Tag Archives: youth

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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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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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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Defeat happens, but I can’t give up

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition.  Giving up is what makes it permanent.”

-Marilyn vos Savant

I now understand why people quit after being defeated.  It’s easy.

This week I did something that I could regret for the rest of my life.  It was nothing immoral or illegal (actually it was totally innocent), but it was taken out of context and offended a lot of people.  Though I am one person, I realize a single action can change the course of history, for better or worse.

Since then, my life has been a roller coaster ride mentally.  I’ve gone from the top of the mountain, feeling like I’m contributing to society in every aspect of my life, to the bottom of the valley.  I feel like giving up, quitting, running away, all at the same time.

Normally I like give advice on how to make the world a better place and support to people who need it.  In my typical blog with the subject of perseverance, I would encourage people to fight the good fight and don’t give up, because in order to build better communities, cities, and country, we have to persist through the good and bad times.  I would then use examples of how our ancestors didn’t give up.  When George Washington and the Patriots wanted freedom from Great Britain, they persevered so we can become America.  When Africans were kidnapped from their homeland, enslaved unjustly, and force to stay in oppression, they didn’t give up.  They fought for their freedom so I have a liberty to write this piece.

I can’t write that now.  I don’t have the answers.  All I feel is pain, defeat, and disappointment.  The motivational “pick me up” will not suffice now.  I need something better.  The movement sucks…  Quitting is easy.  The only reason why I haven’t is because I was taught not to.

I need you all to support me.  I need to support you.  We need each other: in the best of times and worst of times.  I fully see how the season of light can turn to the season of darkness so quickly.  Regardless, giving up is easy, but it’s not worth it… We have too much work to do.

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We’re Losing

As I reflect on how we’ve overcome as a people, displaced Africans in a foreign land against our will, fighting for our freedom, and then fighting for our equality; all at the same time contributing to society in the world of agriculture, science, the arts, technology, etc., I realize presently we are not doing what we are suppose to do.  We are losing…

Ricky Bobby’s father said it best, “If you’re not first, you’re last”.  In America, even though we are considered one of the most advanced (and innovative) nations on Earth, we are still not the best.  We are slacking in education (9th among industrialized nations from ages 24-35), and it’s even worse in Black American culture, having Black males among the worst in standardized test scores across the board.  Without education, we cannot progress as a people!

How do we correct this?  How can we educate a generation of people who we’ve lost because of our own selfishness and self-gratitude (greed)?  How can we get back on track in order for America to be on top again like we were 20 years ago?  The good news is we are capable of making the change.

As stated in the beginning of my rant, Black Americans were enslaved and forbidden to read, write, and learn in general.  We defied this by doing whatever necessary to become literate.  Some ran to freedom, some read secretly and taught others, some even positioned themselves amongst Whites in order to be in the environment where education was prevalent.  We did ANYTHING to make it work.  We were hustlers grinding to better ourselves.

We still have that “hustle” mindset.  In Hip-Hop, when artist like Jay-Z, Diddy, Russell Simmons, and others used their talents, skills, and education to build an empire from their vision, it’s proven we are capable of living the American Dream.  In athletics, the Michael Jordan story, where MJ was cut from his HS Varsity team then worked his way to being the most significant basketball player in history shows that hard work pays off.  We have numerous examples in our culture to show this… we just don’t care to look.  WE ARE TOO LAZY TO EVEN CARE…

What now?  As a people, we tend to rise to the occasion once we either feel threatened or oppressed (being reactive).  It’s proven:  we fought slavery by the civil war, fought racism by the Civil Rights Movement.  Once we acknowledge a problem, we solve it.  The issue with us now is that we don’t have these feelings.  We don’t think anything’s wrong.  I’m here to tell you:  WE ARE OPPRESSED.  When about 1/3 of our black men are either in prison or juvenile detention, we are oppressed.  When our black women have some of the highest STD infection rates in the country, we are oppressed.  When the black unemployment rate is double than the average, we are oppressed.  When black teenagers can’t finish school because they have children and they need to support their family in order to survive, we are oppressed.  LET’S WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!  THE OPPRESSION IS HERE!!!!!!  NOW LET’S FIX IT!!!!!!!!!!!

We’re losing, but we haven’t lost yet.  Let’s be proactive.  Let’s make a goal to positively change the life of one person instead of tearing them down (it’s not that hard, I promise).  Once you see a person improve, a euphoric feeling will go through you and you will be energized to help another.  It’s so easy: open the door for someone, make someone smile, teach kids how to read, show a young man to line up his shirt with his belt and his pants to show the importance of not sagging.  It’s very simple.  We just have to be stewards of the gifts God gave us.  If everyone does this, we will make the world a better place.

I’m done…  I can go to sleep now.  I’ve finished my reflection.  Have a goodnight.

Let’s change the World,

Matt Houston

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Our Past is distracting us from Greatness

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