Motivational speaker tackles high school crowd
Only about 50 students showed up to an event billed as a Red Ribbon Week motivational speaker in the Bear River High School multipurpose room.
But Keith Hawkins could understand why.
“They frown up when they hear ‘motivational speaker,'” Hawkins, a national youth speaker, said about high school students.
Andy Hayes, a senior, said he had no idea what to expect.
Hawkins, a 28-year-old Roseville resident who speaks to about 200,000 students and 20,000 educators a year, not just about the dangers of drugs – a well-established message – but about stepping up to the challenge and making sure you can achieve your dreams.
He uses humor and thumb wrestling matches in a fast-talking, animated style.
Before Christina Ballesteros, a Bear River sophomore involved in the Friday Night Live program at the school, introduced him, Hawkins gave her some tips for addressing the throng:
“All you need are three things: energy; enthusiasm, like, ‘Wow, she’s really excited about this!’; and confidence. That drives most of those other things.”
Following Hawkins’ tips, Ballesteros drew healthy applause. Hawkins began more like an improvisational comic than a preacher.
Hawkins, who is black, said he arrived at Bear River, got out of the car, walked around campus, and “felt like a chocolate drop in a cookie.”
Everyone laughed, but Hawkins’ comments resonated with Anthony Gatlin, one of Bear River’s few black students.
“I so agree with that!” said Gatlin, who grew up in Chula Vista in Southern California and wanted to be home schooled when he arrived at Bear River toward the end of the last school year.
“Let me be honest,” Hawkins began. “I was expecting about 500 kids. We’ve got way too many men. We don’t have enough women. You agree with me, right?”
Hawkins ordered the scattered crowd to scoot forward and together. He directed students to “grab a partner” and “stand about 5 feet away from any other pair.”
“The one with the longest hair, put out both hands in front of you like you’re asking your parents for money,” Hawkins directed. “The one with the shortest hair, puts your hands on top of the other’s hands.”
Students then were to try to slap their partner’s hands or draw their hands away before they were slapped.
Next, the one in the pair with the smallest ears was told to prepare to introduce him or herself to the other.
“Just start talking about yourself, like, ‘I look like my mother, and she’s good-looking. I want to be a firefighter when I grow up because chicks dig them and they get four days off in a row,'” Hawkins said.
“Go!” he yelled.
A buzz rose as half the kids start talking fast about themselves. Then it was the other person’s turn. Then came thumb-wrestling. Next the students took a look at each other, turned around, and changed four things about their appearance. Hats and shoes come off, hair was let down.
Hawkins then ordered them to form three rows, boy-girl-boy-girl, up near the front of the room. “Face the wall, put your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you and give them a massage,” Hawkins said. “Then scratch them and then chop their backs. And reverse.”
“That’s called revenge,” he said.
“You’ll go home, and your parents will ask, ‘How was school?’ and you’ll say, ‘Fine.’ And they’ll ask, ‘What did you learn today?’ and you’ll say ‘Nothing.’
“Instead you could say, ‘Guess what happened! I met this person! I talked about myself, changed four things about my appearance and then massaged their back!'” Hawkins said.
With minutes left to get his message across about “stepping up to the challenge,” Hawkins talked about how his athletic brother’s life changed when he contracted spinal meningitis and lost his sight and mobility.
“‘Tell them to see past what they are looking at,'” Hawkins recalled his brother saying.
Hawkins grew up in a violent environment in Los Angeles, but has always been clean of drugs.
“Don’t say, ‘This is a small town and there’s nothing to do (but drugs),'” Hawkins said. “There’s something bigger than that.
“Go to the next level and do the next thing.”
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