Category Archives: Personal

My South Africa Experience, Part 1

Project Zoom! Staff and Students in Soweto

Project Zoom! Staff and Students in Soweto

For the past several days, dozens of people asked me about my chip to South Africa. Usually, my response consists of words like “amazing”, “you must go”, or “transformational” without much explanation. My apologies for that. Honestly, I was not ready to effectively articulate the effects of this trip on my personal, emotional, and professional life. I will, however, take a stab at it right now. This week, I pondered on how I can organize my thought process of the trip. I’ve come up with four separate categories. They are:

1.  The Beginnings:  Making the Dream a Reality
2.  It takes Teamwork to make the Dream Work
3.  The roller-coaster of Leadership
4.  The benefits of Perserverence:  The benefits of being patient w/ students

Though they are not direct headliners that describes my experience in South Africa, they are crucial to the process of me going on the trip. These are the “how’s” that allowed me to experience the Motherland. In each of these blogs, I will not only describe the professional steps that were made for this trip to happen, but also how I felt personally, emotionally, and how I dealt with outside factors that could’ve been an obstacle for me (prior commitments, doubt, fear, etc.).

Throughout this “blog mini-series”, feel free to ask questions, comments, or your perspective of what I am writing. I am more than happy to clarify, as I am not a perfect writer, and, quite frankly, have a lot going on in my life.

Happy Reading…

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News clip: WFAA Daybreak: 4-20-12

My Little, Da’Lon Reynolds, and I were on WFAA TV (Channel 8 in Dallas) for a news segment promoting Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).  BBBS is a great organization to join!

WFAA Ch. 8 Daybreak

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Global Diversity Leadership Exchange vLog

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Intangible Solutions For A Tangible Problem

Recently, the state of education in America has been a hot topic (and rightfully so).  With growing competition abroad, the reauthorization of education policy, and the state of the economy, people all over the country are panicking for solutions.  Though there are large, policy-changing answers we can find to improve the system, there are also small, intangible solutions every day Americans can do in order to enhance the education of our young people.

For the past five years, I’ve worked in an organization that supports and supplements the instruction of the teacher.  In doing so, I’ve been able to experience the problems faced by the teacher.  I realize teachers have a lot of things they need to do in order to educate kids.  With overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies, and long processes, it’s very difficult for teachers to educate students alone.  What my company is able to do is provide assistance, bringing in people to confirm everything the teacher just instructed.  By doing this, students start making connections; they realize teachers are not instructing for their own health, and when the same thing is said from another person who has “swag” or they can relate to the student, then a connection is made.  The education system is starting to improve.

I wonder, is there a connection with establishing a positive relationship with America’s future and the improvement of education?  Is our society built on nourishing tomorrow or is it worried about what we can get today?  We love to talk about our posterity and how we need to invest in the future today, but do we practice what we preach?  It is evident that we are lacking in compassion for our youth (automatic rejection of their music, ignoring their viewpoint, disengagement of their actions).  THIS IS STUPID ON OUR PART!!!!

One thing these young people have that we didn’t is the instant access to information.  They can Google on their phone and broadcast whatever they find to the whole world in seconds.  As adults, our responsibility is to:

  • Develop a good report/relationship with our children
  • Listen to their ideas/thoughts
  • Advise/Teach/Discipline them the appropriate plans of actions (based from experience)
  • Developing an environment for nurturing, learning and loving

Is this easy: no.   The hardest stage in any process is implementation.  It takes energy, effort, and patience.  There are some stupid brats who don’t want to listen.  We can’t save everyone.  Our job is to make ourselves available so we can be in a position to teach/help someone who wants to improve.  It takes a village to raise a child.  Let’s not leave our children behind.

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How My Family Made An Impact On My Life: Dad’s Domino Games…

“Families are the compass that guide us.  They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”
-Brad Henry
I want to continue on my conversation on how my family impacted my life.  Please understand, my family is not exclusive to people I am related to by blood.  They are childhood friends, teachers, and mentors who accept me for who I am and teach me a great deal about life (directly and indirectly).
In the next few blogs I will talk about people my family exposed me to who influenced me.  I will not specify names because there are SO many people who I admire, and if I forget some names I will regret it.  I do want to speak generally and provide thematic messages on the importance of surrounding yourself with high quality people.
One thing I forgot to mention when discussing my immediate family was their talent for exposing me to great people.  My father, mother, brother, and sister had a network of people around me to teach me mostly good, exposed me occasionally to bad, but definitely entertained me to the fullest.
Walk with Kings, but don’t lose the common touch
One of my father’s favorite pastime was playing dominoes.  I remember him playing at least twice a week for hours each meeting with the same 3 men.  These men were diplomats, nor politicians, they were people he trust.  Initially, it didn’t make sense for my dad to “associate” with these blue collar workers.  My father was a banker, entrepreneur, and leader of the largest black chamber in the country.  Why would he spend most of his recreational time with people “below him”.  Watching them play dominoes and occasionally running an errand for them, I was able to socialize and learn from everyone at the table.  I started getting tips on how I maintain my car, and the best method in keeping a great lawn.  Most importantly, witnessed how 4 different types of black men can interact and work as a team.  Even though they had different education levels, different professions, even different socioeconomic statuses, they had one thing in common:  They are black men that was surviving a world I had not experienced yet.  As I grow older, I began to realize a very important lesson he was teaching me: give all people the same respect.  Every person can teach you a lesson, the question is will you learn and apply it.
It takes a group of diverse people to make a society thrive, and it takes a functioning community to prosper.  In order to fulfill many of my goals, it requires me to talk, relate, and understand different types of people.  It would be total suicide if I believed I was better than someone because of what little resources I have.
People are people are people.  No person is better or worse than the other:  we are just different.  Let’s appreciate our diversity and learn from one another so we can be the best we can be.

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How My Family Impacts My Life, Part 1

After days of thinking, I’ve decided to write about a group of people that have made the most impact of my life:  mi familia (Thanks Cedric Lyons).  In later blogs, I will write in more detail about my family,  and will discuss my friends, mentors, and people I’ve encountered in life that have influenced my philosophy, my ideology, and have stretched my mind to levels I’ve never thought can imagine.  I am a fortunate man, but I must give you a snap-shot about 4 people who I lived with most of my life:  Thomas Lee Houston Sr. (Dad), Dorothy Faye McDowell Houston (Mom), Thomas Houston Jr. (Brother), and Natalie Lynn Houston Hunter (Sister).

Dad (My example)

Outside the Russell Glen Residence, Tom Houston was a very influential banker, businessman, and entrepreneur in the Dallas community.  He was one of the first black corporate bankers in the city, developed businesses, and led the oldest and largest black chamber in the country.  But inside the house, Dad was a relaxed, domino-playing, v-neck and boxer wearing patriarch who enjoyed family trips to Elgin for hot sausage and time with his friends.   Honestly, I didn’t know the depth of the “legend” of Thomas L. Houston until after college when I was being acclimated to the “real world”.  Initially, I didn’t understand why he hid that from me.  I appreciate it now…  He wanted me to be my own man.  He wanted to make sure I wasn’t pressured in going into his shadow (whether it’s basking in his glory or making the same mistakes he made).  He wanted to make sure I understand that your home life needs to be your safe haven from what you experience in the outside world.  I respect that, and will use that as an example now in my professional life and when I start my own family.  Thanks Pops.

Mom (The Nurturer)

Everywhere I go, I always hear good things about my mother; in fact, I don’t think she has ever made genuine enemies.  She’s neither a gentle woman, nor one that’s quiet… just authentic.  She has an honest, nurturing aura to her that, regardless what she says and how she says it (the good, bad, or ugly), you can’t despise or hate her.  Mom has your best intentions at heart.  It was evident when she helped me sell candy at her own rival high school to pay for my band uniform or when she’s tired but still helps my sister by taking care of her grandsons.  She is smart, clever, witty, and beautiful.  She’s diverse:  one of the best cooks I’ve EVER met, loves to joke around, but at the same time would love to dress up and go to a formal function.  She’s the total package, and I’m fortunate to have her as a guide on my quest for my wife.

Tommy (Mr. Persistent)

Tommy was fifteen years older than I (yes, I was my parent’s “blessing”).  Honestly, I didn’t know him much, but the things I remember left lasting impressions.  In my mind my father and brother had the same intensity (stubbornness), so when there was conflict, there was no resolution.  My brother had a lot of my mom’s qualities: easy to talk to, compassionate, gentle (despite his 6’4’’ 350+pound frame).  He loved people:  he had a warm smile and cared for the welfare of people he was close to and even strangers.  He was also VERY PERSISTENT…  He sold everything.  Pre-paid Legal, Kirby, ACN, Olive Leaf Oil Extract, property, baseball cards, Noni Juice.  Every Multi-level marketing plan that was in existence, Tommy sold (or tried to sell).  Lastly, I feel that Tommy was misunderstood in our family.  He was the emotional being in the house.  He was very relational, wanted to be appreciated, and wanted to always impart his wisdom (or his ideology) on us.  We as Houstons typically don’t operate like that.  In hindsight, I (we) could have done more to show we cared.  I regret I didn’t spend the time I could have with him before he died.   I love and miss him very much….

Nat (My Swag lifesaver)

My older sister is the reason why you see the Matt Houston brand today.  After graduating college, she moved back home and changed my life.  I was in middle school (an awkward time for me) and she taught me the importance having my belt match my shoes (outside of a suit).  This changed my life.  She ignited a fire in me that made me question what I used to wear, what I want to wear, and how I carry myself.  She didn’t just give me fashion conscience, but she gave me confidence.  I changed from a zero to a hero in the matter of months! (a little exaggeration).  Seriously, Natalie showed me the importance of appearance and how people always observe how you carry yourself.  Most importantly, Natalie taught me the importance of discipline.  She is the most regimented person I know.  Before there was surgery or lap band, she lost tons of pounds through hard work, healthy eating, and exercising.  She’s amazing.  She is also a phenomenal model as I’m on my search for my life mate.  She is a professional, yet takes care of her husband and two very active sons.  She’s a great package and I’m lucky to have her as my big sister.

These four people molded me into the man I am today.  There is not a day when I don’t appreciate them.  Thank you and I love you very much.  I’m blessed to be your son and your brother.

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Life with a Little, Pt. 1

At this month’s YP meeting (www.ulgdyp.org), we had Roderick Miles of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) talk to the body about being a Big in the BBBS program.  As I reflect on the 1st month of having a “little” through the program, I’m surprised at the progress of my little and I.  It’s been a long time coming, about two years since someone introduced me to the program.  It’s not surprisenly good, it’s not surprisenly bad, it’s just been a surprise.  I’m surpised at how easy our interactions have been.

Before joining BBBS, I though I would have to “force” a relationship with Ja’Lon.  I studied the materials my match specialist provided me (sort of), I made sure my schedule was clear (an act of congress in itself), even reviewed my notes from the online training (I kind of paid attention to) and I mentally prepared for any questions he and his family had for me (how to impress them with the “good” in me and how to deflect all of my vices).

When I got there, it wasn’t like that.  Everything was thrown out of the window.  I had no plan…  So I just stuck with my instincts.  As our match coordinator explained each of our roles, I noticed he didn’t care much about the rules; he was glad (or relieved) that he had a sensible Big Brother.  He is a regular human being…

I learned that he had been waiting for a Big for about 2 years.  He’s 14 year old, a Freshman in High School.  He needed a man in his life during the harmonal transitions in middle school.  His mother and grandmother are cool, but they don’t understand the different changes he’s going through or how puberty affects a man.  I remember hating that time period in my life and made a vow to help as many people as possible though that difficult time.  I failed him at that.  I was too selfish… I should have stepped it up when someone approached me a couple of years ago…

Long story short, we have had a good time so far.  I’m teaching him things, he’s tellin me I listen to old people music (duh, I’m sorry he was born after both 2-Pac and Biggie were killed).  Most importantly, we both have someone who we can talk to and gain knowledge, and I am grateful.

Black Men:  Please sign up to be a Big.  Our boys need you.  You don’t have to be a perfect man, we don’t need perfection.  African American boys are in search of models: people they can emulate.  If we rely on TV or society, they will not understand the true black man fully.  Please help our poeple… Surprisenly, it’s not that bad…

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Nurturing Kids: Adult’s most important job…

This weekend, I paid a visit to my mom.  She was keeping her grandsons, my nephews; for the night and I thought it would be a good time to catch up with her and to see these two vibrant, VERY ACTIVE, intelligent young men.  As we were all watching Scooby-Do the Movie, I realized the importance of me being in their lives.  After the movie, my mom and I bathed them and got them ready for bed.  Before we turned the lights off, however, we showed them a picture collage of our family and friends.  They ate it up!  They love to see their mom and dad, photos of themselves, of my father and brother, and people they do and don’t recognize.  When we stopped, they were sad.  Trey and Logan wanted more, wanted to learn more about their family, wanted to see themselves one more time on the electric picture frame.

It was then I realized something.  It was a strange feeling.  They don’t need me to be their father as I thought initially… they have one in my brother-in-law.  They don’t need me to support them financially, either.  They just need me to be there; a black man who is driven, intelligent, who wants to succeed professionally, and love his family unconditionally.  What’s funny is that my sister Natalie has been asking me (bugging) to be in their lives more.  Why?  I’m not a father…  I don’t even know how to change a diaper.  I see them enough…  Whenever I’m on the phone with Nat I make sure you tell them I love them and I try to see them at every possible function, but I never fully understood why she thought I wasn’t spending enough time with them.

The fact is kids are not like adults.  They need nurturing.  They are very observant, and absorb everything in their environment.  They don’t fully understand when their mom or dad is away because they need to work to pay the bills and support their lifestyle; they just know they don’t see them, and they are sad.  They want a sense of order and community; two qualities that will help them excel as adults.  Just as Marian Wright Edelman said in her book, “The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small”, that children are our future.  We need to make sure they are fed physically, socially, spiritually, and academically.

To Kenedi, Triniti, Trey, and Thomas Logan: I love you all and I will try my best to be the Uncle Matt you deserve, for I want you to succeed in life.

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I’m Turning Into a Grumpy Old Man…

This Monday, I participated in a career day at a neighborhood middle school.  There I spoke to a number of eight-graders about where I’m from, my education background, what I do now, but most importantly, my words of wisdom on how to be successful in life:  Dream Big, Work Hard, and Give Back.  As each 20-minute presentation progressed, I notice that my body language and tone to the students became increasing more intense:  I’m turning into that old man who every kid makes fun of behind his back.

Initially, I was very energetic and light with my approach.  This wasn’t my first career day and I love doing this and students are normally very receptive.  However, this time was different.  The students were still students; there was nothing different about career day program.  There was a difference in me.  For the first time, I was interacting with kids that directly affect me: these students were in my neighborhood.  These kids directly affect the future of where I live.  Knowing that, I started acting different.

All of a sudden I had a duty, not option, to excel.  I can’t just entertain these students; I need to make sure I equip them with as much information in 15-20 minutes as possible so they can be successful in life!!!  I need, through osmosis, tell them my life’s struggles, my mistakes, my successes, the struggles of Black America, the responsibility of next generation of leaders, what schools they need to go to, what organizations to join, what they need to do in order to be great people.  The students were puzzled.  “Why is Mr. Matt so intense?”

It was then that I understood the plight of the Grumpy Old Man.  GOMs see something in us we don’t:  they see our potential, and how we are not maximizing it.  They see all of their mistakes and don’t want the younger generation to fall into the same traps.  They are crying out to us, in their own intense, senile way.

How can we as a society successfully marriage the relationship between the”Young Bucks” and the GOMs?  I have a theory:  If there are more people advocating positive messages to the community, a small  population won’t feel the need to overwhelm themselves with the burden to tell everyone what to do, minimizing stress and eliminating the “grumpiness” factor.  We, as adults (both young and old), can do that by mentoring a young person, joining organizations (like Big Brothers/Big Sisters), and showing our young people what it means to be a positive contribution to society.

“If you continually give, you will continually have.”

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The Importance of Family

On yesterday, I had a spontaneous BBQ at my house where my family and friends ate, fellowshipped, and watched the NBA basketball game.  It was a nice event.  Though it was last minute, and I had work to do, we were able to cook some food, people chipped in and brought sides and we had a great time.  It was very relaxing.  I felt complete.  I’ve been doing a lot with work and organizations I’m a part of, so I haven’t been focusing on my personal life lately.  As I reflect on yesterday, I thought of an important lesson, particularly to the “busy” people:  No matter how successful you are professionally or civically, you have to take time out to spend time and enjoy your family.

“The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing.”- unknown

Throughout my adult live, my goal has been to impact every person that I come in contact with and to change the World to make it a better place.  While this aim is lofty, and demands a lot of my time, energy, and resources, I’ve showed some progress.  I’m a part of a company whose mission is to motive and inspire children to achieve excellence academically, I’m affiliated with organizations that, from their missions, focuses on the advancement of people socially, economically, and spiritually; and within those organizations, I’m blessed that the members recognize me as a leader, which allows me to move into leadership positions.  With all of this, I forgot to focus on my family.  I’m missing out on God’s greatest blessing.

I often assume my family will be there.  That they don’t need me.  That they understand what I’m doing and will support me, even if I don’t support them and their efforts.  That’s not the right thing to do.  I have two nieces and nephews, and my goal is to illustrate a strong, caring, successful man in their lives.  It can be gone in numerous ways:  giving them money, gifts, tickets, but the most impactful way is to show them I care by being in their lives.  I want my nephews to see me at their soccer/football games.  I want my nieces to see me at their recitals.  Kids don’t care about money… they care about love and support.

How can I do this?  What can I (we) do in order to improve our families?  I admit I am a hypocrite.  I realize I need to spend more time my family (particularly with my nieces and nephews) so they can understand their Uncle Matt.  When this happens, the Houston and Hunter family will grow even stronger because positive adults are impacting America’s future.  The same applies to our society.  We need spend more positive time with our young people.  Our youth, though rebellious, wants direction and boundaries (boundaries is the only way we tell someone is defiant…).  Let’s be that positive role model for them.  Sure the road is not easy, but it’s well worth it.

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