Lifting one another up during difficult times

Editor’s note: Clearly, the coronavirus is testing everyone’s patience and resolve. Yet, amid the uncertainty, a resilient spirit thrives.

To provide a bit of a diversion from the news around us, we’ve asked our community contributors to share their personal stories of optimism during these troubling times.

Their stories will appear weekly. We hope you find them inspirational. We hope they provide you with some perspective. And we hope they remind you, as captured in some of their personal stories, that we are all in this together.

‘Our humble beginnings’

When this terrible pandemic began, my husband, Colin, I and were shocked and scared like the rest of the world.

But our ability to persevere kicked in, and we quickly created a plan to keep our business moving forward because we are determined to never fail.

It was shaped by our rags-to-riches story.

We are immigrants from Georgetown, Guyana. Back then, most people in Guyana didn’t own televisions and if they had a TV, it was black-and-white, except for those people living in wealthy homes.

We only saw things like skates and skateboards if someone got them from a family member living in the United States.

We did have some standard plastic toys, but we substituted toys that our parents couldn’t afford with common yard items to make playtime fun. This contributed to the creativity and the outside-of-the-box approach we have toward life.

I would use leaves to substitute for money in pretend shopping play. The different color and shape leaves held different values. Discarded cans were made into kitchen cabinet bases to make my dollhouse come alive.

Colin also fashioned toys from old tires, sticks and rocks.

This creativity and imagination, our refusal to adopt the ‘oh-poor-us’ attitude, and the vision to see our glass as half-full rather than half-empty, no matter our circumstances, contributed to us being able to do what we are doing today – running our own business.

Those early lessons also helped us cope with the pandemic.

My husband and I met at a barbecue party in Guyana. Our story is one that is love at first sight.

He moved with his family to Washington, D.C., when he was 10 years old, and he began learning about construction. By age 27, he became a general contractor. Back in Guyana, I was dreaming of becoming a business owner.

I came to the United States in 2006, and while Colin did the cooking and housework to ease my workload, I acquired my bachelor’s degree in business administration.

The deal was if I got a “B” in a course, I would have to cook.

I graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA from South University in Savannah four years later.

After I obtained a real estate license, my husband and I teamed up to create our dream, combining our resilience and focused determination to begin our own business.

We began buying and rehabilitating houses back in 2009, performing almost every task ourselves, working 10 or more hours per day. Sometimes we were still working in a house at 3 a.m., after getting off from our 9-5 jobs.

We made incredible sacrifices. And we worked hard.

We framed walls, installed flooring, hung and finish drywall and painted. Colin has even replaced plumbing in crawl spaces as high as 12 inches tall. All of this to make our dream work.

We visited many banks to get a loan, and we were turned down each time, about 20 times. But we just kept trying. We were not going to let our dreams die in a bank parking lot.

When the pandemic broke out, we forgave one month’s rent for tenants who needed it most, and we helped other tenants according to their circumstances.

We are proud that we have gotten to a point where we can help others, like our tenants, especially during the pandemic – something that has been shaped by our humble beginnings and our compassion for others who are going through hard times.

Because we established plenty of reserves over the years, our company has been able to keep our employees on payroll during the shelter-at-home period.

We did not come from a family of business owners, so we did not have anyone to guide us or offer advice.

Yes, it’s harder to learn from trial and error, but if you are learning each step of the way then you’ll be fine, as one day your wealth of knowledge would lead to your business being a success.

I know it’s scary these days.

But one thing we can tell people is your obstacles should not be viewed as a downfall, but rather as the vehicle and motivation that drives you.

With hard work, resilience, and perseverance, we can survive tough times – even a pandemic.

We hope our story inspires others to work hard toward their dreams and to continue moving forward, even though it may seem difficult to do so.

As our parents would say, “Nothing good comes easy.”

To this, we can attest.

Elisabeth Knights and her husband, Colin, own Aklipse Asset Management Inc., a real estate investment and asset management company. Both grew up in Guyana and immigrated to the United States to pursue their dreams of owning their own business. Their hobbies include traveling and engulfing themselves in other cultures, exploring new foods, seeing their mentees succeed in their quest of becoming real estate investors, and taking an afternoon nap, whenever time permits. They live in Conyers.

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