It recently was purchased by a college in North Carolina as a text book for one of its core classes on first-year college experiences.
Some will remember Sam Bracken from when he ran for the Cherokee County School Board in the early 2000s; others, especially Georgia Tech football fans, will remember Sam when he played (#67) on Bill Curry’s 1985 All American Bowl team that played Michigan State.
Others will remember Sam and his family — his wife Kim and sons Beau, Ben and Jake — for their active involvement in the Cherokee sports programs.
Still others will remember Sam as the Tech football player who chose to serve a two-year church mission in Canada in lieu of turning pro as did several team mates — or perhaps others remember the Book of Mormon he personalized for 250 friends and teachers at Georgia Tech.
Joan and I remember Sam because he came into our lives in 1981 when he arrived in Atlanta on a football scholarship to Georgia Tech and came to church his first Sunday in Atlanta in his jeans and T-shirt — basically the only cloths he had carried with him in his ‘Orange Duffel Bag’ after leaving Las Vegas.
I was in the local bishopric at the time and had a practice of inviting all strangers to the ward home for breakfast after services.
I invited Sam home for breakfast that Sunday and he told me his story, the story that is basically outlined in his book. It is the story of how Sam was the victim of a dysfunctional family, how he was then befriended by several families, put his past behind him and is now a powerful advocate for the disadvantaged youth of America with a growing Orange Duffel Bag Foundation that is helping hundreds of youth find their way in a very real and cruel world.
At that time Joan and I lived in Druid Hills and our children were gone so we offered Sam a home whenever he needed a home away from Georgia Tech.
Sam accepted our offer and today, 31 years later, Sam is still a member of our family — along with his entire family who all call us grandpa and grandma.
It has been a great experience seeing Sam grow and become a powerful motivational speaker for the Franklin Covey Company today — and to see his children grow and develop into fine young men and women.
Beau, the oldest boy, earned All State Honors in football in Utah and is now nearing the end of his two-year church service mission in Chile, where he has become proficient in Spanish and leadership.
Ben wants to become an Olympics shot-putter and is well on his way.
Jake, a talented painter shares his paintings with us. And Hannah, the youngest, is taking after her mom, a talented musical artist in her own right.
But back to Sam’s book.
“My Orange Duffel Bag! A Journey to Radical Change” is more than a story of how one boy escaped a dysfunctional family, much more.
It is the story of how that boy, by being obedient to his strong beliefs in God, by sheer determination and with the help, and council of many others, has created a beautiful family and life for himself and who then felt the need to help other youth know that they are special children of God who can, if they choose, follow the seven steps he outlines in this book to climb out of their own desperate situations and make a better life for themselves, as did he.
Sam never tells them it will be easy, only that it can be done.
Recently, after speaking to a Foundation graduating class, Sam stayed with us.
As he told me of how the graduating class went I saw the light in Sam’s eyes brighten as he told of how the 22 graduates who 12 weeks earlier would not even stand and introduce themselves but on this graduation day stood and outlined, in detail, their future goals.
The Orange Duffel Bag Foundation sponsors these classes and then provides each graduate with a computer and continuing support.
“My Orange Duffel Bag” is a powerful self-help book — it changes lives for the better — and is available on Amazon.com.
Donald Conkey is a retired agricultural economist in Woodstock.