On Thursday, April 23, 2015, I got to sit down with Poet Ali and ask him some questions about what made him take on motivational speaking and how it has affected his own life.
After experiencing for myself, the energetic stage presence of Poet Ali and the magnetism of his performance at the last assembly of the school year for Chain Reaction Movement at Cedarbridge Academy, I wanted to ask him how he got started and how it happened that he ended up speaking to an auditorium of S1 and S2 Bermudian students today.
He told me that he is a hip hop artist, dancer and producer then he started working five and half years ago for Rachel’s Challenge, Chain Reaction Movement’s affiliate, whose goal is to promote kindness in schools and prevent bullying after the devastating Columbine shootings in Colorado in April, 1999.
He said that Rachel’s Challenge was “very powerful, very impactful in my life” and really meshed with his ideals. He started working with Rachel’s Challenge “and I also shortly after that was asked to do a TED Talk and it was those two things.”
“After that I was asked to do a second TED Talk and this is the one that I feel was the catalyst for a lot of things. The title of it is ‘The Most Important Language You Will Ever Learn’ and it seems to be about linguistics, but then as you watch it, you realize it’s about a little more than that.
“People started reaching out to me, asking me to speak and develop content for particular conferences or a particular cause, and being tied into Rachel’s Challenge and the core message being about kindness and compassion…through her story, has made a major impact on my life and has afforded me amazing opportunities including being here in Bermuda.”
As Rachel’s Challenge began to work with Chain Reaction to develop assemblies and mentor students, Poet was invited to visit Bermuda to perform his “Music and Motivation” tour for the students.
Poet & Flip
In speaking about visiting and performing in Bermuda and how often he comes down he humbly says, “I’ve been very, very lucky to continue to come and continue to challenge myself because my thought is…I put a lot of pressure on myself in the terms that kids, staff, anyone, can get burnt out on anything—no matter how powerful the story is. If you see a movie, even if it’s your favourite movie, it can lose its power.
For me, the important part has been consistently challenging myself to come with content that is new, that is different, that excites them, that is entertaining—but I always try to make the entertainment tied in to something that you pull from. That’s the behind the scenes, the kids just think they’re getting the hip hop but really the only reason that’s there is to get their attention and reference that as it pertains to something bigger than just the ear candy.”
This past assembly focused on “Excellence” and how to obtain it. The students listened to Poet and guest speaker Flip Rodriguez, a professional athlete and competitor on American Ninja Warrior, as they spoke about how we need to believe in our potential in order to realize it.
Poet said that he chose to bring Flip down this time because he could speak to the students about success and failure; working hard and believing in one’s abilities from his own personal story. “Yes, the fame and everything is exciting but it took being considered a little different or a little weird or a loner. I wanted the kids to see what it took to get from point A to point B in a very physically challenging career like Flip’s.
Flip spoke about how he wears a mask on his face during the competitions and the two sides of the mask challenge him to remember “all I’ve overcome and all I can become.”
Poet Ali’s TedTalk, ‘The Most Important Language You Will Ever Learn:
Poet also told me about the hat he was wearing that day; it said “I am the Greatest” [a Mohammed Ali quote].
He said “I wore this hat today b/c Mohammed Ali is a big inspiration for me. One of my favourite quotes that he has is ‘I said I was the greatest even before I knew I was’ and I feel like that’s so important for the kids.”
He also paraphrased a quote by Marianne Williamson “don’t be afraid to be brilliant…in doing so, you are silently giving others permission to do the same.”
He definitely seems to live his message in his everyday life. He lives big and uses every opportunity to genuinely encourage others to do the same.
Poet Ali speaks for Chain Reaction Assemblies as well as performing on tour in his “Music and Motivation” production across America. You can also check out his TED Talks on YouTube and Facebook.
For more information on the Chain Reaction Movement and to see videos of all guests, visit the website.
Chain Reaction Movement has wrapped up their school year with a dynamic set of assemblies.
CedarBridge Academy, The Berkeley Institute, Sandys Secondary, Clearwater Middle School and Dellwood Middle School all welcomed one of their favourite performers, Poet Ali, and his friend Flip Rodriguez, one of the top competitors on “American Ninja Warrior”.
Poet has been coming down to perform for Chain Reaction Movement for the past 2 and half years, beginning with his “Music and Motivation” tour in which hip hop is the medium he uses to present ideas to his audience.
Chain Reaction Movement’s Vice President Mary Samuels said, concerning the assemblies, that there is “a great deal of discussion [that] goes into our calendar and character topics each month. As students were going into exams and many graduating from high school and entering the workforce or heading to college, we wanted to end our assemblies this year with a message on excellence…to challenge students to impact their world by doing everything with excellence. Poet was the perfect speaker to deliver this message. Every time he speaks or performs for our students he gives 200% whether he is speaking to 1 student or performing for an entire school.”
Poet also spoke about how he comes up with his material for the show, “For me, the important part has been consistently challenging myself to come with content that is new, that is different, that excites them, that is entertaining—but I always try to make the entertainment tied in to something that you pull from it. That’s the behind the scenes, the kids just think they’re getting the hip hop but really the only reason that’s there is to get their attention and reference that as it pertains to something bigger than just the ear candy.”
Last week’s final assemblies for this school year were titled “Excellence” and focused on motivating students to seek their own potential, believe in it, and never give up trying to accomplish their goals. Flip, a professional athlete, told his personal stories of victory and failure as he competed on American Ninja Warrior. He smiled as they played a clip about his success, and cringed as he was made to watch the clip about his failure. The clips showed him winning at an American Ninja Warrior event as well as a clip of his losing a recent event because he was too low and his backside touched the surface of the water.
He spoke really pointedly about how hard it was to pick himself up from his loss. He said he felt the “most anger I’ve felt in life” and he wanted to quit right then. Instead, he picked himself up and faced his failure and in the process learned that he needed to “calm down and run [his] own race”. He is only 25 years old and he is a top competitor representing Miami, Florida in the competitions.
He spoke about what motivates him and mentioned that every day he wakes up at 5:30am and makes himself run faster than he did the day before just to “defeat the little guy in my head” and prove that he can do anything, even run when it’s the thing he hates the most to do.
Flip’s story of working hard and pushing himself physically and mentally to obtain his own goals tied in perfectly with Poet Ali’s message about believing in yourself. Both Flip and Poet Ali told the students that hard work and commitment to your goals is the only way to accomplish them.
Poet Ali also encouraged the students to recognize their own potential and take ownership of it because “if you walk around with the mentality that you can’t do your very best, everyone else does too…Excellence is built on tiny, tiny moments…one at a time…don’t think about the end because if you think about the end you’ll stop”. He also spoke about motivation and where it comes from personally.
He said “motivation” meaning motivational speeches, are great, they pump you up and get you excited, but “if you want to do anything, you have to start from within” [the heart].
At the end of the assembly, both Flip and Poet Ali stayed around signing autographs and answering questions from students with a genuine interest in each person they spoke to.
To find out more about what Chain Reaction Movement is doing in Bermuda visit www.crmovement.org
Chain Reaction's first week of assemblies began with excited students and a riveting guest speaker. Craig Scott, brother of Rachel Scott and a member of the family that started Rachel’s Challenge, spoke to the students about his personal fears and struggle with anger after two students from his own school shot and killed his two best friends and his sister in 1999.
Craig was just 16 when tragedy struck his school, Columbine High School. 12 students were killed and his sister Rachel was the first one struck down by the killers as they entered the school. It was the first mass murder of students to rock the United States and one of the bloodiest. The two young men behind the guns were bullied and disturbed boys and in the end they killed themselves.
Rachel and Craig’s parents started Rachel’s Challenge in the memory of their daughter with the hopes of helping young people who, like the two young killers, are trying to cope with troubles that are vastly beyond them.
Rachel’s Challenge emphasizes kindness over bullying and understanding over judgement. The organization goes into schools with inspirational speakers, clubs and mentors and the goal that each student will learn to understand their own personal worth and seek to start a chain reaction of kindness in their social circle that will ripple out to the world around them, affecting people they’ve never even met.
Chain Reaction Bermuda was born out of Rachel’s Challenge and modified for Bermudian students in an effort to affect the students, their families and society as a whole, with the mission of kindness, one person at a time.
Craig Scott lived through a horrific tragedy that has affected him for many years but has used this tragedy to help others around him deal with their own pain and loss. He has been campaigning for Rachel’s Challenge for many years and has also begun his own inspirational motivation tour called “Rewrite The Script”.
Craig Scott has a lot to say about dealing with fear and anger. He was hiding under a desk during the attack and his two best friends were murdered in front of him. He dealt with the death of his sister on the same day.
He told the students that that same morning he had argued with his sister before school and called her names. The next time he saw her, she was in her casket. He didn’t have the chance to ask for her forgiveness or say goodbye and that affected him deeply.
He said his anger hid under the surface until one night he started having flashbacks while watching a movie with his brother. In a panic he started a fight and put a knife to his brother’s throat. In that moment he realized that all the anger he had towards his sister’s killers had been festering inside him.
He needed to deal with it. He needed to forgive himself for how he left things with his sister and he told the students that personal forgiveness is like “letting a prisoner go in your mind and realizing it was you.” He encouraged to students to deal with their emotions and not have any regrets.
Mary Samuels, Vice President of Chain Reaction, said that he gave a “very powerful testimony where he says he wishes he could go back and tell her how much he loves her. He challenges kids to take that opportunity now to tell someone how much you appreciate them.” Craig also spoke about forgiving the shooters and letting go of the pain in exchange for joy.
He said he was travelling and met a man from South Africa who had to deal with a tragedy of his own. But instead of wallowing in pain, he chose to embrace joy. Craig said this man’s story changed his life and perspective and encouraged the students to embrace that same positive outlook in their lives.
The Chain Reaction assemblies took place at T. N. Tatem Middle School, The Whitney Institute and Dellwood Middle School.
Friends thought DeeDee Cooper had the perfect life: a budding acting career and a wonderful boyfriend.
In reality, the 20-year-old was a mess, physically and mentally abused by the supposed love of her life.
The American author and motivator recently shared her story with students as part of Chain Reaction Bermuda, a charity working to remove bullying from schools.
“My story shows young people you never really know what someone’s going through,” said Ms Cooper, who is now 44. “In my situation these were my closest friends and family who had no idea what was going on because I intentionally kept that from them.
“It’s important for students to understand anyone can be in that situation. I grew up in a picture-perfect family and had a strong support system, so I was the last person you’d suspect this to happen to.”
She made up stories about her many bumps and bruises to keep her boyfriend’s “controlling, abusive and unhealthy” behaviour a secret.
“We had all just gone through the passing of my father and grandfather,” she said. “They all thought this boyfriend of mine was so wonderful, so I kept up the façade. I kept this mask on for everyone; not being honest about what was happening and what was going on.”
Chain Reaction Bermuda is affiliated with Rachel’s Challenge, an American charity created by the family of Columbine High School student Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 1999 shooting. The challenge is based on a code of ethics the teenager wrote shortly before her death.
Ms Cooper stayed with her boyfriend for four years before she reached her breaking point.
“He was ranting and raving and being violent and I looked over and saw my dog in the corner trembling and shaking,” she said. “I didn’t think much of myself at that point, but I was concerned enough about my dog to leave.
“I made a promise to Taz, my little Chinese shar-pei, that if we made it to the morning I’d get him out of that.
“I had spent years with someone who told me I was unlovable, no one wanted me and no one would have me — and I eventually started to believe it. That night was the catalyst for me to end that relationship. Taz was the hero of my story.”
She didn’t speak about the abuse until a few years ago.
“[Someone] asked me about my background and my life story,” she said. “I usually started off the conversation by saying, ‘You know I went to college, I was an actress and lived in LA’, but I felt like I was being fake.
“All I was thinking was, ‘You aren’t telling them the truth’. I told him about the moment I left that unhealthy relationship and I remember he said to me, ‘Do you realise how many people you could help if you just get over yourself? You have such a powerful story but you’re so concerned about what people think’. It was such a lightbulb moment for me.”
In 2012, she joined Rachel’s Challenge.
“When I was introduced to the Scott family and heard about their purpose of creating this safe space, a chain reaction of kindness, a movement for students, I was ready to go at that point,” she said.
“I come from an entire family of helpers — my brother is a therapist, my mom and sister are teachers. It gets instilled in you at an early age you need to give back and help people.”
She has since seen lives change.
“There’s no limits to who Rachel’s story can reach — no matter the type of environment or the school system, whether it’s rural or inner city — and that’s something we need in every school,” she said.
“Rachel’s Challenge has received over 500 letters from students who take the time to write in and say, ‘I was going to kill myself that day, but you guys showed up at my school and I decided not to’.
“You see a lot of relationships healed by people that want to apologise to their friends or call their parents and tell them they love them. They realise what they do and say makes a huge difference in the lives of others. How we treat people matters. People don’t want to leave relationships broken and things unsaid so you see lives changed in so many ways.”
Chain Reaction Bermuda held six-hour presentations last week at CedarBridge Academy, Dellwood Middle School and Whitney Institute Middle School.
Students, counsellors and teachers took part in physical activities and games.
The students were ultimately challenged to start being honest about their struggles when in a safe and healthy environment.
“Young people [should] know it might be someone really close to them that’s going through something,” Ms Cooper said. “That’s why it’s so important we treat people with kindness and compassion because you don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. We have to be honest with people rather than spend our lives carrying around the weight that comes with keeping things secret.
“[The presentations are] meant to increase empathy among the students and help them to know that although they are unique, they do share common experiences that they might not think.
“Sometimes you see the ‘cool kid’ and you might think they have a normal life and everything is good for them, but once we take part in the exercises they realise they’re not alone in this.”
A powerful story of forgiveness will be delivered to local students, as the Chain Reaction Movement – an anti-bully, pro-kindness programme implemented in schools across the Island — will welcome Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins to Bermuda this week.
Mr McGee, who was wrongfully imprisoned due to the actions of a crooked police officer, Mr Collins, will be sharing their story with hundreds of students in six local schools, CedarBridge Academy, The Berkeley Institute, Dellwood Middle School, Sandy’s Secondary Middle School, Northlands Primary School and Impact Mentoring Academy.
Mr McGee and Mr Collins, are two men from Michigan, whose story went viral after being featured in a CBS News report and on the Steve Harvey Show in 2016. They are also the co-authors of a book, ‘Convicted’
Tyaniel Darrell, programme coordinator for Chain Reaction Movement, said they invited the two men to the Island, as part of their ongoing effort to share real-life stories from people here and overseas to impact the lives of students on these shores.
“We recognize that there is a lot of hurt in our community, in relation not only to gang violence, but due to family dynamics and dysfunction,” Mr Darrell explained. “We hope this message of forgiveness will help those affected in our community to begin the healing process.
“Our goal is for students to leave the assemblies this week, with a practical understanding of what forgiveness is. Forgiveness can be defined as the act of giving up resentment or to grant relief from payment of a perceived debt that is owed to us.
“Students are encouraged to acknowledge relationships in their own lives that need forgiveness. Not just for the person who has wronged them, but for their own healing and overall wellbeing as well.”
Students present at this week’s assemblies will be challenged to not only listen to the message, but apply it to their lives.
“Firstly, they will be encouraged to step forward and acknowledge relationships in their lives that require forgiveness,” Mr Darrell continued.
“Secondly, there is a social media challenge where students post with the hashtag #letitgobda, in which they can creatively express their decision to choose forgiveness. We do this in hopes that we can start a movement of forgiveness in our community.”
As explained in international media reports, Mr McGee was “minding his own business” when a police officer accused and arrested him for dealing drugs.
The officer, Mr Collins, admitted years later to making up the story and falsifying those reports.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. Mr McGee had spent four years of his life behind bars and admitted his “only goal” upon release was to seek Mr Collins and “hurt him”.
However, his faith intervened. Mr McGee developed a strong relationship with God, which led him to work at faith-based employment agency Mosaic.
As fate would have it, at his new job he ended up working side by side with Mr Collins, who had served 18 months in jail for falsifying many police reports, planting drugs and stealing.
The two became more than just co-workers; they eventually became good friends. Today, they travel throughout North America sharing their story of forgiveness.
Chain Reaction Movement was designed to combat bullying and potential violence in schools by promoting kindness, respect and understanding.
A registered charity, the programme was modelled after Rachel’s Challenge, which was formed in honour of Rachel Joy Scott, one of the victims of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999.
For more information on how you can support, visit www.crmovement.org.
By Nadia Laws