Houston- When Challenge High Seniors Kyle Miller and Mia Delafuente met Civil Rights Activist and Icon Al Sharpton it was a life changing experience they said they would never forget.
Sharpton appeared before an audience of 200 middle and high school students and Houston Community College students at its West Loop Campus to motivate them to look inside themselves to discover their talents and strengths and find the power to follow through to success.
It was needed words for Miller who is growing up in a single parent home and struggling to persevere and overcome the odds and feeling of rejection by a parent.
“My dad is not in my life like I would like him to be,” the 17-year old said. “I really identified with Mr. Sharpton because his life was a lot like mine and now meeting him and hearing his story has reignited me to believe in myself, my dream and my ability to get things done for me.”
Sharpton spoke to students from the Miller Intermediate School, Young Men’s College Preparatory School, O’Donnell Middle School and Challenge Early College High School and the HCC Minority Male Initiative Men of Honor.
Sharpton shared an emotional message of growing up poor in a single parent home without a father, but stressed that it is important to learn that having the odds against you does not mean life is over or that you have to throw in the towel on yourself. He also talked about the importance for minority students to get a complete education that rounds out and prepares the whole man to compete and be successful.
Miller will be attending West Virginia University and plans to study Business Management and International Business.
“Discipline yourself…Never drop out, make excuses or settle for anything less that your best,” he said. “Set your goals, don’t give up on you. Do what must be done…It is about you proving what you can do yourself for yourself.”
Sharpton is a great orator and nationally known activist from New York City w ho became famous in the 1980s for his protests on police brutality and racial injustice. Today, Sharpton promotes a modern civil rights agenda that advocates one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people, regardless of race, religion nationality or gender.”
He shared several stories of challenges he faced getting an education and fighting for acceptance in a American society still having difficulty treating African-Americans equal and with genuine respect. he also expressed deep concerns to youth about how many youth fall into the traps of despair and bow to hopelessness and defeat before giving themselves a chance to develop their skills to full potential.
For 18-year old Delefuente, having someone who understands and identifies with youth and the challenges for the education of minority students in American society is impressive.
“I am at a crossroad in my life where I must go into the uncertainty of adulthood,” she said. “This is my life. He helped me understand that I must never give up on myself, believe in myself now and know that I am pushing myself forward to my goal.”
Delefuente has a dream of attending the University of Texas at Tyler and studying nursing specializing in being a midwife.
For 11-year old Yakaira Lewis of Miller Intermediate School, Sharpton spoke directly to her heart and caused her to recommit to staying focused on her educational goal.
“A lot of people when through a lot of stuff for us to be here,” she said. “This has helped me understand that education is valuable and I have to push myself ahead so that I can make a difference and help others too.”
Bryan Rudder, 14, who attends O’Donnell, but hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., said he knows how easy it can be to be claimed by the streets and understands how tempting it can be to quit.
“This has motivate me to work harder because my future is up to me,” he said. “I am inspired to go to college with my dreams and grow up to be a computer engineer.”
Dennis Davis, 15, said Sharpton message was a shot in his arm and encouraged him to beat the odds of streets and overcoming peer challenges.
“I learned that if I fall down, don’t stay down,” he said. “When challenged, I got to get up and not let anything or anyone take away my dream or cause me to miss it.”
Davis plays football and has a goal of going to college and playing in the National Football League.
“We are grateful to Mr. Sharpton for his efforts and because he got the youth’s attention and that’s a good thing,” said John Gilmore III, program manager for the Minority Male Initiative. “The youth are charged up and we do not want to lose them. We want to build on this with those kids and encourage more parental involvement.”