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'It almost brings tears to my eyes' | Hoosier entrepreneur thankful for chance to turn life around

Donte Wilburn hasn't always been a successful businessman. But after a drug deal gone bad, he's thankful for the chance to turn his life around.

LAFAYETTE, Colo. — Spend a day with Donte Wilburn and you may have a hard time keeping up.

He owns Premier Auto Detailing with locations in Lafayette and Kokomo, and plans to expand soon to Indianapolis.

He also just partnered in the purchase of Legacy Courts, a 40,000-square-foot sports complex in Lafayette that draws teams and tournaments from across the state.

He helped save the facility from being turned into a massive storage complex.

"We really wanted to keep the place what it was and actually make it bigger and better," Wilburn said.

All of it was enough to earn him accolades and an invite from Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to attend this year's State of the State Address.

"We want more Donte Wilburns," Holcomb said during his speech in January. "Donte, thank you for making a difference."

Wilburn was named Indiana's small business entrepreneur of the year in 2021 — by all accounts, he's living out the American dream.

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it was far from it.

"I was 22 years old," Wilburn said. "Conspiracy to deal marijuana." 

He nearly lost his life.

"It was a shootout," Wilburn recalled of the drug deal gone bad that got him arrested. "My friend was shot three different times. I was facing eight years in prison." 

For Wilburn, it was hard to see much of a future at all.

"I was suicidal. I just didn't see myself coming out of the pit that I put myself in," he said. "But my mom kept telling me, 'It's gonna be OK. I promise you.' She said, 'I know it hurts now, but it's gonna be OK.' And thank God I had her in my ear encouraging me."

Wilburn was sentenced to community corrections and got a job washing cars for minimum wage. He worked his way up to manager and then saved up enough to open his own business.

Wilburn, who is now also a pastor, credits his faith in God for directing his path.

During the State of the State Address, Wilburn received a standing ovation from lawmakers.

"In that moment, I look up to the sky and thank God," he said. "To be sitting there with the governor, with all his counsel, state officials standing up for me, I mean it almost brings tears to my eyes even now." 

What does he want people to learn from his story?

"Never give up," he said. "Even when it's the worst of the worst of the worst, you can come out of it. It takes work. I had to basically rip up how I was and start over as a new man," Wilburn said. "But it's not impossible. That's what my story is. It's the possibility of becoming better."

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