ATHENS, Ga. - When reflecting on where she is today, in her fourth-floor downtown suite looking over the city, Quittis Smith-Luna points to two people as making it possible: J.B. and Grace Sims.
Her adopted parents instilled in her what was needed to succeed and, combined with a booming personality, helped lead to her starting staffing agency N.E. Georgia Temporary Services Inc. nearly 30 years ago. She remembers fondly hearing from them, "You always wanted to succeed. You were already smart. We just nurtured that."
But finding success was anything but guaranteed for Smith-Luna. At 5 years old, she was abandoned and homeless on the streets of Atlanta.
"I remember eating out of trash cans and I remember being left in an abandoned house," she said.
She credits the Sims, whom she regards as her parents.
"Parents are not the people that conceived you; parents are the ones who raised you and care about you," Smith-Luna said.
Throughout childhood, Smith-Luna recalls her parents pushing her, starting with the Wall Street Journal every morning. When she complained to her father of reading a newspaper meant for rich people, his answer was simple.
"Rich people don't read the Wall Street Journal; smart people read the Wall Street Journal," she recalls her father telling her. "I had to read the Wall Street Journal every morning to stay focused on what I want to be."
With their support and her drive, she ended up graduating from high school in the 11th grade. When a teenage Smith-Luna broached taking a year off as a reward, her parent's didn't even humor her. It was off to the University of Georgia and the seeds for what would become her career.
Looking for work, she walked into a temporary staffing agency. It was her second year at the university and they kept pushing her into work at one of the poultry farms.
"I'm thinking, if I'm a college student in my second year, why would you send me to a poultry plant?" she said. "Then it hit me, 'Oh, I'm black'"
This was the 1970s, she said, and a different time.
"At that time, they just weren't going to put a black person like me in an office," she said. "It didn't matter how many degrees I had."
Nonetheless, a few years after graduating with her broadcast degree from UGA, she started her staffing agency in 1983. She said she ignores the question or race, gender, sexuality and so on to the point where she doesn't even bother meeting workers face-to-face until after she's gone through their resumes.
"People care about your brains," she said " ...Let your talent speak for you."
While she has spent almost three decades in business, her daughter is clearly the light of her life now. She's recorded songs, been an extra in a movie and has enough extracurricular acthAties to make one wonder how the teen manages it all.
"My daughter is a straight A student and I am the proudest mom in the world," Smith-Luna said.
And those same lessons that helped Smith-Luna stay in business she hopes to instill in LaQuittis Grace Luna. She tells her daughter stories of homelessness, of being denied good jobs because of the color of her skin and finds a bright-eyed 14-year-old staring back in disbelief.
"She just finds those things hard to believe," Smith-Luna said. "But that's just the way it was."
Even as the world evolves, Smith-Luna takes to heart how she made it to where she is today. "When you know where you came from, and you're determined to succeed, you'll do so," she said.
Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com