opportunity presented itself for Boyce, then 22, to meet then President George W. Bush on the south lawn. They chatted briefly and Boyce posed in the group photo. He thought things couldn’t get any better. But they did.

As Boyce began to walk away, he heard the President’s voice call him back for a personal photo.

“I do the brother thing, and pulled him in for a hug and shook his hand.” Boyce recalls.

There’s nothing that could top that experience, Boyce thought.

The next day at work, Boyce’s boss, Ed Moy, told Boyce that he made a real impression on the President the day before.

“Hearing this, I hot scared because I thought I did something wrong,” Boyce says. “It turns out, President Bush called my boss over after a meeting in the Oval Office to ask about me. He wanted to know my story, and the president asked him, “Well, what can we do for him? Let’s bring him onboard.”

When hard work, opportunity and determination meet with grace, anything can happen, says Boyce, who served as Executive Assistant to the Counselor to the Vice President, Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Public Liaison, and Associate Director of the Office of Political Affairs at the White House.

His promotions at the White House led to his current executive role as Director of Community Relations, Multicultural Insights and Government Affairs for the Orlando Magic.

Now only 32 years old, Boyce was barely 29 when hired to an executive position with the Orlando Magic. He was chosen as one of 10 Outstanding Young Americans by the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), as a Community Ambassador for the McDonald’s McCafe program, and serves on numerous boards. Boyce is also an accomplished author, speaker and businessman.

But Boyce’s story began much humbler.

Born prematurely in Kansas City, Missouri, to a drug-and-alcohol addicted prostitute, Boyce could have easily become a statistic. That is, until he was sent to the loving home of foster care parent and later adoptive mom, Dorothy Boyce.

“I could have very easily had more disabilities or been severely handicapped as a result of my biological mother’s actions,” Boyce says. “But as Psalm 139 says, God covers us in our mother’s womb. I will never be able to repay God for his grace.”

A believer that everyone is built for something more and made in the image of God, Dorothy adopted 6 children, including Lucas. She had four of her own as well.

“That same scripture says that we are fearfully wonderfully made and my mom adopted a lot of different children who are all perfect in our own little way,” Boyce says.

His mother instilled this idea into Boyce when we was a child, especially when developmental delays caused him to struggle in school and flunk kindergarten. Dorothy shared with him her two keys of success, the first being that you can do anything you put your mind to, and but you have to believe it first.

“The best example I can use for this is boiling water. At 211 degrees, water is just hot. It’s only when it’s at 212 degrees that it becomes boiling water that can become steam, and steam can power a locomotive. It you’re willing to live life at 212 degrees, you can be successful,” Boyce says. “There are a lot of people who function at 180 degrees or maybe 200, but they’re not willing to turn up the heat and do whatever it takes to get the job done. My mother couldn’t guarantee success, but she could guarantee that the likelihood of success would increase greatly if I lived at a higher level.”

The second key was to remember who he was and who he represents.

“I make a lot of mistakes, but every time that I’ve followed mom’s two keys of success, even amidst stormy times, I have found the right path,” he says.

Growing up as a black child with a white mother was not easy, but Dorothy taught her children that though they may look different on the outside, they are the same inside. One of Boyce’s adopted brothers is Black, and his other siblings are White.

Dorothy welcomed all children in her home, and was especially open to children with special needs. One of Boyce’s sisters has Prader Willi Syndrome, and his brother passed away early in life after being born with spina bifida.

Dorothy encouraged all of her children to believe in their worth and pursue their dreams.

Growing up, Boyce loved playing basketball and idolized Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. He dreamed about working for the Chicago Bulls one day.

The day that the movie Air Force Once came out, Boyce was in the front row of the theater. He didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he made it a goal to fly abroad the real Air Force One.

After Boyce graduated valedictorian of his high school, Dorothy asked him what he wanted to do. Fascinated by politics and leadership, Boyce confided in her of his goals to work in the White House.

Little did he know that he’d achieve all those dreams before the age of 30.

Lucas Boyce’s personal experiences of growing up as a black child of a white mother in Missouri have taught him a lot about race and culture. Growing up with 10 other siblings, some with special needs, plus mission trips to Mexico and Kenya have taught him about compassion and humanity.

His mother tells a story of an occasion in which she was teaching Boyce about the parts of the body when he was 14 months old, “She showed me her eyes and my eyes and taught me the word, ‘eyes,’ and continued with my nose, lips and so on,” Boyce says. “At one point during that lesson I took her hand and compared it to mine, noticing the difference. I started to hit myself and say, ‘Bad! Bad!’ It was then that my mother really started to teach us that we were built for something more, no matter our color.”

The first time Boyce heard the N-word, he was in Iowa at a nursing home visiting his grandmother for the first time.

“I was about 9 and these old women, who had clearly grown up in another time, said, ‘Look at that little N- kid,’” Boyce recalls.

Mean children on the school bus would call his mother a whore because they didn’t understand his big family nor adoption.

His second encounter with racism came in junior high when he was visiting a friend. They were walking to a store to get some snacks when a big truck drove by.

“I heard the driver yell, ‘You better get your N-ass out of town!’” Boyce remembers. “The driver started to spin around to come back, and we took off running in a field to lose him.”

When Boyce was ready to be baptized, his uncle refused to baptize him because he was black. Later, he faced opposition from parents of girls he wanted to date in high school.

“I got good grades and was the captain of the basketball team and all, but I was black, and that’s all they saw,” Boyce says.

Boyce has also experienced cultural struggles related to his identity and what it means to be black.

“I still wonder to this day who my real father is,” Boyce says. “It’s difficult, especially around Father’s Day. I keep wondering who he is and if I look like him.”

He feels the pressure to represent his race well, and has been told he’s not black enough.

“I didn’t grow up going to black churches, and I’ve been told that I don’t talk ‘Black.’ I don’t know what that means, but I do know that you have to speak professionally in order to be successful, respected and taken seriously,” he says.

One ah-ha moment happened when Boyce was shopping for suits at All Tied Up Boutique in Orlando.

“I’ve never had a real black role model in my life, and I was talking to the owner one day about dating and he told me casually, ‘If a girl doesn’t like you because you’re short, bump her. You are a perfect person the way you are,’” Boyce says. “I almost teared up, because in 32 years of life, I had never had another black man tell me that I was good enough. It was like going to church and I stayed there for about 40 minutes.”

Following high school, Boyce took some time to travel to Mexico and Kenya on missionary trips before enrolling in political science and speech communication courses at the University of Central Missouri.

Family friends and mentors, John and Lori Perry, allowed Boyce to stay with them during his studies. As  a college political science major, Boyce was required to participate in internships, and told Lori that most of his fellow students were seeking opportunities at the state capitol.

“But Lori kept reminding me that it was a dream to work in the White House and she encourage me to research opportunities at the White House,” Boyce says.

About four months following 9/11, Boyce was notified that he was one of 100 interns selected for a White House internship from a large pool of applications.

“I was so excited, and thought that this was the way that I could mark off working at the White House from my list of goals,” he says.

But after that chance meeting with President Bush, Boyce ended up serving at the White House for almost five years.

The typical White House staffer stays at the White House for 14 months.

“You never know who is watching, and who is going to be in the position to help you where you want to go,” Boyce says. “Our reputation is our resume. If I hadn’t arrived to my internship early in the mornings or stayed lake working 16-hour days, would I have been chosen for the photo opportunity? Putting myself in the right position and working hard made the likelihood of being selected for the opportunity that much greater.”

Education is very important to Boyce, and at the conclusion of his internship, he returned to college and finished early in order to work on President Bush’s re-election campaign.

After President Bush won the re-election, Boyce went to the White House and worked for the former counselor to the Vice President in the communications office. Though the experience was fulfilling, the pay made it difficult to live in an expensive city.

“I had to begin paying back my student loans and credit card bills, and was put into a position in which I had accomplished my dream, but now had to walk away because I couldn’t sustain it,” Boyce says.

Boyce’s time away from the White House didn’t last long, Six months later, he was put in charge of African American Outreach and Professional Sports Outreach.

During a trip to New Orleans around the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Boyce learned that there might be a chance to ride in Air Force One on the way back. Ordinarily, Boyce would have flown commercial but the lead White House staffer on the trip, Jason Recher, had something else in mind.

“Deputy Director of Advance John Meyer was gracious enough to give up his seat for me so I could fly back on Air Force One,” Boyce says.

A few months later, Boyce was promoted at the White House to oversee a region of the county all the way from Missouri to California.

“I had never expected to fly on Air Force One again, but due to my job, I had the blessing of flying with President Bush on Air Force One,” Boyce says.

Boyce was grateful to realize his dreams of working at the White and flying aboard Air Force One. A visit from an Orlando Magic executive put him on the path to making his third dream a reality.

At the end of President Bush’s term, Boyce was exploring options for transition, and was preparing for the LSAT. But another opportunity presented itself. This time, Boyce was asked to provide a West Wing tour for Joel Glass, Vice President of Communications for the Orlando Magic.

After the tour, Boyce and Glass kept in touch, and eventually Boyce participated in a phone interview. Though there wasn’t a right opening at the time, they stayed in contact.

About eight months later, Boyce received an email from the Orlando Magic about a new position focused on multicultural insights, diversity and government affairs. Boyce was elated. Three months later, he was in Orlando, and on his way to fulfilling his third dream-working for an NBA team.

Boyce’s position leverages his experiences supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives, community empowerment, influencing policy and managing relationships with government officials.

Recently Boyce’s department at the Magic coordinated a meeting for senior White House officials to discuss the economy. Last year, the team worked with the Department of Homeland Security for the first ever naturalization ceremony on court at half time during a Magic game.

Though Boyce rarely has a “typical” day, he arises at 5:30a.m. and his morning worship followed by a little studying and arrived to work between 7 and 7:30a.m. By 9a.m., he’s engaged in a series of meetings.

Right now, his department is working on political brief for the Magic’s senior leadership. At the same time, the team is working on a summer nutrition program for underprivileged kids. They are also planning activities for Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall and the Magic’s Thanksgiving service for the Coalition of the Homeless.

He does lots fo research, business and strategic planning and conference calls. Peppered throughout the week are speaking engagements and appointments with his mentees. The evening hours are filled with meetings for board commitments like the Orange County Library System or the Central Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, plus appearances at any number of community events. During the basketball season, he leaves work at 6p.m. and heads straight to Amway Center.

At the encouragement of Orlando Magic co-founder, Pat Williams, Boyce wrote a book about his life called Living Proof: From Foster Care to the White House and the NBA. Ten percent of all of his book sales and any speaking fees go toward the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, which grants funds to non-profit organizations serving children in the focus areas of health and wellness, education and the arts throughout Central Florida.

“Our foundation helps kids who grew up the way that I did. Last year, the foundation was able to grant out $1 million, and I’m trying to help support its mission.” Boyce says. “There wouldn’t be a book without the Magic, and without people like Joel Glass, Alex Martins, our president, and the person who specifically hired me, Linda Landman Gonzales, our VP of community relations and government affairs.”

Through his company, Lucas Boyce Holdings Inc., Boyce travels across the nation for community organizations, churches, and corporations alike. Since March 2010, Boyce has spoken to more than 10,000 people. As of January 2011, he’s donated more than $12,000 worth of free speeches.

He recently spoke at the sports award banquet for Pace Brantley School, a private school for children with disabilities. “I shared my story about growing up with learning disabilities,” he says. “I struggled in the beginning, but I didn’t let it define me. What defined in the beginning, but I didn’t let it define me. What defined me was hard work.” He also keynoted the National Urban League’s annual Black Executive Exchange Program (BEEP) conference that took place in Orlando a few weeks ago and traveled to New Orleans as a community ambassador on behalf of McDonald’s McCafe Men project. The project highlights African American men who are trying to make a difference in their community.

Helping your people is a very important passion of Boyce’s. He mentors a fatherless boy and several young professionals. Through the Take Stock in Children program at Valencia Community College, Boyce mentors a 17 year-old youth named Cristian.

The program provides mentorships and scholarship opportunities for low-income, at risk children.

“We interview the kids when they are in sixth grade, and if they keep their grades up, they receive a scholarship to college,” Boyce explains.

One sixth grader who was interviewed this year has a 4.0 GPA despite the fact that her mother is in prison. When asked why she wanted to be accepted to the program, the girl told Boyce that she didn’t want to end up like her mother.

“This girl was maybe 12 years old, and already she knew that she was built for something more,” Boyce says. “God’s grace is amazing.

Boyce is sometimes told how lucky he is for achieving so much at a young age.

“When people tell me I’m lucky because so much had gone right in my life, I tell them that no, it’s God’s grace that lifted me when so much went wrong,” he says. Boyce is no stranger to failure, but credits God, his family and mentors for helping him succeed.

“Flunking kindergarten was a painful experience and so was having to leave the White House because of financial reasons,” Boyce says. “I do slip and fall; I’m not perfect. But you shouldn’t live in fear of failure. It doesn’t matter if you fall, it matters that you get up. Want to win more than you are afraid to fail.’

He credits his mother as being his first mentor and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alfonso Jackson; Lori Perry; President Bush; and Orlando Magic’s Pat Williams and others as being great influences on his life.

“Alfonso grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and he’s march across bridges,” Boyce says. “He has

[bite] marks from  dogs on his legs. He told me, ‘Lucas, if you could look up, you can get up.'”

“Everything I have done is because of God’s grace, and I am responsible to my Heavenly Father. My mission on this earth is to point men to God. One way I can do this is by sharing my story and helping others.”

What’s next for Boyce” For one thing, he is focused on completing his MBA at Rollins College. He also wants to pay off his student loans, buy a home and become debt-free. He also wants to have a family one day.

“I don’t want to be defined by having to go for the next goal,” he says. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without God. We can plan, but at the end of the day, if we are committed to him he orders our steps. We need God’s grace to make it through. We achieve not by out strength, nor our ability, but that which God had given.”


–Ashley Cisneros
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit www.ashleycisneros.com. You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.

About the Author:

Ashley Cisneros Mejia is a journalist, entrepreneur and marketer. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later as an editor at Florida Trend business magazine. Ashley has worked as a professional freelance writer since 2009, as a technical writer, marketing manager, and public relations practitioner. She also founded two digital marketing agencies in Orlando. Named one of Orlando’s 40 Under 40 and honored by the Women’s Executive Council of Orlando for achievements in media and communications, Ashley earned a B.S. in Journalism and an M.S. in Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida.

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