David Johnson probably shouldn’t be an NBA prospect. He’s 25 years old, ancient for a possible rookie, and stands all of 5’10”. His college career lasted 10 games. He’s a junior-high counselor and the coach of a middle-school basketball team, has two kids and no professional agent. But he does have Jessica Raumer.
His girlfriend and the mother of their two children, Raumer single-handedly put Johnson on the NBA map over the last year. She made videos for YouTube featuring his 42-inch vertical, wrote his résumé and doggedly called general managers. The hard work paid off: Johnson got a tryout with the Sacramento Kings last year, a big feature in the Times last week, and it looks like he’ll get another shot at a summer league team in a few months. Even if he does not make an NBA squad, he is likely to make six figures playing overseas this year. Not bad for a guy who never got fully recruited by a major college powerhouse.
It’s an updated version of the great American Dream story: an unmarried, interracial couple raising two kids, chasing a long shot, fueled by hard work and hope. But there is something else for us to take away from David Johnson and Jessica Raumer—the power of angels.
I think of angels as mentors on steroids. They are the people who can make something happen for you, open doors that should be closed. They’re the people who give you the big break—often proactively pushing you toward that next opportunity instead of the other way around.
President Obama had Oprah. John Legend had his "cousin" Kanye. Apple's Steve Jobs had Mike Markkula. Finding angels isn’t always easy and having the courage to take their help may be even harder. You’re vulnerable in that role, exposed. But isn’t that when most good things happen?
One of my lasting regrets is turning down money from one of the nation’s top venture capitalists when I was starting my education company. I was worried that he wouldn’t trust the three black kids he was funding—me and my two co-founders—and that we’d be pushed out. So I turned him down, and in the process turned down everything else he might have done for me later on.
Eventually I found my angel, and it’s not who you would expect. A white Republican woman in her early 60s, all hair and pearls. Not exactly what I see in the mirror. But I had a feeling she could help me—remembering that first phone call reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink—and I was right.
In this era of uncertainty, when nearly 1 in 5 adults is unemployed or underemployed, we need more than mentors to get over the hump. We need angels. Your angels may not be your best friend or your cousin, your boss or your professor. But they can change your life.
Just ask David Johnson.
Carlos Watson is an anchor at MSNBC.