As a pastor and inspirational speaker, Ron Archer talks for a living—to crowds, to NFL players, to business executives. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that he started telling his own story.
“Too much shame,” he said.
“Shame is a powerful prison. And there was so much shame with my mom and myself and how things happened. You just learn the four principles, ‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel, and pretend nothing ever happened’—and hope that it’ll go away.
“But, as we all know, it becomes a corpse in the closet that stinks up your entire life.”
The turning point came when he was doing some executive coaching for a bank. He was speaking with a man who was abused as a child. The abuse had affected his entire life, to the point where he wanted to end his life. Nobody knew his story, not even his wife, even as it was causing intimacy issues in their relationship.
He and Archer talked for a while, going through psychological theories. Nothing helped—until finally, Archer said to him, “You know, I understand where you are.”
“No,” the man replied. “People don’t understand.”
For the first time, Archer opened up to him and shared his own story—and he saw the man’s rapid transformation and saw him going from “point A to point Z.” He realized that “No. 1, ‘I’m not by myself,’ No. 2, it can be dealt with, No. 3, you can actually take this pain and make it power.”
“You can take this wound and garner wisdom. You can take the tragedy and be triumphant,” he said. “They’re nice catch phrases, but they’re real.”
Six years ago, Archer made his story public; a video went viral and reached more than 9 million viewers.
In his early years, Archer was as unwanted as anyone could ever be. In the video, he describes how he was a “trick baby,” born to a poor teen mother, who was forced by her pimp to attempt to abort him.
“Nobody wants the baby, no hope, no future. ‘Kill it,’ was the word,” Archer said in the video.
Various abortion attempts were unsuccessful, and Archer bore the physical consequences; born two months premature, he was beset with multiple issues, including having no pancreas and an underdeveloped bladder.
His childhood was rough. At home, his stepfather was physically abusive; the babysitter who would watch him—a madam who hated men—would take a broom and stick it “where the sun don’t shine,” as he put it.
He was overweight. He stuttered. At school, he was mercilessly bullied.
At night, to cope, he would bang his head on the wall until he fell asleep. He just wanted to die.
At age 10, Archer found his mother’s gun, aimed it at his own head, and pulled the trigger. It didn’t work. Again, he tried and it didn’t work.
He felt some relief. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.
A Teacher’s Belief
Archer was far from doing well in school. But a teacher, one Mrs. Spears, got wind of his stuttering issue. She gave him lessons and helped him.
It started with “lee-lee, la-la, lo-lo.” Then, “At dawn, the don went down.”
As he grew more comfortable, tongue twisters were introduced: Peter Piper; Sally who sold seashells by the seashore, and so on.
Archer remembered repeating them so much that he memorized them; and instead of falling asleep by banging his head on the wall every night, it was to the cadence of these tongue twisters that he went to sleep.
Mrs. Spears did something else for Archer: She assured him that he would be great and that he had a destiny to fulfill. And she opened up a world of faith to him that until then was foreign.
His world had been ruled by “ghetto economics,” simple as that. There was no place for faith or church.
“We didn’t like church. … When your family’s involved in questionable activities, the last thing we want you to do is be involved with confessing and people might go to jail. … My family didn’t trust anybody but themselves,” Archer said.
Mrs. Spears told him stories from the Bible; he came to see that imperfect, broken people were called to do great things, men like Paul and Abraham. He recognized some of their dubious behaviors straight from his neighborhood.
She also showed him a verse from Jeremiah 1:4–5 that upended his inner world.
Archer said, “In essence, that one Scripture says, ‘Ronaldo, it doesn’t matter who your parents are. It doesn’t matter how you were conceived. It doesn’t matter how you were born.’ God says, ‘I’m your parent, your father, and I planted you in that particular situation for a divine assignment.’
“The promises of God—it was my oxygen, it was my air, it was my hope, it was my light, it was my truth. It was my father, it was my mother. … It’s all I had to build me up.”
The belief that he was meant for a special purpose was a powerful anchor.
“It changed everything,” he said. “It gave me a belief in something greater than me, greater than my current situation.”
Archer believed it so much that it turned his life around. Through practice, his stutter disappeared. He began to excel academically. In high school, he became the first black student body president at a predominantly white, wealthy Catholic school.
He wanted to make life better for his mother and for his family. But he knew he’d never change them through words alone. The bottom line was everything for his family, so when he started doing well, academically and financially, they said to him, “Whatever you touch turns to gold.”
And that started to change their lives; at 16, Archer started preaching, and they would come listen to him.
Archer has lived and worked around the world. Now, he’s back home, in Cleveland, all of 10 minutes from where he grew up.
It’s there at the Leadership Restoration Center at Places of H.O.P.E. that Archer brings everything he’s learned over the years to welcome people—women in crisis, people experiencing burnout—to be “restored, renewed, resuscitated.”
And then there is the Mrs. Spears Center—the training room where her example serves as a model. She saw him become a pastor and grow up to be successful. She would say to him, “I told you, ‘God don’t make no junk.’”
There’s a line of hers that he uses all the time: “God uses greatly those who have been wounded very deeply.”
“She’s with me all the time,” Archer said. “There’s always a quote or a thought or a memory.”
As he tells his story through his video, or through his powerful new book, “What Belief Can Do,” his story evokes reactions such as, “I thought I had problems!” or “What am I complaining for?”
For many, it’s an inspiring wake-up call.
Archer wants to change the world: “I want to change broken hearts. I want people to know there’s hope.”
At the top of his mind is how to help men.
He thinks of the rarely mentioned suicide epidemic ravaging middle-aged white men in the United States. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, white males made up almost 70 percent of suicide deaths in 2017—with the suicide rate being highest among middle-aged white men. Western rural states are hit especially hard.
Masculinity has been demonized, he said. Men’s jobs are becoming outdated. For their physical pains, they are prescribed addictive drugs. Their marriages are failing, and their children are turning against them, calling them “old-fashioned” and “irrelevant.”
They are unwanted.
Archer is also concerned about fatherlessness, pointing out that 72 percent of black children born in the United States are born out of wedlock and are raised in single-parent homes.
Meanwhile “80 percent of social ills—teen pregnancy, drug addiction, high school dropout rates, incarceration, and gang affiliation—are caused directly by kids growing up in a fatherless home. Look at that recipe,” he said.
He addresses these issues and more in the next book he’s writing, called “One Man,” based on the idea that “God has always used one man to change the world”—think of Noah or Moses. The subtitle is “You are that man.”
“Every man … is born with a divine mission,” Archer said. Through his years of working with people, and from his own experience, he knows what it takes to repair and restore a man.
“When you build a man up with authentic truth, you look at him and find his strengths,” he said. “When you are present, when you are attentive, when you are affirming, when you are consistent, when you are committed, transformation takes place.”
That’s the power of belief.