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'A Chance in the World'

Jacquinn Williams | 1/24/2012, 6:57 p.m.
WCVB-TV’s Karen Holmes Ward (l) with Joan Wallace-Benjamin, president and CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers, and...
WCVB-TV’s Karen Holmes Ward (l) with Joan Wallace-Benjamin, president and CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers, and author of “A Chance in the World” Steve Pemberton at last Thursday’s book signing and reception. WCVB-TV in Needham and Broadway Gourmet hosted about 200 people at the event, which raised more than $13,000 for The Home for Little Wanderers. John Rich

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WCVB-TV’s Karen Holmes Ward (l) with Joan Wallace-Benjamin, president and CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers, and author of “A Chance in the World” Steve Pemberton at last Thursday’s book signing and reception. WCVB-TV in Needham and Broadway Gourmet hosted about 200 people at the event, which raised more than $13,000 for The Home for Little Wanderers.

“I’m surprised at how courageous people think I am,” said Steve Pemberton, author of “A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home.”

Pemberton grew up in foster care and chronicled his search for his biological family in his book. A universal story of faith and perseverance, “A Chance in the World” is as inspirational as it is painful.

Hundreds of people recently gathered in WCVB-TV’s Channel 5 studio in Needham for his book launch and fundraiser for The Home for Little Wanderers. The event was hosted by Karen Holmes Ward.

“The book started with innocent questions from my children,” Pemberton explained. “They asked me when my parents would come and visit like their mother’s parents visit. I tried to give them a quick answer and move on.”

But, the questions tugged at Pemberton and forced him to look a little deeper into his past.

“I had this vision that my biological family would be a cross between ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Cosby show,’ ” shared Pemberton.

He found his family, but it wasn’t what he expected.

“I didn’t expect the coldness,” he said. “They completely shut down the prodigal son image. I was crushed. Neither one of my parents are alive. I did find out that my mother’s white and that I was a twin. All of my other siblings are white.”

The book took about a year for Pemberton to complete. Through interviewing family members and revisiting his case file, Pemberton was able to piece together his journey through the foster care system.

He found out that his father was the golden boy of the family before he was murdered at the age of 26. At the time of his death, his father was the top amateur fighter in the country.

His mother had five children including Pemberton and all but one ended up in foster care.  

Just a few pages into the book, Pemberton describes scars on his body that he doesn’t remember getting. But, he’s sure that the scars tell a violent story.

“This process wasn’t as cathartic as some might think,” he said. “I had to relive painful memories. But, the writing itself was much easier than the years before it.”

Despite his rough start, Pemberton has built a great life for himself. He is now the divisional vice president and chief diversity officer for Walgreens. Prior to working at Walgreens, he was chief diversity officer and vice president of diversity and inclusion at Monster.com.

 “What was I going to do?” he asked. “Repeat the cycle? I did not create or ask for my past. I inherited it. So, I decided to build something greater. That’s what I want to be measured by.”

He’s married with three children whom he adores and sits on the board for The Home for Little Wanderers. The Home is a nonprofit child and family service agency with 21 programs that now serves about 8,000 children.

Whether Pemberton thinks he’s courageous is not really the point. There are people who were a part of the system who may benefit from his story.

“Every one of us has a story to tell,” he said. “None of us have cornered the market on pain. Through this, I’ve learned to smile more and cry less because you never know who is hungry for your story or your smile.”