I had the amazing privilege to speak to some students at a Birmingham, Alabama high school recently. My topic was Motivation. While I had everything set and was sure I’d be able to motivate them with my stories of wisdom mixed with a bit of wit, it was I who was motivated by them. Now, as with all teens, whether you were born in 2000 or 1950, there were those who, how shall I say this, will need more love, attention, direction and correction to become who they are supposed to be, but there were some, that I saw on that day in that high school that amazed me. And most of my amazement stemmed from the young men.
As a woman, I’ll be the first to admit that my life’s work has been primarily in the advancement of women and girls, but several of the male students I was able to spend time with at Holy Family Cristo Rey High School preparing to participate in the school’s Corporate Internship Program were a sight to behold. What first struck me as noteworthy was how, on a hot, 90 degree, Birmingham summer day they were dressed professionally and at school to better themselves. Suits, ties, blazers, blouses, trousers and “church shoes” as some may call them were the order of the day for the girls and boys. They greeted me, and others with handshakes, smiles and eye contact as best a 14 or 15-year-old could offer.
When the training started my amazement was elevated as hands were raised, questions answered, suggestions made, an occassional funny joke tossed around, ears attuned and respect rendered primarily from the young men. Engaged and participatory is not how some segments of society paint them. Appropriately humourous and helpful is not often what we think of when we hear of African-American young males. Openly sharing and receiving feedback is not the definition we tend to believe regarding them. Providing “crowd control” is not usually the image we receive, but I’m telling you, not all, but enough of those young, black males proved society wrong on that day. I remember one young man telling another student, “Hey, Lil dude. Listen to her, she’s talking!” “Lil dude” decided to listen.
Not that some of the girls weren’t super stellar. They were! But I want to thank the standout young men for motivating me. My sincere prayer is that the right people surround them with guidance for the rest of their lives that will get them to where they are supposed to be. I hope they all keep asking questions that flow through their minds like what’s appropriate on the internet, how do you stay motivated to stay in school after the death of a loved one, or have I heard of their favorite rap artist. I hope they remain open to growth and change and the desire to do whatever they have to do to be their best. I hope that the funny ones are able to channel their comedy into whatever their dreams may be and that they are never afraid of being a positive, powerful presence. I hope that the clearly shy ones, who still managed to have their say continue to speak up on their passions about sports, technology, drawing, God, and loving their mothers. I hope that the compassionate ones continue to look out and around to make sure others are okay. I hope they all realize that being “cool” is really about being who they are uniquely designed to be, so if that means doing what those who don’t understand aren’t doing and getting where those who don’t understand will never go that’s “cool”. I hope they continue to appreciate life and realize the leaders they undeniably are, using that to advance in life and enhance living for others. I hope they decide that the snazzy way they’re dressing this summer is the way they want to dress from now on and others follow suit (get it, suit???…lol!) I hope they realize just how important they are to mankind, and that they grow to be the kind of man who changes the world for the better.