February 11, 2018

Exchange Club of Columbus and the A.C.E. Program: Using My Talents to Strengthen Others

In the process of having others give to my dream, there is almost a universal obligation to give back and help others meet their dreams, especially those who have endured overwhelming obstacles to find success. It's imperative that we in turn uplift others and motivate others that may be suffering from the same circumstances. I am a firm believer that in order to truly be a star, you must be able to give off light in a dark place. And the sky is a pretty big and dark place with room for many stars to shine and give off the same exuberant light-- that is how a heaven is formed. It is formed from a collection of stars giving hope in the darkness, guiding others along the way and creating a feeling of safety where many times there is none. That is what I'd call my experience with the Exchange Club of Columbus. The Exchange Club of Columbus was the collision of many stars, old and young, coming together to cast light on those who need it, and I was required to give a brief motivational speech.

The Program that I attended was called the A.C.E Awards or Accepting the Challenge of Excellence. Each year this community organization host an essay writing contest, where students can discuss their personal stories and compete for a 10,000 dollar scholarship. The essays are based on students going through challenging circumstances abuse, neglect, foster care, and being able to rise above it for success. Sound familiar? The person over the program, after reading my article in the paper thought, that I was the best person to represent what Accepting the Challenge of Excellence was all about for these young people. I could give them some hope and light in a dark place. I was honored at the offer.

The Exchange Club of Columbus was the collision of many stars, old and young, coming together to cast light on those who need it...
However, the host went on to explain to me that the gathering would be small, and not many students had applied this year for the contest. She explained that I would be in a small room with a small crowd and of course the speech would be free. Yet, I was ecstatic. I didn't care about not receiving a fee, or the small crowd, or the even the lack of space. I only cared about helping these young people by giving them a little hope. I wanted to be the person that told them that they were not alone and that they could see things through. If you remember, I stated that you should treat every venue and every person as though it was important. That is what I planned on doing for this small charity organization-- because the event was probably the most important one I could do all year.

So, I took two days to write my speech. It actually was pretty easy. I incorporated a few points from my nonfiction book, but most of the points were about my personal life. I started my speech discussing my life at 17, and how I was homeless and a high school drop out. I told the students about the day that I received the call that my brothers were in foster care and my mother was on the run from the law. I discussed in detail how I received the phone call that my mother was gone and how the principal had to carry me from the room. I discussed the totality of that year of trying to keep the house and bring back my brothers and how I attempted to get my mother to be a mother.
I wanted to be the person that told them that they were not alone...
Yet, the bright side is that I also got to discuss the positives. How I was able to go to college and get a degree in three years, how I was able to get all my brothers from foster care at 24, how I was able to persevere to be a successful entrepreneur, author, teacher, and mother. Then, I ended my speech with the acronym S. T. O. R. Y-- Speak, Thank, Open, Reevaluate and Yearn. This is the basis for the chapters in my nonfiction book Your Story Matters. When I was done writing my speech, I was proud, but now came the hardest part-- the delivery.

So, on Thursday afternoon, it took me forever to find a nice suit. I needed something that conveyed my author's brand, but also fit the scale of the event. I choose a sequin top, gray slacks, and a gray jacket. When I arrived at the event, it was cold outside, the wind was blowing and I was lost. It took me forever to find it and several phone calls. Once inside, I was met by a small woman, who was older, wearing a cute blue suit and slacks, and carefully coifed hair. She was friendly and open and somewhat frantic as she tried to make sure everything was perfect for the young people. She showed me around the ministry, made sure I had food to eat and took me to the banquet room.

Of course, sitting in the front table were the two honored guests. A teenage girl with brown hair, and pale skin with a sad demeanor about her-- and next to her a thin girl with brown skin and equally long wavy hair. Their demeanors were somber as they ate and spoke among themselves. They didn't smile much, and every so often I would see their eyes drift. However, their teachers and foster parent (which was later explained to me) were beaming with pride at their accomplishments.
 You should treat every venue and every person as though it was important.
In the beginning of the meeting the Exchange Club went through business meeting and I sat nervously reading and rereading my speech. Then, it was my turn and I approached the podium with a smile. Of course, I started by thanking everyone in attendance and going over why we were all gathered there today. Then, I started into my personal journey from childhood, to teenage years, to adulthood. I didn't dwell too much on the sad parts, because it was difficult.  There was a point where my voice cracked and my hands trembled and I had to look away. Honestly, dwelling on the past, and opening up in that way was heartbreaking. However, the best part was telling them how I overcame. It was at those points that many people in the audience began to clap and stand up to take my picture.

Then, the attendant began to tell me I needed to wrap things up, so I moved into my final piece. My acronym S.T.O.R.Y. At this point, I began to discuss the how the students should use their personal journeys to propel them forward. To help them achieve and not to hold them back. Success was in their power if only they were willing to Speak it, Thank those who helped them along the way, Open themselves up to all the possibilities, Reevaluate their relationships and move away from toxic people, and Yearn for success. I saw one person write this down and one of the girls memorized it.

Once I was done, I left the podium and everyone began to clap. A teacher approached me and said that I was a living example of why we do what we do in the classroom. It was warming. However, what came next were the personal stories of the young ladies presenting. In each of them, I could see pieces of my own story. In fact, one young lady brought tears to my eyes. Yet, I felt good in that I had offered them a small amount of light-- I was a star for them.

The beauty of being able to tell stories is that you can use them to help others. Our personal journeys are not meant to fester inside of us, boiling up only when we need to reflect and learn. They are meant to be shared-- to inspire-- to motivate-- and to help. Being in front of those young people really solidified what I was doing with the next stage of my life-- the next venture in my life. I spent the beginning of my life trying to get my brothers, taking care of my family, and trying to fix the mistakes of my past. However, this stage of my life-- I am living for me as a celebrated author, a motivational speaker, and as a light-- a star meant to help others along the way. I finally feel as though I am fulfilling my purpose and my struggles were not in vain.
In each of them, I could see pieces of my own story.
As an author we have a special gift, and it is important to use it responsibly. In the same manner that people give into our dream by buying are books, we should give back to the community. There is no point in elevating and being given a platform if you are not going to use it to serve some greater good. In the words of the great Muhammad Ali "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,”and since I plan on taking a lot of room with my novels-- I have a lot more giving to do.

See the whole speech here:

 Your Story Matters Speech
Background Information
First, I just want to thank the Exchange Club of Columbus for having me here today. I want to congratulate all the young people that are striving toward excellence. I had not heard of the exchange club until recently, but when I heard about them I found out that they involved themselves and community involvement I was impressed. From selling hot dogs at the valley fair, to serving Pancakes at the Jamboree, this seems like the club that is really involved into the community and motivating young people. For 70 years The Exchange Club of Columbus, has been helping to make communities safe and to serve them. For 70 years, they have been impacting the lives of young people, and that is not only admirable but commendable.
However, the goal is not to just motivate young people—they are motivating young people by allowing them to tell their personal stories in the form of  a short essay of how they overcome great odds: physical abuse, delinquency, or substance abuse and made a dramatic change. Not only are they allowing you to share your stories, your successes, your failures, and the ways you want to impact the community—they are giving you a 10,000 scholarship. So, the Exchange Club is literally giving you an avenue to become successful, and I wish I had this opportunity when I was younger. When I heard about the program, I just had to be a part.
Now, I am a published author. I have written 5 books in 3 years, but I am also an English teacher, and I have taught English for 11 years. So, I specialize in stories.  I write stories—romance novels, horror novels and a nonfiction novel, but I am also required to teach stories, to analyze stories, to break stories down to finite points. I teach my students how to understand what makes a good story, or a well-written story—or even a bad story.  From Edgar Allen Poe to William Shakespeare, and I show young people how to submerse ourselves in the symbolism of Nathaniel Hawthorne. However, the stories that matter most to my students and me—are our stories. The stories my students are living, the stories they create each day with their decisions, the stories that follow them each and every day into my classrooms, the stories that impact their everyday lives, their future and their lives. And that’s what I want to talk about—I want to talk about stories. I want to tell you about my story —and I want to tell you today that your story matters. What you have been through matters, what you are going through matters. And, that all those events that have made you who you are, that have brought you into this room, is able to carry you even further.
My Personal Journey
When I think about my personal journey—I always have a hard time trying to start it. I could start it by talking about my mother—although that may seem like an odd place. At 8 years old, my mother was hit by a car right on Veteran’s Parkway in Columbus, Ga. The driver didn’t stop when he saw a little black girl with pig tails crossing the street, and he didn’t stop when the wheels rolled over her body—and I often wondered if he ever bothered to stop and ponder how far the impact of his car reached into this young girl’s future. However, he didn’t stop that day, and my mother was rushed to the hospital. By the time the doctor’s got to her she had the type of brain damage that alters a person’s personality and future.
However, as much as I like telling that story—about how my mother beat the odds and became a sergeant in the military, got married and had 4 beautiful children—that story isn’t truly mine. It is simply a part of it. A part that I need you to understand, in order to understand me.
I could start it, when I was 11 years old, and my mother spanked me and formed the scars on my legs that are still present to this day—because the voices in her head told her to do it.
Homelessness at 17
There are plenty of moments to start my story, but I am going to start it here when I was 17 years old, homeless and a high school dropout. I know that is hard to believe because, I am standing in front of you with a Master’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree, and a homeowner with 5 books under her name—but that was the truth. I was a good student, I did my work—most of the time, I had good grades—most of the time—and I was known for my exceptional writing—all of the time. Yet, no matter how good of a student I was, I still had that story. I had it on the inside of me—going to classes with me—impacting my decisions. The story of physical and emotional abuse, and the story of a dysfunctional home life.
So, I am going to start my story during my senior year of high school; I was sitting in class with my friends when I was called down to the office. When I reached the office, I picked up the phone, and a woman told me: “Your brothers are in DFACS, your mother is gone, and you can’t go home.” I broke down in the office, and the principal had to practically carry me out. I refused to go into DFACS, and I did go home—but my home was covered in yellow tape and even my dog was gone. That year-- it was safe to say—the last thing on my mind was graduation, or grades, or graduation test or even homework. I was focused on my family. I spent the remainder of the year between court dates, lawyers, trying to keep my siblings out of foster care, trying to force my mom to be a mother, and trying to keep us in our home. I dropped out of high school—not because I wasn’t smart, or I didn’t like school, or because of my behavior (which I never got in trouble)—I dropped out because my life was too full of challenges to endure school. I was too worried about my home life to care about school life—and so I made a choice: I chose my family.
The month that my brothers were permanently placed in the care of Social Services, I made a promise to my oldest brother that I would get him out. I was 18. I remember him and I crying because I had to leave him—and he didn’t understand why. Afterward, whenever I talked to him on the phone, he would count down the months that we had been separated, and it was a reminder of the promise that I had made when he was 7. Yet, I wasn’t able to get my brothers until I turned 24—roughly seven years later.
 It took a pastor opening her home to me motivating me—and providing me a safe place to eventually get me back in school the following year to pass two classes: English and Economics. With someone providing me a stable home and hope—I was able to get my high school diploma. Not only was I able to get my diploma. However, upon entering the workforce, I discovered that I could never make enough money to get custody of my brothers with a high school diploma, so I decided to pursue my original dream of college. I lived in the dorms permanently, attending school year-round, and I graduated with a Bachelors degree in 3 years. With an education, I was able to accomplish the task I had sat out to accomplish at 17, I was able to fulfill my promise to my 7-year-old brother. I was able to get a home, get a job, and get all three of my brothers out of the foster care system
Education helped me fulfill a dream that not only affected my life—but affected three other lives. With the help of teachers, colleagues and friends—I went from being a high school dropout to a college graduate to an English teacher to a custodial guardian, to a homeowner, a small business owner, a published author, and a woman currently working on my PhD. and making television appearances.
My Story Is Not Over
And yet, my story is not over—it follows me everywhere I go: into the classroom, when I am counseling my students, and even here—today at this moment. My story is making an impact; hopefully, my story is changing lives. My story, your story—our stories matter.
But what matters even more than the story—is what we do with it. Remember the acronym I gave you: SPEAK, THANK, OPEN, REEVALUATE, AND YEARN. In order to make your story of success, you have to follow those steps.
First, you have to have a vision or a goal—a man without a vision is lost.
·        You have to SPEAK the life that you want. Throughout my 7-year journey, I never stopped saying that I was going to get my brothers despite opposition. Get yourself a daily mantra whether it’s a bible verse and affirmation or just a meaningful statement—and speak it every day.
·        THANK those who help you along the way. If you are thankful for what you have, you will have even more. I made sure to always thank those around me who uplifted me in the classroom.
·        OPEN yourself up to opportunities. Once you start speaking into your life your goals and begin thanking others—opportunities will come. Opportunities to network, to make money, for employment—and you have to be open and willing to step into those opportunities. When someone invited me to live with them—I took the opportunity and it enabled me to finish my high school diploma.
·        REEVALUATE your relationships—some of your friends cannot go where you are going. Sometimes you have to let go of the relationships that are unhealthy. (Give example)
·        YEARN for success and don’t stop. The Key words are “Don’t stop” Don’t ever stop trying, pushing and moving toward success.
Remember, that what matters most—is not the story, but what we do with those stories; those stories—the heart-breaking memories, the challenges, the abuse, the trouble—they become the background to our successes. The trials that and tribulations have brought you far, it has brought you hear to this moment, to this event—to receive a reward for all your hard work and success. Don’t stop here—keep moving, keep pushing, keep writing your story until you get the happy ending that I know and you know that you deserve.

Dawnell Jacobs is the author of The Shade of Devotion, Brains Not Included, Black Magic, and The Monsters of Within: Heart of Darkness. She has also published a self-help book Your Story Matters: Leaning How To Be The Author of Your Destiny. You can find all of her books on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, and Barnes And Noble. She is also a motivational speaker to young audiences. She uses her personal journey to inspire hope and change. All pictures and entries in this blog are subject to copyright laws. ©Dawnell Jacobs 2017 

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