Updated: Feb 13
Born to EDUCATE. Born to SERVE. Born to MENTOR. My father, Willard John Vital de Grandpré was a great man. His humility, empathy and service to others made him great. He was a Human Rights Giant, Community Servant and Family Man. He epitomized diversity and inclusiveness and was passionate about understanding people's roots, indigenous culture and socio-economic trajectories. He was not wealthy; yet content and rich with resources. He had a loving circle of family and friends and was an influencer who took an active role in improving the lives of others around him, always.
I endeavor to honor my father's legacy of servant leadership by sharing this story with the world. It is my intent to inspire others so that they will be proud of their roots and be inspired to live full and purposeful lives.
About the time President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, a young slave girl, Charlotte Dubuclet (given names), fell in love with and married a free mulatto man by the name of Carlos Vital de Grandpré. She was born in Africa (believed to be Senegal-Gambia region) and he was born in Havana, Cuba as reported to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1870 by their son, Charles Carlos Vital de Grandpré II. Charlotte was owned by and lived with the families: Darby/Dubuclet/Dauterive, on a plantation in St. Martinsville, LA. It is believed that Carlos, her spouse, may have migrated there to work as a sugar-cane cutter and carpenter.
The Vital de Grandpré's had a family of four children who all lived on the St. Martinsville, LA plantation: Rosalie, born in 1807; Charles Carlos II in 1810; Pierre Ulger in 1812; and Edward in circa 1816.
Unfortunately, the children were “not free born” because their mother, Charlotte, was a slave. Instead, their father, Carlos Vital de Grandpré, paid the owners $400.00 for the freedom of each one of their children which totaled $1,600 back in the early 1800s. In 1846, Charlotte must have been considered “a good and faithful servant” since she was manumitted (freed) by her owners who also gave her a donation of some neighboring property acreage at the same time. *
My father, Willard John Vital de Grandpré, is a direct descendant of Charles Carlos Vital de Grandpré II (son of Carlos and Charlotte Vital de Grandpré) who married Melanie Benoit about 1844. On July 23, 1813, Carlos Vital de Grandpré, a free mulatto, purchased his 2 1/2-year-old son, Charles Carlos II Vital de Grandpré, for the price of $400 from Claire Dubuclet.
The Arrival of Willard John Vital de Grandpré
On July 23, 1938, one hundred and twenty-five years (125) later to the date, my father, Willard John Vital Grandpré, was born to Dorsey Vital de Grandpré and Eva Bertrand in Welsh, LA and the African Diaspora smiled 😘. He had 8 siblings and was raised in a large loving family consisting of 4 sisters and four brothers.
Hence, Willard John Vital de Grandpré was born to EDUCATE, born to SERVE, and born to MENTOR. He was the first in his family to have the opportunity to attend college and was recruited to attend a Historically Black College & University, Jarvis Christian College, under the “Fundamental Education” program. He was the first in his family to attend college and always remembers the first “family day” when his parents and some of his siblings visited him at Jarvis, and then returned when he graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Integrated Social Sciences. He considered his time at Jarvis to be “some of the happiest days in his life".
Post College, Willard taught school in Welsh before attending training in New Mexico for a planned stint in Brazil with the Peace Corp. Although he did not serve in Brazil, he started learning Portuguese in preparation for the trip. Willard furthered his education in his field and successfully obtained the Master in Social Work from the University of Houston in 1976 and became a licensed Social Worker after receiving his Certification in Social Work. His political aspirations motivated him to run for Texas State Representative in the early 80s.
Willard had a passion for family, people, service, human rights and helping the poor. He stayed active in a number of community service organizations such as the National Black Social Workers Association, The Black Heritage Society, The Knights of Peter Claver and volunteered his time to feed the homeless and help others for over 5 decades. Accordingly, he was presented with the Good Samaritan Award in September 2007 by the St. Vincent de Paul Society for giving of his time, talent and treasures to console and care for the sick, poor and abandoned in the Houston community.
He was the founding President of the Black Heritage Society – worked in this capacity as President of the Board to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a commemorative annual MLK Parade, along with a statue in MacGregor Park (1978-2021). He worked alongside, his friend, Mr. Ovide Duncantell, to start the movement of naming streets after MLK across the United States.
My beloved father, Willard John Vital, LMSW, passed on March 24, 2021, at the age of 82. When he passed, the City of Houston called me to present a proclamation from Mayor Sylvester Turner to proclaim, March 24th as "Willard John Vital Day", I was truly humbled. My father never spoke of his accomplishments, he was always focused on helping others and making an impact. He would have lunch with me near City Hall often when I worked downtown and never spoke of his involvement in these movements that impacted the lives and trajectories of many.
My siblings and I were honored when Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee presented a proclamation for the legacy and mark that Willard John Vital left on this world and named April 10th as Mr. Willard John Vital's Day as well.
What is my learning in all of this?
1. It's extremely imperative that we know our personal brand roots.
It is important that we dig deep as we journey to know ourselves better before rushing to project an image that is only ‘successful’ (externally speaking), but not to ourselves.
2. Have a vision for your life and focus on defining your own success.
Be sure to track your personal milestones and have a strong support network of leaders and people around you who constantly push you out of your comfort zone.
Success really should be about working on purpose and clearly understanding the difference between being a "success" vs being "successful" as a route to achieving complete self-actualization and personal rebirth.
I discovered “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins & Jerry Porras over a decade ago. I immediately was magnetized by the 'Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal (BHAG)' concept and put it into immediate practice across company projects at Shell and Brand Rebirth. I even created a dual Rebirth U masterclass series entitled “Prevision Portrait + Prevision 7.0”.
I have always known that innovation, ideation, thinking differently and strategy were personal strengths, but I assumed that they came as a result of educational and global travel experiences.
After my father's passing, I endured the difficult task of cleaning out his house and particularly his bookcase. I found a ray of hope when I discovered that my daddy had actually read the same “Built to Last” book that I had many years prior.
It was in that moment, that I realized that much of my innovative spirit came from him, a licensed medical social worker and human rights activist. He always pushed me to think differently, think for myself and advocate for others and I am grateful
3. Fight for freedom and justice- always.
For my dad, this was literal as he grew up in a segregated society in the south and learned about the world by listening to NPR (radio) and reading a lot. He had an electic circle of people from all walks of life: African-American, West Indian (Carribbean), African, Indian, White, Pakistani, Kenyan, Venezuelan, Honduran, Mexican etc.
He supported political causes that did not personally benefit himself and housed a community resident with mental challenges for over 15 years until his passing. He rode to Zacatecas, Mexico with his neighbor to pick up horses and also allowed the neighbor's children to do homework at his house when they did not have wi-fi internet access.
He always encouraged me to take a stand, and to support a cause that aligns with social and financial progress. My mother felt the same and still rallies around causes that uplift the disenfranchised. He encouraged me to "think differently" and when I discovered that this was my WHY, I felt validated.
Today, my fight is focused on helping people aquire and maintain psychological freedom which affects their overall wellbeing and ultimately builds their personal brand.
My daddy and I were extremely close and spoke a lot, rode bikes together, painted together and celebrated life together. Strengths Coaching (including Well-being), WHY Coaching, Personal Brand Leadership Coaching and Training + Development (Teams) brings me closer to him as he was a major contributor to my brand DNA.
My coaching also allows me to make an impact and life transformation for others and carry on my father's legacy of helping others. I encourage others to dig deep, discover and live your WHY, and transform your talents into strengths.
Remember to love and honor God, your parents, your elders, your ancestors and people who have helped to transform your life and remember to do the same and pay it forward in your authentic way. This is what I am learning to do more and more each day. 🥰
Tanika Vital-Pringle, Global MBA, runs Brand Rebirth, a boutique leadership development and brand strategy agency that helps emerging leaders improve professional self-care and strengthen leadership impact. She is a WHY Institute and Gallup-Certified Strengths Executive Coach [Strengths = IDEATION | BELIEF | CONNECTEDNESS | WOO | STRATEGIC] and Chief Brand Strategist. Clients are coached to discover their WHY, aim their Clifton Strengths and build iconic personal brands.