This legendary entrepreneur is about to launch a groundbreaking streaming platform. Here is the story of his life
South Side of Chicago, 1966. Eight-year-old James Dentley, one of four children being raised by a single mom in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States, is playing with his friend, Skip, in the alley behind their houses. More specifically, they’re playing with Skip’s father’s gun. Skip points the weapon at his buddy’s face. He’s joking, but James doesn’t think it’s funny. “Stop, stop, put it down,” he says. Skip obliges. As he does, the gun somehow discharges. The bullet misses them. The boys are unhurt. They are lucky. But for Dentley, the time hasn’t faded the memory of that too-close call moment. “When I reflect on that,” he says today, “I always ask myself, ‘Why am I here?’ There’s got to be a reason I’m here.”
Now 63, there is no question that Dr. James Dentley has left his mark on the world. He’s a philanthropist, a renowned businessman, success coach, and motivational speaker who counts billionaires, celebrities, and thought leaders among his wide circle of personal friends.
Total Life Changes, his mentoring and life coaching business, has improved people’s lives across the globe. Not only has Dentley become fabulously rich himself, he’s helped others achieve financial freedom beyond what they ever thought possible, creating 84 millionaires through his various endeavors in network marketing. His industry-leading public speaking boot camp, Inspired2Speak, continues to produce superstar orators. And he’s got a lot more planned, too — not the least of which is JD3 Media, a multimedia platform that will provide a vehicle for speakers, thought leaders, life coaches, entrepreneurs, and artists to showcase their talents and empower them like never before by giving them control of the content they produce in a way that traditional social media platforms haven’t. It’s exactly the sort of outside-the-box idea that has defined Dentley’s life and made his story an inspiring one.
On the surface, at least, Dentley was born into a nearly impossible situation. There was no shortage of potential pitfalls growing up in his area of the Windy City. Plenty of good kids from the South Side never make it out at all. It didn’t help that young James was a risk-taker determined to live life to the fullest. He and his friends would routinely climb to the top of buildings and trees just to one-up each other, risking death or severe injury every time. He’d stubbornly walk the 30 blocks to and from elementary school through 10 different gang territories, so he could keep the pocket change his mom had given him for the bus.
His parents divorced at 4, and while he still saw his father occasionally during his childhood, their split was more like an earthquake to young James. The aftershocks rippled well into his teenage years. “I had a lot of resentment towards him then,” Dentley says of his dad. Hard as his mother worked to make ends meet, sometimes she couldn’t. But while there may have been a lack of money in the Dentley home, there was never a shortage of laughter and affection. “My mother taught us to think and love,” he says.
His mom remarried twice; both of his stepfathers treated him well, and eventually, he grew to love them, too. Whenever it was possible, his mom made sure her kids were exposed to the wider world and all the beautiful things it had to offer. “She did a really good job of making sure she sent us to piano lessons, she would take us to plays,” Dentley says. One Christmas, when they couldn’t afford to buy presents for each other, the kids made gifts instead. To this day, Dentley and his older sister remember it as their favorite Christmas.
Still, James didn’t much like being broke. And with his father out of the picture, he also felt an obligation to provide for the four women in his life. So, from a tender age, he did anything and everything he could to make a buck. He’d rake leaves in the fall and shovel snow during Chicago’s bitter winters. By age 10, he was taking two city buses to get to a part-time custodial job to help earn extra money for the family.
Clearly, this was a bright and ambitious kid. But Dentley had little interest in school beyond doing just enough to earn passing grades. He had a gregarious personality, but he was also self-conscious about the pimples on his face. Throughout his formative years, his self-confidence ebbed and flowed. That began to change as adulthood approached. He got a job at a Church’s Fried Chicken when he was 17. Around the same time, he also became something of a local celebrity. “I could just dance,” he laughs. “I would work a full-time job at Church’s Chicken. I had money. I had a car. I would go on the other side of town and go to the discos and I would just tear it up. Saturday Night Fever – I lived that.” He’d enter and win dance competitions, making more than enough money to pay his bills. But his dancing wasn’t the only thing that made him stand out. “When I would go there, usually there weren’t a lot of African Americans, sometimes none,” he says. “I knew that there was racism but I didn’t really have a lot of those issues. I got along with everybody.” That ability to connect with people from other walks of life would serve him well later on, too.
When Dentley turned 18, he was promoted to general manager of the restaurant – the youngest GM of a Church’s franchise in the entire country. He was soon snapped up by another chain and moved to Texas, eventually landing in rural Midland-Odessa, of Friday Night Lights fame. For a young Black man from the big city, the culture shock could’ve proved insurmountable. Rather than be intimidated, Dentley embraced the challenge. “I had the best time of my life in Midland-Odessa,” he says. “I realized that I had the ability to be able to work and get along and build relationships with people, no matter what they looked like. I understood that people were people and everybody basically wanted the same things. And that when you smile at people, normally they smile back.”