Motivational speaker inspires Dunkirk Middle School students
“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future,” guest speaker David Mahan said to an assembly of Dunkirk Middle School students earlier this week.
“Ooh,” several students responded aloud, intrigued by the thought.
Mahan went on to share part of his story with students that may have them thinking a bit differently about their friends — and themselves.
“I was raised by my granny,” Mahan explained.
“When I was in high school, we lived on the north side of Columbus, Ohio. I was homecoming king, scholar athlete, all of that. After practice one day, I brought this dude to the house she thought was a thug. He wasn’t that bad. He had an afro and was ‘good with his hands,'” Mahan chuckled. “Granny looked at him and said to me, ‘Boy, you show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.’ Anybody ever said that to you?”
Several students responded aloud, “Yep!”
Mahan’s point was clear: “We may not be doing everything our friends are doing now, but eventually we do because if we didn’t think it was sexy, we wouldn’t be hanging around it. We wouldn’t be pretending like we know the game.”
Mahan, founder of Frontline Youth Communications, is a youth development consultant who has spoken to student groups around the world for over 20 years. His honest, yet humorous demeanor engages students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds and impoverished communities — “the hood,” to use Mahan’s phrase.
Mahan speaks to secular and religious groups alike, but his messages are universal: “Whatever lifestyle I choose, I have to accept the consequences. Your habits are attached to your outcomes. You can’t just choose your future; you have to choose the habits that form it.”
For many years, Mahan has been a popular speaker and youth development consultant for organizations including the Federal Administration for Children and Families, Georgia’s Governor’s Office for Children and Families, Maryland Department of Health, Mississippi Department of Human Services, the Ohio Department of Youth Services and the Salvation Army. In 2016, he received the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for exemplary service to the community.
While Mahan’s many years of experience working with youths in schools, churches, juvenile detention centers and more certainly give him a depth and breadth of knowledge that few educators can bring to the classroom, his life story proves that there is no better teacher than experience.
During his hour-long presentation, Mahan told students that he was a teen father. “No drugs, no alcohol, real popular, virgin until my senior year,” Mahan ticked off his list of attributes. “But still we became parents because of the details that nobody was really breaking down for us. ‘Just be safe,’ that’s what they tell inner city kids. Richer kids get another message.”
Mahan shared a recent story he heard from a middle school student who approached him at the end of one of his talks. She explained how she was invited to a party by one of the most popular high school boys. She admitted to Mahan that she agreed to go to the party in order to fit in, but the situation took a turn for the worse when her date invited her into a bathroom just to “talk” in private. Now, the student is pregnant.
“I asked her, ‘Where’s the guy?’ so I can talk to you together. She said he just got locked up not too long ago,” Mahan said, and an audible gasp was heard throughout the auditorium.
“Pop culture’s got her thinking that this guy was the hottest guy on the planet because he’s a bad boy. And now she’s got bad boy consequences. And now she and I are both crying. This is not a book report to me. These are real people, real lives just like you,” Mahan pointed out.
Then Mahan asked the student a tough question: “Why did you think it would be a good idea to lose your virginity to a criminal in a bathroom? She said, ‘Before this morning, I never thought about it like that.’ When it comes to these issues, we don’t think at all. We just feel our way through life: feel excited, feel fun, feel like it’s going to be sexy or romantic or whatever. And then we get caught up.”
Mahan went on to explain his purpose in sharing the difficult story. “The reason why I tell that story is not because it’s rare. I heard that story Tuesday. Yesterday. I heard that story Monday in Jamestown at the end of my assembly. This is a story I hear all the time because the most important years of your life are also the most dangerous years of your life. Seventh grade to tenth grade is game time right now . It’s serious. I want you to get to your goals.”
One way to get to those goals, according to Mahan, is for students to think critically about the kind of media they consume. “Garbage in, garbage…” Mahan pointed the microphone to the audience. “Out!” students responded in unison.
“I had an opportunity to interview a real life pimp,” Mahan explained. “I asked him, ‘What do you think about pop culture? All this music and these messages being pumped out to kids?’ He said, ‘Dave, pop culture is grooming our young men to be victimizers and our young girls to be victims.’ It’s the one thing in culture that nobody speaks against because they think it’s just entertainment. It’s edutainment!”
Mahan then addressed the adults in the room. “Here’s the two major influences in a kid’s life: family and pop culture. Usually, family is the one that allows kids to have so much pop culture influence,” he stated.
He concluded his talk by answering students’ questions. A female student asked Mahan, “Why do the girls always get the blame with teen pregnancy?”
His response was three-fold: “If we teach sexuality that is just a game, girls lose every time for three reasons.”
Mahan explained that physically, girls “lose” because often sexually transmitted infections go undetected longer in females. They often lose financially, because they face the responsibility of having and raising a child. “She also loses socially,” Mahan added. “If you go to the high school, and you’ve got a guy that’s got 15 partners and a girl that’s got 15 partners, the guy is going to be something cool…more people want to get with him because that’s what pop culture says is cool. The girl? We call her a bunch of different names. Here’s my point, and here’s what I tell my daughters. You can’t change the game, but you can choose not to play.”
Middle School Principal Rebecca Farwell thanked Mahan for his time and addressed her students: “I hope the message that you all take away today is that change can happen because of Dunkirk Middle School. You’ve heard Mr. Mahan say a bunch of different times, ‘Change is good.’ In this building, your teachers, administrators and every adult in this building believes in you and wants you to be successful. When we tell you to put your cell phone away, it’s not to be ugly. It’s because we want you to succeed. We want you to pay attention, we want you to be in class and we want you to do well. We want you to thrive like you’ve heard him say his four kids are thriving.”
The assemblies were sponsored by Impact Campus Fellowship and the Impact Clubs in 42 schools in Western New York.