By Robyn H. Jimenez, Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner –
DALLAS (NNPA) - "In life, it's not where you start, but where you end," said Dr. Steve Perry, one of the nation's leading motivational speakers.
Perry's journey began in a housing project in Middletown, Conn., when he was born to a teenage mother. He knew first hand the struggles that young men in economically disadvantaged areas experience daily.
His mother was committed to doing what she could to create a better future for herself and Perry, but also for the community in which they lived. She taught Perry that it took discipline and dedication to accomplish his goals. Perry used these tools and his commitment to football to stay out of trouble, graduate and go on to college.
He went on to receive a bachelor's in Political Science, a master's in social work and a doctorate in education. He then went on to put his degrees to work for his community at a part-time college preparatory summer program, where he worked with students that were mainly from failing schools.
In 2005, he founded the Capitol Preparatory Magnet School. The school, with an average 700 students in attendance each year, is listed among America's top schools for consistently graduating 100 percent of its high school seniors.
Perry is also the author of Man Up! Nobody Is Coming To Save Us and Raggedy Schools. He is a contributing writer for CNN and was featured in Black In America 2.
Last month, he was one of many invited guests to speak to a large group of young men during The Steve Harvey Mentoring Weekend for Young Men. The four-day camp is held on Harvey's ranch in Little Elm - about 30 minutes north of Dallas - and is open only to young men from single mother households, ages 13 and up, in grades 8 through 11. To attend, the young men must be nominated and then go through a selection process, which includes the demonstration of the ability to overcome obstacles.
Among those young men, was 16-year-old Jason Hardaway, who was chosen to return in his second year as a junior counselor.
"The junior counselor is important because we've already been through it and we're kind of an in-between, between the adult counselors and the new kids that are being mentored," said Hardaway, who stated that some of the new boys were apprehensive about attending, but began to enjoy the experience when interacting with them during the workshops and activities, which was the best part of the experience for Hardaway.
"The most thing that I enjoyed about the event was hanging out with the kids, because Steve brings kids from all over the United States. It's cool to see the different cultures and also how similar we are," said Hardaway, a Dallas resident.
Apprehensive or not, only 100 young men were handpicked to attend the annual mentorship weekend. The elite group of young men drew several national speakers and leaders like Ford designer Earl Lucas, FBI Special Agent Aaron Covey, Stephen A Smith and Shawn Mooring of Fair Game, as well as Perry.
"This is a special group of young men. This is truly the best and the brightest," Perry stated. "Steve Harvey's show reaches millions of people and for this group to come down here, they're representative of a phenomenal group of young men from all over the country, so I had to meet them. Really. It's more about me meeting them, than it is about them meeting me. This is not a small feat to make it to this place."
Perry was asked to be one of the speakers during the panel session: What It Takes to Get In and Stay In College.
He told the boys how special they were and how much it meant for him to meet them. He also told them to, "Enjoy the journey" and "Create opportunities for yourself and for others ... And then I gave them some specific information about how they could get into college and graduate from college," Perry said.
"They tell you about what is mandatory to be accepted. Like they want us to take three years of language, when two is only the necessity, because they want us to exceed everybody else and go to college and have a greater opportunity. They give you tips about taking the SAT and the ACT, and why its very important to do well on the tests to get into college," said Hardaway.
He also told them to take real algebra classes and finish Algebra II before graduating high school. He also talked about when to apply to colleges and to make sure they apply to eight colleges.
"Three years of a language because that's what you need to get into a four-year college. Any language. It could be Spanish. It could be French. Whatever you want to do. It just has to be three years," Perry explained. "At least Algebra II because that's what you need to do well on the SAT or the ACT. Eight colleges because you get two that are a reachable, two that you're pretty sure you can get into and the other four are somewhere in between there."
He said the choices also gave the boys choices between different types of schools - such as rural and urban, and private and public - based on the students' needs and preferences.
During the last part of the session, he asked the young men if they had anyone that they knew who cared about young people, someone who had their back and could serve as a mentor. He encouraged them to listen to these people and use their wisdom and guidance to help them along their journey. Then he told the young men that didn't have mentors to talk to him afterward.
Clifton Crosby, former NFL defensive back and part of College Summit, also spoke during the panel. He shared his personal story with the young crowd about his life growing up in a single parent home.
"I could have used all the excuses in the world, of why not to go to college, why not to graduate. And I chose not to make excuses and really make a decision that I was going to go to college and that I was going to be the best at whatever it was that I was going to do," said Crosby. "I know there were a lot of athletes that were listening to me. And I wanted them to see that life is more than just playing sports. Life is more than just making it to the NBA or the NFL. You've got to have that sense of education first. And if you have that, it's only going to enhance your athleticism and your ability to make it to the NFL."
The session was inspirational, as well as informational. The young men listened intently, responded readily to questions and eagerly asked questions during the session.
Other sessions covered gang awareness, Internet safety, relationships, health, grooming, do-it-yourself quick fixes and a message from the White House. The mornings began with physical fitness and cardio-training. During the day, attendees were able to participate in fishing on Harvey's private lake, golfing, tennis, football and paintball. And even during the sporting sessions, the young men learned important life skills, such as teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership.
"This year, I learned how to be more of a leader, compared to last year when I was learning how to be a man. This year I got to lead people in doing things. Like paint ball that was a really big thing. I got to lead my team to victory. That was fun," said Hardaway.
Harvey took time during the day, to interact and bond with the young men. Then, at the end of the day, he offered his words of wisdom on manhood during the weekend dinner and town hall meetings.
"Honestly, when I first heard that I was going to the Steve Harvey thing, I never really thought he was as funny as he is. Steve Harvey is a really, really hilarious man. I also didn't think he was as concerned about the community as he is. But he really spends a lot of his time in the community and helping young boys to come up in their manhood," said Hardaway.
He looks forward to returning next year, meeting new friends and rejoining old friend from across the country. As a mater of fact, he's already preparing to return.
"I'm going back next year. I've already submitted my letter. I enjoy going because every time I do learn more and they have different mentors and such," Hardaway said, and added that he may not be able to attend the following year, because he will be getting ready for college. And he says, thanks to Harvey and the men that have mentored him through the mentorship.
"The most important thing in a kid's life is what he dreams," Harvey said. And with the belief that "it takes a village to raise a child," he has gathered a village to help young men from across the country build the foundation to their dreams.
"I wouldn't want to brag or anything, but being there, I do feel as if I have more of an advantage over everybody else, because I have more motivation or purpose. I feel it's almost a necessity for me to exceed, because I need to go back and help somebody else. Steve Harvey's fraternity's motto is to help bring up somebody else, once you've gotten to success. So, I guess I have a deeper motivation now, so it drives me harder to succeed, than everybody else. Plus, I already enjoy competing," said Hardaway.
Next year, the mentoring weekend will be held in June. Anyone interested in recommending a young man for next year, can visit http://steveharveyfoundation.com.
For the young men that have not attended the weekend program, Perry hopes that they realize that they are just as special and will be able to use a few of his fundamental steps to make the most of their future.
"Every single one of us has something in us that is very, very special. And it's about finding out what that gift is and finding a way to make that gift grow so that it can help us improve our lives and most importantly help us improve the lives of others."
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