Wow, I just listened to Marie T.V.’s episode featuring Tererai Trent and was inspired to share a story of my own. I didn’t grow up in a 3rd world country or in deep poverty, but none of us should belittle our challenges. They’re ours, just as others have theirs. What matters is how we meet them.

I resonated with Dr. Trent’s story, in that people told me my dreams weren’t attainable. My first dream was to be a singer, like Elvis Presley. I loved music class and sang in the school choir, but never got a solo. 

A friend told me about this magnet school for the performing arts in a nearby city, but I would have to pass an audition to get in. I approached my high school music teacher, and asked him to help me prepare. He told me that without a private voice teacher, I wouldn’t pass the audition, but he helped me pick out a piece. 

He chose a Motown hit sang by Diana Ross.

I prepared it myself as best I could and was accepted. Later, when I asked my voice teacher at the magnet school to help me prepare for my college auditions, she told me the same thing. I wouldn’t pass the audition without a private voice teacher, but this time she’d help me choose an appropriate audition piece. 

She chose an aria from Handel’s Messiah.

Well, I had heard that before too. So I prepared my piece, gaining the attention of my sending school music teacher as I practiced, and passed another round of university music school auditions. I never did get a solo at my high school.

Anyway, in Marie’s interview, Dr. Trent speaks about what to do with all these accomplishments, and obstacles you’ve overcome. How to contribute, give back, pay it forward, etc., since that is where our purpose as human beings lies? We are our relationships. 

When I was attending the performing arts school, we did a tour of the middle schools in the area. After one of our performances, we had a chance to speak with some of the students from the audience while we were waiting for our bus, and I learned that they were not planning on high school. We told them we were seniors, and they seemed impressed, not that we were seniors, but that we were in high school. That blew me away, because it was never a question of wether or not I was going to high school, or if would I graduate. Heck, I even argued to stay in academically challenging classes while I was attending the magnet school. 

But here were these kids, just a little bit younger than me, who did’t aspire to even attend high school, let alone graduate. I noticed how their teachers interacted with them and could imagine their world was not filled with possibility. The adults around them were more concerned with managing them, than inspiring them or listening to their dreams. I was not okay with this. It moved me profoundly.

My parents were always able to provide at least that much stability for me. I knew I’d go to college and graduate. And I don’t know exactly what was keeping these kids from having that too, there are are a million reasons why someone in that socioeconomic situation may not have the desire, belief or means to finish school. Maybe they need to get a job to make sure they have a place to sleep at night, maybe they struggle with mental health issues, but don’t have the resources to get treatment, maybe they just don’t know anything different. These are things I don’t mention lightly, but are real issues for at-risk kids. 

This was maybe the first time where I came face to face with this kind of social injustice and it fired me up. Why was it different for these kids? They were just kids and they deserve to have dreams. I declared then, that I was going to make a difference for people, support them in having dreams beyond their predictable futures, and empower them with the distinctions of traditional martial arts and community.

So what’s your story? How are you sharing your experience so that it makes a difference for someone else? Tell us below!