“When I was in grade school, I had to read books four times over to retain the information,” said entrepreneur Daymond John. “Sometimes I even spelled my own name wrong.” John struggled in school not due to a lack of intelligence, but because he learned differently.

Today, the industry pioneer has risen from struggle and adversity to build a billion dollar fashion company, FUBU, and gaining national fame on the hit ABC TV show “Shark Tank.” Just like when he was a kid, he is living — and thriving — with dyslexia, a learning disability that affects more than 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Overcoming obstacles

Growing up in Queens, New York, schools didn’t have the resources or the knowledge they have today about learning disabilities like dyslexia. When he would get sub-par grades in English but excel in math and science, his parents and teachers simply thought he was a weak reader, he said. He hadn’t discovered that he processed information differently until he reached adulthood, when texting and social media started booming and close friends noticed his repetitive misspelling.

He has paired with Yale University to spearhead a campaign to raise awareness about dyslexia and the various available resources that can assist those affected in furthering both their academic and professional development. Making it his life’s mission to ensure that no child’s self-esteem is negatively impacted, as his was during his youth, John aims to inspire others with dyslexia to accept themselves for who they are, empowering them to thrive.

Motivating others

“Kids and teens in inner-city schools, like where I had grown up, can easily get involved with the wrong crowd when they’re not confident,” John explained. Many with learning disabilities who do not have the appropriate resources available to them become vulnerable to that influence.

“If we save one, two or 10 kids from being in the streets and making bad decisions, and they grow up to be great contributors to the world, then I’ve done my job,” John said. Already using his experience to make a positive impact, John’s daughter is currently attending college, despite also been diagnosed with dyslexia.

Through his work, which extends to motivational speaking and other TV appearances, he wants to inspire others with dyslexia to accept themselves for who they are.

“I can’t say this was a challenge,” he said, “because how did I get here?” 

“You can’t look at dyslexia as a disability,” he continued, “just as a different way of processing information. Self-esteem is the only thing that is going to make you say, ‘I can do this.’”

Video Credit: Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity