Scott encourages Green Forest students to overcome obstacles, build meaningful lives
Green Forest middle and high school students were encouraged to fill their schools with love last Wednesday by a powerful speaker.
Middle school principal Tim Booth introduced guest speaker Manny Scott for the middle school presentation. Booth said Scott is one of the original Freedom Writers featured in the 2007 film of the same name. In addition to being a father and a husband, Booth said Scott is an aviator, author and motivational speaker, spending 300 days out of the year speaking to schools across 49 states and five continents.
Scott told the students he is on a mission to make a difference.
“I have a big heart for young people,” he said. “At least one person in this room needs to hear this message today.”
First, Scott said, he wanted to get to know the students.
“It would take me a lifetime to get to know all of you, but I only have one hour,” he said.
He told them they were going to do an exercise where he would make a statement and students would stand if the statement applied to them. If it didn’t apply to them, he said they should remain seated.
Scott began with simple questions, asking if students were fans of R & B, spoke Spanish, grew up watching iCarly or were ever a fan of Spongebob Squarepants or Barney the Dinosaur. The middle schoolers laughed and cheered, standing for each statement they identified with so Scott could get a sense of who they were.
As the laughter died down, Scott told the students they were going to continue the same exercise but with more serious questions.
“It will take courage to stand for these,” he said. “Many of you have been through things or are going through things that grownups haven’t been through. Many of you feel like you’re alone. You’re not alone. There are people in this room going through the same thing.”
Scott asked the students to be silent during this portion.
“Don’t laugh if anyone stands in response,” he said. “It could hurt me or the people around you. Let there be complete silence. I promise we will come out on the other side and heal.”
He began by asking the students to stand if, like him, they are being raised by a single parent. He then asked them to stand if, like him, one of their parents is alcoholic. Scott continued, asking the students to stand if they’ve ever seen a man hurt their mother, if they ever got hurt themselves trying to intervene, if they have a parent addicted to drugs, if one of their parents abandoned them or if they’ve thought about harming themselves or ending it all.
“Stand if you’ve lost someone to violence,” Scott said. “Keep standing if you’ve lost two people. Keep standing if you’ve lost three people. Now keep standing if you’ve lost four or more.”
The students watched some of their classmates sit down as the number kept rising while others remained standing.
For each question, Scott encouraged the students to look around and see who was standing with them. Once the exercise concluded, he commended the students for their courage.
“That took so much courage. I’m so proud of you,” he said. “How many of you saw a friend or classmate stand in response and were shocked? That’s why I’m here.”
Scott continued, “I meet young people suffering in silence who need help. Someone here needs to know you’re not alone and can get through this. You’re sitting around people who go through so much at home and act like everything is fine when they’re here at school. You’re sitting by someone trying to hold it together and they don’t know how they’ll make it.”
He then gave the students and staff three minutes to find a person, hug them and tell them “I love you, and I’m glad to have you in my life.”
“Open your heart. This is your chance to be somebody’s wings today instead of their weight,” Scott said. “It doesn’t matter how you do it. It matters that you do it.”
After the three minutes were up, he told the students they had done one of the most needed things in the world today: sharing love and gratitude.
“You probably saved someone’s life today,” Scott said. “It doesn’t have to end after I leave. You don’t need me to come in every day. You have the power to fill your school with love.”
He encouraged the students to go forward now that they are more aware of the struggles their friends and classmates are going through.
“You have to ask yourself how you treat people,” Scott said. “What do you need to change? What’s funny to you may not be to someone going through something at home. Your words can build people up or push them over the edge. What can you do to put a smile on someone’s face?”
He addressed the students who did not have to stand for any of the hard questions, encouraging them that they are never too young to be a blessing for someone else.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he said. “You’ve been given a good life. I hope today you realized how blessed you really are. Use the good life you’ve been given to help other people who have been given some hard lives.”
For the students who did stand for the hard questions, he encouraged them to see that no matter how hard their life is they can make it through to build a wonderful life for themselves.
“I know because I’m standing here speaking to you,” Scott said.
As a child, he said he was so miserable that he had started ditching school by age 11.
“I would miss 60 to 90 days each year,” he said. “At 11 years old, I was smoking weed. I was getting drunk. I was stealing.”
As a freshman in high school, Scott said he had a 0.6 GPA and dropped out.
“One day, I was sitting on a bench discouraged by all the friends I had lost,” he said, “and a drug addict sat down beside me and pushed me to go back to school. He said ‘Don’t throw your life away like I did.’ He pushed me off the bench, and I walked back to school.”
Scott said he went to his principal and asked for help.
“He helped me,” he said. “I went from being a dropout to being on the honor roll the next year.”
He said he was the first person in his family to graduate high school, to graduate college and to go to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree.
“I’m a father and a husband,” Scott said. “I became the father I never had and built the life I always wanted.”
He continued, “I’m not here to impress you. I’m here to impress upon your hearts and minds that when you see me you know you can overcome these obstacles to build a meaningful life for yourself. I’m proof that when you show up ready to learn, people at school can direct you to resources and help you succeed.”
Scott told the students there were two kinds of people in the room that day: those who can do better and those who will do better.
“I stopped running from stuff and started running to stuff,” he said. “No matter how hard your life is that’s no excuse to give up. I’m here for the person living beneath their potential. You can overcome anything if you make the decision to do so. If you want more out of life, then set that goal and move from ‘I can’ to ‘I will.’ ”
Scott concluded, “No matter who you are, whether black, white, Latino, Asian, rich, poor or handicapped, if you make that decision nothing in the world will stop you.”
Booth thanked the students for being respectful during the presentation.
“Mr. Scott saw a lot in you. I’m proud of you,” he said. “I hope we get to see Mr. Scott many more times.”