A message of hope through humor, music, and heartfelt stories
Hundreds of students in Fayette County Public Schools learned about life according to nationally known motivational speaker Reggie Dabbs, whose central message focused on hope. “Every kid in this room, you’re valuable. You need to know you can make it no matter what you’re going through. We’re all in this thing together,” he told a crowd of teenagers in Norsworthy Auditorium.
Groups from The Learning Center, STEAM Academy, The Stables, and the Success Academy gathered at the district’s central office for one of Dabbs’ early sessions in Lexington. His three-day schedule also included stops at Paul Laurence Dunbar, Bryan Station, and Frederick Douglass high schools as well as Crawford, Bryan Station, Tates Creek, Jessie Clark, Morton, and Winburn middle schools. The culmination was a Jan. 15 Family Night event hosted by Crossroads Church in Hamburg.
“It’s important, especially for alternative kids, to hear the message ‘Don’t give up on yourself’ and ‘Love each other.’ Kids often don’t hear ‘I love you,’” said Chris Salyers, program director at The Learning Center. FCPS colleague Rachel Baker agreed, noting how school staff can support struggling students. “Dabbs’ message is universal because it reaches kids who know that experience and others who can identify with friends,” said Baker, program director at The Stables.
Dabbs used self-deprecating humor, music, and audience participation to engage the Fayette teens during his nearly one-hour talk. He appealed to universal fears and circumstances no doubt represented in the audience – the boy who is glad to come to school on Mondays to escape horrendous conditions at home … the girl who is trying to restore the shattered pieces of her heart. He sprinkled in familiar tunes, leading on his soprano saxophone and encouraging the teens to sing along on the chorus of popular songs like Bruno Mars’ “(You’re Amazing) Just the Way You Are.”
A Florida native who played football at the University of Tennessee, he also shared poignant details of his own story – such as finding out at 8 years old that his birth mother had given him away, calling him a mistake. He spoke solemnly of years of despair and isolation, when his one desire was to die. “(But) I decided to keep breathing because there’s hope in every person,” said Dabbs, who was fostered and later adopted by his mother’s former English teacher and the school janitor, who became his family.
Dabbs, 56, also cited three icons who taught him important life lessons:
- Nelson Mandela, who famously said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”
- Martin Luther King Jr., who knew “There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for”; and
- The Rev. Billy Graham, who preached that “Love never fails.”
In relating to a teenager’s experience, Dabbs compared life to a roller coaster. “Some days you’re on top and everything’s great. Other days you’re going downhill,” he said, emphasizing, “Never give up on the ride!”