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Take control of your future!

I read a quotation that you cannot control what happened in the past, but you can control the future. I would say at the very least you can planfor the future. What happens in the past is over. As Willie Jolley said, use your past as a place of reference, not a place of residence. Don’t get stuck in the past. Whether it was negative or positive, use it to fortify you and motivate you to go forward. As you plot out what you’re going to be working on for tomorrow, remember your car has a bigger windshield in a smaller rear view mirror so you can spend more time looking forward and less time looking backwards.

So today, start thinking of how you can have a forward vision and an idea that’s going to propel you into the future as opposed to a practice that’s going to keep you in the past. You weren’t meant to stay there. Go forward because that’s where your greatness lies. Use your past as a place where you can learn from what happened so you could have a stronger future going forward and start today. You’re worth it!

If you want to watch video of this, please visit my YouTube channel.

Navigating The Path To Great Student Leadership

“Leadership ain’t for the lame, don’t take it in vain

Time to rethink your position, understand why you came.”

These are two lines from a poem on leadership that I often recite when I speak around the world to student leaders. I share this line to underscore two points. The first point is that leadership is not for everyone. Though everyone can be a leader, leadership is a calling that few people answer and therefore, it should never be taken in vain. The second point is that leaders must always rethink why they chose to be a leader, and whether they still have the capacity or even the desire to lead. In today’s political climate, these two points are more important than ever for student leaders.

Whether one is a supporter or opponent of President Donald Trump, no one can argue that his presidency has not only shaken up our system of government, but has also had an impact in every aspect of our society, especially in schools. Some students feel that they have a leader in office who can speak for them in ways that President Obama did or could not. Others believe that President Trump’s rhetoric makes them less safe in school, evidence by instances of middle school students walking into their cafeteria to fellow students chanting “Build a wall” and others being told that they are going to be sent back to their country, even though they may have been born here. The bottom line is that there is a level of divisiveness taking place in our schools that require our student leaders to “rethink” their position in order to evaluate if they are built for the task of leadership today.

When I speak to student leaders, I challenge them to jump head first into whatever challenges their schools are facing. The example of America’s political climate is on the more extreme side of challenges students may face in school, but there are a multitude of other challenges that student leaders face in school. There are issues from cafeteria food and infrastructure to the curriculum and school climate. Regardless of the issues, there are four simple steps that I share with student leaders that can help them better navigate these issues. The four principles stem from my book G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness! 10 Steps To Living Your Best Life. The steps are Give, Release, Overcome, and Win.

GIVE

                  Student leaders must do a review of the quality and quantity of their giving. Dr. Wayne Dyer said that the more we give to the universe, the more it gives to us. Conversely, the more we take from the universe, the more it takes from us. Student leaders cannot be self-absorbed and only concerned with the title of leadership as a résumé builder for their college applications. Their elected position means that they must always remember that they represent their constituents, even those who did not vote for them. To that end, student leaders must be giving of their attention to students in their schools. They need to be able to do more listening than talking to really understand what is transpiring in their schools and they must be willing to be giving of the time requisite to lead their school towards effective change. I remind them as Les Brown said that we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them in proportion.

RELEASE

                  Student leaders must learn to let “it” go and let “them” go. By “it” I mean they need to let go of any hatred or even simple bias they may have towards certain groups. I study leadership across the globe from corporate CEOs to country presidents. I have seen situations where someone becomes a CEO and actively works to undermine particular departments they simply do not like. I have seen situations where someone becomes president of a country and exacts revenge on the ethnic group they viewed as their oppressors. I encourage student leaders to practice forgiveness and inclusivity, similar to former South African President Nelson Mandela who, upon his release from 27 years in prison, went to visit the home of his former prison guards to express forgiveness.

Once students forgive or let “it” go, they can work towards letting “them” go. Student leaders must let go of people around them who no longer represent where they want to go as a leader. I cite actor Will Smith when I tell leaders that they are a direct reflection of their five closest friends. If their friends are racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, islamophobic, sexist or anything else, chances are the leaders are as well. Student leaders must associate themselves with people who represent not where they are, but where they want to go. Furthermore, student leaders must understand that with the advent of social media, they need to be even more careful with their “friends” because they will be associated with posts from their friends and it could affect their academic and professional careers, most recently evidenced by the students who had their admission from Harvard revoked after their racist social media posts were discovered.

OVERCOME

                  Student leaders must overcome their fears. Leadership can be a daunting task, but it is a task worth pursuing if they are truly interested in serving their communities. I cite Zig Ziglar who said that fear simply means False Evidence Appearing Real. This means that most of the issues they worry about will not happen so they must work daily towards their goals. Student leaders must be guided by their goals and their vision and not by their fears. One cannot govern effectively if they are governed by fear. Fear keeps leaders from thinking clearly. It keeps them often from even attempting to start a program because they fear what people will think. As Dr. King said: “cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?” Student leaders must acknowledge the fear they may feel but focus more on what is right.

WIN

                  Student leaders must believe they will win if they do not give in. In this age of instant gratification, student leaders must practice patience. They must realize that some of the changes they seek in their school may not occur during their tenure as a student leader. They must think like some Native American communities who believe that they should think of how their actions will affect people seven generations from now. Depending on the schools they are in, at one point their school may have allowed no women or people of color but people fought for the right to attend those schools even though those fighters for equality never did. Students must believe that they will eventually win. Change does not happen overnight and student leaders must not be seduced by the sitcom nature of society where they see problems resolved in a thirty minute show with commercial breaks.

GROW!

                  At the end of the day, if students look at how they give, release, overcome, and win, they can become effective leaders for their school community. If they use these four steps to “rethink” their position, they will better understand the serious job they have undertaken as leaders in their school. As advisers, you can be the ones that can help them along with this process. Your experiences as educators and leaders in your own environments can greatly aid students in their development. Whether it is the National Honor Society or Student Council or any other form of leadership, we need to make sure that students understand the great responsibility of the leadership roles they have undertaken. I fully believe that with your guidance, our student leaders of today can continue on their path to the greatness that we know is inside of them. I wish you the best as you walk this path with them!

The future of youth: 3 things I learned from youth in Mali

 

            Last week, my organization UPstander International partnered with the State Department to provide leadership training for youth workers in Mali, West Africa. This country has been labeled as being “in crisis” due to its battle with northern Islamic extremists. During the evenings, I trained more than 30 leaders of organizations that work with youth. During the day, I would travel to middle schools, high schools, and universities and deliver my inspirational message “G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness!” If you didn’t know, Mali is a French speaking country so all of my presentations had to be in French. Pas de problème (no problem)! I relearned 3 main things from this Mali experience:

 

  1. Youth around the globe want inspiration. The enthusiasm with which these youth and youth leaders received my message was truly moving. I was reminded that, no matter what language you are speaking with youth, they will listen to you if they believe you are genuine in your professed care for them. In order to connect with youth you must understand your real motivations in wanting to work with them.

 

  1. Malian (like most African youth I encounter) place a serious value on education. Many Africans with whom I come across on the continent see education as the primary way to obtain success. In the United States, many students believe the same thing but mainstream media is so ubiquitous that too many youth here succumb to the false notion that their chances of success are greater by obtaining YouTube stardom, getting a record deal or landing on a reality show.

 

  1. Whether in America or abroad, youth respond to music that is uplifting. One of the travesties of our global entertainment culture is the manner in which our youth mainly see and hear music that degrades women, and celebrates drug abuse and violence. Many of us have been convinced that this is all the type of music our youth want to hear. In all of the 19 countries I have visited and performed in, I have found student after student who said they did not believe it was even possible to make music with an uplifting message. The entertainment industry is wrong in thinking uplifting music won’t sell. Our low opinion on what youth value perpetuates a continued arrogance and ignorance towards youth and we must change that.

 

While I was originally nervous about speaking to an audience of French speakers, I quickly forgot my nervousness as they continually nodded their heads in agreement with my 4 strategies for achieving greatness: giving, releasing (friends and letting hurt go), overcoming fear, and having a winning mentality. Even though these were performances blended in with motivational messages, students were studiously taking notes and posing very thought-provoking questions.

I have returned to States more committed to the idea that youth across the globe are in need of motivation whether they are in an economically developing country or the most powerful nation in the world. We have our differences, but at the end of the day, we all laugh and cry in the same language. I am going to continue to travel and speak the universal language of hope for a better day into our youth. Every day, if you think about it, you can also impact a young person. Just take time and communicate to them in the same way you needed to be talked to by an adult when you were younger and you will quickly see that you have an attentive audience. So what are you waiting for?

.

The future of youth: 3 things I learned from youth in Mali

 

            Last week, my organization UPstander International partnered with the State Department to provide leadership training for youth workers in Mali, West Africa. This country has been labeled as being “in crisis” due to its battle with northern Islamic extremists. During the evenings, I trained more than 30 leaders of organizations that work with youth. During the day, I would travel to middle schools, high schools, and universities and deliver my inspirational message “G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness!” If you didn’t know, Mali is a French speaking country so all of my presentations had to be in French. Pas de problème (no problem)! I relearned 3 main things from this Mali experience:

 

  1. Youth around the globe want inspiration. The enthusiasm with which these youth and youth leaders received my message was truly moving. I was reminded that, no matter what language you are speaking with youth, they will listen to you if they believe you are genuine in your professed care for them. In order to connect with youth you must understand your real motivations in wanting to work with them.

 

  1. Malian (like most African youth I encounter) place a serious value on education. Many Africans with whom I come across on the continent see education as the primary way to obtain success. In the United States, many students believe the same thing but mainstream media is so ubiquitous that too many youth here succumb to the false notion that their chances of success are greater by obtaining YouTube stardom, getting a record deal or landing on a reality show.

 

  1. Whether in America or abroad, youth respond to music that is uplifting. One of the travesties of our global entertainment culture is the manner in which our youth mainly see and hear music that degrades women, and celebrates drug abuse and violence. Many of us have been convinced that this is all the type of music our youth want to hear. In all of the 19 countries I have visited and performed in, I have found student after student who said they did not believe it was even possible to make music with an uplifting message. The entertainment industry is wrong in thinking uplifting music won’t sell. Our low opinion on what youth value perpetuates a continued arrogance and ignorance towards youth and we must change that.

 

While I was originally nervous about speaking to an audience of French speakers, I quickly forgot my nervousness as they continually nodded their heads in agreement with my 4 strategies for achieving greatness: giving, releasing (friends and letting hurt go), overcoming fear, and having a winning mentality. Even though these were performances blended in with motivational messages, students were studiously taking notes and posing very thought-provoking questions.

I have returned to States more committed to the idea that youth across the globe are in need of motivation whether they are in an economically developing country or the most powerful nation in the world. We have our differences, but at the end of the day, we all laugh and cry in the same language. I am going to continue to travel and speak the universal language of hope for a better day into our youth. Every day, if you think about it, you can also impact a young person. Just take time and communicate to them in the same way you needed to be talked to by an adult when you were younger and you will quickly see that you have an attentive audience. So what are you waiting for?

.