Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments

“Our goal was the win the State Championship. It was my personal goal and the team’s goal as well. When you have that goal, you get that ‘tunnel vision’.” 

One of the key principles of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key pillar of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in the Buffalo Public Schools’ ‘Yale Cup’ high school city basketball league laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.

I’m actually working on a project chronicling my early journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Yale Cup players from my era. On February 2, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Jason Rowe – a Buffalo basketball legend who sits on the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of Yale Cup players with the likes of: Trevor Ruffin, Ritchie Campbell, Marcus Whitfield, Curtis Aiken, Ray Hall and Cliff Robinson. Jason spearheaded Buffalo Traditional High School’s ascension to the top of ‘Section VI’ basketball, leading his Bulls to the ‘Far West Regional’ each of his four years, and then to State Tournament in Glens Falls, his final two before winning it in his senior season. In part, one of this two-part interview, we discuss his background, and his storied playing days at the Buffalo Traditional High School.  The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones.

Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you, Jason. I’m working an ambitious writing project about my high school basketball experience. It was my first major success and failure life lesson. While I didn’t play organized basketball beyond the 1993-94 school year, my high school experience on our team at Hutch-Tech gave me the tools I needed to earn my Ph.D. in a STEM-field – not quitting during the hard times, dealing with adversity, finishing what I started, and so on.

In my project I also tell the story of the Yale Cup in that era, and you can’t properly tell it without discussing the Buffalo Traditional Bulls as you guys were the premiere program/team. As a part of my research, I’ve reached out to some of the other Yale Cup players to gain insight to what it was like playing at Bennett, City Honors, Kensington, Riverside, and others. But to talk to you is like talking to Jordan (laughing).

Jason Rowe: That’s a lot of pressure (laughing), but I’m happy to help out.

AD: Okay, so let’s start. As you know, the Buffalo News wrote extensively about you in the early to mid 1990s. They particularly talked about your father, Jerry, and your Uncle Lester being very influential in your development as a basketball player. At what age did you start playing basketball? Did they put a basketball in your crib as a baby?

JR: It’s funny you should say that because that’s literally the story I was told. When I came home as a baby, there was a basketball hoop on the wall in my crib and my father used to pick me up and have me dunk the basketball as a kid.

AD: Was your father a basketball player?

JR: Yes. He played locally, but he didn’t pursue it at a higher level. My uncle and I were the ones who were fortunate to go on to play in college, and to make some money from it.

AD: So you would describe your upbringing as being similar to that of a Stephon Marbury where basketball was literally in your family?

JR: Yes. All of the males in my family – myself, my uncle, my father, and James Rowe my cousin, who was an athlete at Lafayette High School. He played football, basketball, and I believe he ran track too. My brother, Jeremy, played football, basketball, and he ran cross country at Buffalo Traditional. My whole family was athletic.

AD: When you were playing middle school basketball, were you already in camps and clinics?

JR: I went to the University of West Virginia’s basketball camp as a kid. I went to the local camps at Canisius and the University at Buffalo. I was actually at Georgia Tech’s camp the moment Kenny Anderson got drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA). As a kid I was a huge Kenny Anderson fan, and that’s why I wore number 12 in high school.

AD: Were there any other college and professional players that you looked up to?

JR: Jordan, Isaiah and Magic were the guys that I idolized in the NBA. In college I looked up to Kenny Anderson, Jason Kidd and Chris Jackson. Locally, I looked up to my uncle, Trevor Ruffin  (pictured to the left), and Ritchie Campbell. I looked at them and felt like I could do something. They were guys I could watch every day in a ‘hands on’ type of way. Trevor grew up across the street from me and he was like a ‘big brother’. He played at the University of Hawaii and he went on to the NBA, but I didn’t look at him that way. This was the guy who, when he was in the NBA, would pick me up to go work out with him. We had that type of relationship where he was my big brother, and I was going in the house and watching TV with him.

AD: Were you familiar with some of the other Yale Cup and Section VI stars who came before you like Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield?

JR: I grew up watching those guys so I idolized Ritchie, Nigel Bostic, and Marcus Whitfield. I vaguely remember Ray Hall. My experience with him was in the summer leagues. But as far as the big name guys who were in the Yale Cup, I knew them because my cousin, James, was eight years older than me. So he grew up in that era and took me to those games because he played at Lafayette. I was able to get my experience watching those games as well.

AD: Did anyone in your circle talk about Christian Laettner?

JR: I heard stories about Laettner, but I wasn’t around him that much. I was at that infamous game between Nichols and South Park where the fight broke out, but I was too young to remember it.

AD: Being at Traditional for middle school, what made you decide to stay for high school? Is that just what the students did there?

JR: I wanted to have my own name. Traditional was home for me. They had some success leading up to that time and I knew everyone on their team. I wanted to be a part of that, so for me it didn’t make sense to go anywhere else.

AD: Yes, every year Coach Joe Cardinal’s teams were making deep runs in postseason play – a couple of times to the State Tournament. Did you and Damien Foster plan to attend Buffalo Traditional together, or was it a random decision?

JR: We grew up in the Masten ‘Boys Club’. The basketball circle is very small. We became friends and started playing there together. I want to say that he was going to go to McKinley first, but he decided to come to Traditional and it definitely worked out for everyone involved.

AD: For me, you guys came out of nowhere. I wasn’t in the ‘basketball circle’ you described, and I didn’t know who you guys were. Thus, the first time I saw you play was when you guys came to play us at Hutch-Tech in January 1993 and smacked us 96-73. It was right after Cameron Calvin died, and it coincided with the University of Michigan’s storied ‘Fab Five’. We had an all upperclassmen starting lineup and getting routed by you guys like that was a backbreaking loss for the players and our coach. I watched it all unfold on the bench due to an injury, and I even looked at the tape numerous times afterwards in awe. Play after play, you guys just made it look easy. Many freshmen are scared in Varsity competition, but you guys looked so fearless. What was your mentality as a freshman?

JR: It’s funny that you mentioned Michigan’s ‘Fab Five’. If you pull up the videos and pictures of us at Buffalo Traditional, we mimicked the Fab Five – the big shorts and the black socks. My mentality personally was to be the best ballplayer I could be. I grew up around Trevor Ruffin and my uncle so inside the home, the pressure to succeed was one of the things that drove me personally. I was fortunate enough to have that basketball success around me – my big brother was an NBA player, and my uncle was a legend who played Division 1 basketball and then overseas. So when you walked into that house you had to bring something to the table. You can’t just sit there and say, ‘I had 10 points today.’ You had to win convincingly and put up some numbers. As a team and as freshmen we were happy to compete and do well, but I don’t think we knew how good we would become and the success we would have. You’re 14 years old and you want to win, but you don’t really understand how far it can take you.

AD: I imagine you guys caught a lot of teams like that. Riverside won the Yale Cup the year before, and if I recall you all beat them. You had two seniors on that team, Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra, along with you younger guys. How did you guys blend it all together?

JR: I was in the school so I was familiar with Andre and Jeff already. They were instrumental in our success my freshman year. Jeff was our shooter, and Andre was like our ‘Draymond Green’ – he was undersized, but he could do a little bit of everything. They were very good leaders.

What also helped us was that a lot of us played together outside of Buffalo Traditional. We were always at the Boys Club – myself, Damien, Damone White, who unfortunately has passed away – we were always together playing. It’s kind of like we weren’t surprised because we knew how each other played and our mentality. No one else really knew. We knew how to compete, we just didn’t know we were going to knock off so many teams and make a name for ourselves. We just wanted to win.

AD: As you know, whenever you experience a high level of success, you’re going to have critics as well. I’m sure you guys heard similar chatter, but one of my teammates at Hutch-Tech once told me about how your Coach, Joe Cardinal, would just go into his office and read the newspaper while you guys played ‘pickup’ basketball during practice every day (laughing). What was the Traditional team like? Was it a thing where Coach Cardinal just put the ball in your hands and let you go or was there more to it?

JR: Coach Cardinal was very honest when he would say, ‘I’m a gym teacher, and I don’t know much about basketball in terms of coaching.’ Because he was so open and honest, and didn’t try to hide that, it actually made us closer. He wasn’t lying and trying to be something he wasn’t. He was the most personable coach I ever played for because he had our backs and we knew that. In terms of Xs and Os, no he wasn’t that knowledgeable so it’s no surprise that we didn’t learn certain things.

In tight situations, he would tell us to, ‘run a pick and roll,’ or something very basic – nothing complex. Fortunately for us, we were able to beat a lot of teams by a lot of points, so there weren’t a lot of tight games. When the games were tight I was able to use some of the things my father and uncle taught me.

AD: Were there any other coaches on that staff that made a difference?

JR: Ellis Woods, who was the coach’s best friend. They were cut from the same cloth, and were very open and honest with us about what they did and didn’t know. We would run through a brick wall for both Coach Cardinal and Coach Woods. They could relate to us.

AD: My junior season was cut short due to grades, an injury and not knowing how to deal with adversity, but I kept my eyes on what was happening in postseason play. I remember watching the news at night and seeing your team march all of the way to the Class C “Far West Regional”. You guys beat Starpoint, Newfane, Portville and then top-seeded John F. Kennedy 71-67 to win the Section VI Class C Championship as mostly freshman and sophomores. Some kids never made the sectionals at all, and the core of your team won yours as freshmen and sophomores. What was that ride like?

JR: Our goal was the win the State Championship. It was my personal goal and the team’s goal as well. When you have that goal, you get that ‘tunnel vision’. We used to say, ‘Get to Glen. Get to Glen. You’ve got to get to Glens Falls.’ That’s where the State Championship was held. For some time the Buffalo teams were having a hard time getting past the Rochester teams in the Far West Regional. We wanted to get past Rochester. For us, we had a lot of confidence because we played against the top notch competition in Buffalo. We were confident enough to get past Buffalo’s competition and we just had to beat the Rochester teams. It was step by step.

AD: It was the Marion team in your freshman year and the Mynderse team in your sophomore year you faced in the Far West Regional – were they bigger? Were they better?

JR: Everything. I think what we lacked is what they exploited. They had the structure we didn’t have. They were big and physical, and they just outworked us. I cried a lot after those two games. I shed a lot of tears. They were well deserved victories for them.

AD: Unfortunately, I didn’t go to that Mynderse game which was at UB’s Alumni Arena, but I did see the highlights and recognized one of the guys Damien Foster was jawing at after hitting a three-pointer. I played with some of those guys at the ‘Ken Jones Basketball Camp’ – my coach’s camp which a lot of Rochester area players attended. I imagine just seeing the clash of styles must have been amazing.

JR: You had this fast paced team versus this half court, slow it down type of team – two completely different styles of basketball.

AD: Yes, you guys were clearly more athletic and more talented. I imagine they were patiently working the ball on offense, and slowing the game down.

JR: They were physical. I remember them being very physical.

AD: So you guys beat Lyons in your junior year in the Far West Regional 74-71, you willed the Bulls to victory against Mechanicville in the state semifinals 81-72, before matching up against Elton Brand and Peekskill in final game. What was the key to beating Lyons? Had you guys just been there two years and you were ready?

JR: I would say that it was the pain of losing in the Far West Regional those first two years and not being able to get over the hump. We felt like it was our time and we wanted that victory more than anything else in the world. Lyons might have been No. 1 in the state that year too, and for a team that was easily motivated like us, we’d had enough.

AD: Your team went on to suffer a heartbreaking 94-85 loss to Peekskill in a public state final game, and then you graduated veterans Adrian Baugh, LaVar Frasier and Jimmy Birden who were featured in the Buffalo News during the playoffs that season. Was it hard to get back to the State Tournament the next year? Or did you and Damien just not miss a beat?

JR: It was hard in the sense that it’s just not easy getting there period. But in terms of remaining focused and knowing that the State Championship is what we wanted, the mental part wasn’t hard, but the physical part was hard. You have to play 20 games just to get to Glens Falls – that’s just getting there. The game by game process was hard, but the mental aspect wasn’t difficult. When we lost to Peekskill, I remember telling the Buffalo News before I walked off the court, ‘We’ll be back,’ and I meant that.

AD: I imagine all four years were fun, but was there one that stood out above the rest? Was it in your senior year when the team won the Class C State crown 62-48 over Mechanicville, and then the Class C Federation crown 92-71 over Collegiate of New York City?

JR: Yes, that was the year that we won. It was fun, but it was also bitter sweet, because I remember when we won a lot of us were crying tears of joy, but we also understood that it was over – our run was over and that it was our last game together. Our team was very, very close.

AD: As I mentioned earlier, you guys lost the three seniors from your junior year, but you still had a strong supporting cast which included guys like: Damone White, Darcel Williams, Jamar Corbett, and Darnell Beckham.

JR: To me Darcel was our ‘X-factor’. We had a good team. We had guys graduate in different years, but everyone stuck together during that time so we already had that bond and that chemistry. So by the time Adrian, LaVar and Jimmy graduated, the other guys were ready because they already had experienced playing in big games. That’s why, in my senior year, we were just running through teams. It was insane.

AD: You and Damien were talked about synonymously – Damien Foster and Jason Rowe, Jason Rowe and Damien Foster. What was Damien like? Did you guys have to talk about who was going to get the last shot? Who was going to get the majority of the shots? Was your chemistry just natural?

JR: I had two personal goals going into high school; I wanted to get 1,000 assists and I wanted to win the State Championship. So passing the ball – I didn’t have an issue with that, and fortunately for us, we blew so many teams out that it was never an issue regarding who got the last shot. There is no issue when you’re up 10, 20, or 30 points – we won so many games convincingly that we never argued about who was going to get the last shot. Again, I wanted the assist, so on fast breaks I’d throw the ball backwards to set up someone else.

AD: Talk a little bit about the Bennett game in your junior year – the 69-68 thriller where you guys lost to the Tigers. Periodically, I still see guys talking about it on Facebook. Did you overlook them?

JR: We didn’t overlook anyone. It’s hard to overlook teams when you go into their gyms and their teams have pep rallies. We knew every team was gunning for us. We knew that we were going to get everyone’s best shot so we came ready to play every single game. That night Bennett played well. It’s a great game and I actually watch it from time to time. It was a great game.

AD: Were there any other players that you especially look forward to playing?

JR: I liked playing against LaSalle’s Tim Winn, Burgard’s Jeremiah Wilkes, Cardinal O’Hara’s Ryan Cochran, and Turner/Carroll’s Malik Campbell. We were all friends. We would play against each other one day and be friends, and then completely hate each other on the court the next time. We were all very, very, very competitive. When you have competitors competing at that high level, it just makes for some great basketball.

AD: In your junior season, the Buffalo News also wrote a piece actually comparing you and Tim Winn as you two were the top two point guards in Western New York. If I recall, he actually hoped to team up with you in Empire State Games at one point. Did your two teams ever match up allowing you to go head to head – Buffalo Traditional vs. LaSalle?

JR: Tim was hurt when we were supposed to play. That was a game everyone was looking forward to, and he had sprained his ankle the week of the game in practice.

In the second part of our interview, Jason and I discuss his basketball career after being a Buffalo Traditional Bull. I want to thank Jason for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate. After completing this interview, I realized that there are other historical significances to what we discussed here, beyond the basketball court. Just as the city of Buffalo has changed since the early 1990s, so has its school system. Two schools that were a part of our Yale Cup of the early 1990s no longer exist. One is Kensington High School. The second is Buffalo Traditional High School where Jason played. While the building still sits there on East Ferry Street, it is now the home for the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A case for making schools safer revisited

I originally published this article on the Examiner back in 2012 shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn. While much of the debate afterwards focused on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and banning firearms, someone suggested making schools safer – an approach I was in favor of even if American’s 2nd Amendment rights were taken away. After all, can the bad guys be legally prevented from getting their hands on firearms?

Recently after this most recent mass school shooting in Florida, the same debate has arisen. President Donald J. Trump set off a fire storm when he suggested arming teachers, and the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre followed up stating that a more sound approach would be greater armed security at schools. Six years later, mental health is working its way into the discussion, but we’re essentially still having the same debate. As with many of my blog posts, the pictures used are courtesy of the Washington Post’s Morning Express.

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In the previous three articles, factors that specifically affected learning were addressed; attitudes, socioeconomics, and environment. In light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on December 21, 2012, this article will focus on thinking about how to create safer schools, and preventing similar tragedies. Admittedly, this is a very complex issue with no simple solution. The intent of this article is to add to a discussion which will likely continue for a very long time.

The majority of discussions in the media have focused strictly on the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms), and gun control. Discussions about making schools themselves more secure have been the minority. Predictably discussions in the social media world erupted in addition to the mainstream media demonizing the NRA and calling for stricter gun control measures. One of many threads on Facebook generated a debate of up to 80 comments about gun control.

On CSPAN the morning of December 18, 2012, a caller recommended to journalist John Fund and the host that a way to make schools more secure would be to set up perimeters and having metal detectors in most schools. Mr. Fund replied that it would be, “too costly and difficult to implement.” Even if that is true, isn’t protecting the lives of innocent children and faculty members worth the cost?

It has been 14 years since the middle school massacre in Jonesboro, Ark., 13 years since the Columbine high school massacre in Littleton, Colo., and 12 years since six-year old Kayla Rolland was shot dead at her school in Mount Morris Township, Mich., by another first grader. Each of these tragedies involved fire arms being brought into schools.

Whether it’s a shooting at a school, a Jewish temple, or in a movie theater, control of guns is clearly a daunting task. While the majority of gun owners are responsible, legislators on Capitol Hill cannot predict when an Adam Lanza, or some other assailant will go on a random or premeditated killing spree. While movie theaters, shopping centers and places of worship are difficult to protect, carefully policing who and what enters an elementary or high school should not be.

Whenever these shootings occur, innocence is further stripped away from everyone, especially from school environments. Our world is not the safe and secure place that it once was even in seemingly secluded suburban areas. Suburban schools may now need to be secured similar to their urban counterparts, and unless appropriate measures are taken, we may continue to see tragedies such as that in Newtown, Conn.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, air travel was forever changed. Because of those events, no one will ever again be able to fly commercially without having to go through stringent security measures. Millions of people fly every day, and it is now considered normal. Similarly, most state and federal government buildings require walking through metal detectors prior to entry for visitors. Isn’t it time to find a similar solution to keep our schools safe?

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Rocketship Education: A Real Alternative

One of the focuses of my blog is education, and one of my key principles is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. As such, when appropriate I will partner with other groups and organizations with similar interests. One such organization is the non-profit Rocketship Education. The following is a brief overview of Rocketship Education provided by the organization itself, their school system and their model. The picture in this post was provided courtesy of Rocketship Education.

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A good education is the best way to ensure that your child has a bright future ahead of them; unfortunately, however, many public school-aged children are relegated to attending underperforming schools, based on the district that they reside in. Thankfully, Rocketship Education provides an alternative; if you’re unfamiliar with Rocketship Education, it is a network of public charter schools available to elementary-aged students.

These non-profit charter schools are aimed at low-income families, who would otherwise have to settle for schools in their district that don’t meet the children’s needs. Founded in 2006, Rocketship Education has made it a mission to provide children with personalized learning, which includes parental engagement, community organizations, and unique lesson plans.

Since opening its first school in San Jose, California, Rocketship Education has earned tremendous praise for helping students score well on state assessments, and for making charter schools a viable alternative for low-income families. In an effort to build on its success in California, Rocketship Education has opened charter schools in the Midwest and as of 2016, opened a school in Washington, D.C. To learn more about Rocketship Education, visit Rocketship Public Schools.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

“Look at the first day, and not the worst day.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” of which health and wellness are major aspects.  Personal stories also fall under this principle as they are one of the most powerful means of teaching individuals about success and failure.  Recently, three high schools in Northern Virginia hosted a very special guest who shared his life journey starting from his days as a high school basketball standout, to his college basketball stardom, to his ascension to the National Basketball Association (NBA), and then his personal struggles with drug addiction and substance abuse along the way.

On Oct. 2 Chris Herren visited Northern Virginia to talk to students and families about his basketball journey and his lifelong struggle with drug addiction and substance abuse.  In the first of many local stops, Herren spoke at Fairfax High School to an audience of all students in the morning, and then to adults, families and the general public in the evening.  I first heard part of Chris’s story years ago on the Jim Rome Show, and then I watched ESPN’s powerful documentary on his life and journey, Unguarded.  I learned about his visit a couple of weeks ago by chance after Tweeting to Chris’s foundation ‘The Herren Project’.  I told them that I would’ve definitely attended one of his talks in Massachusetts if I lived there.  They shared that he would be making an appearance in early October in the DC area, and as a lover of sports stories, I knew that I had to attend.

Chris Herren was one of the top 20 high school basketball players coming out of Durfee High School in 1994 with multiple offers to some of the nation’s top college basketball programs.  It was in high school where he first experimented with alcohol – something he had seen his father do growing up.  After playing just a little bit for Boston College, he failed a drug test which almost ended his career.  He received a second chance from a legendary coach who had given numerous young men second chances throughout his career – legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian also known as “Tark the Shark”, who had taken over as head coach at Fresno State University where I first saw Chris play on television.  There he played his way into being the 33rd overall pick for the Denver Nuggets in the 1999 NBA Draft.  He was later traded to the Boston Celtics where his drug problems escalated, and then went on to play overseas in Italy where his life further spiraled downwards before setting off on his road to recovery years later.

“The kids across the room who didn’t do anything, they had something I didn’t have,” Chris said in his strong New England accent, describing one of the high school parties he attended where he and his friends consumed alcohol underage, while another set of kids across the room didn’t consume anything and were fine with it.  During his talk, Chris told many stories about his journey which involved experimentation and addiction to Cocaine, OxyContin, and finally Heroin – all while becoming a father and a professional basketball player.  This particular story was significant because it touched on something many young people struggle with well into adulthood; personal contentment and self-esteem.

The significance of Chris’s opening quote of this post is to get people to note where our personals problems start and their root causes, as opposed to focusing solely on the end results – substance abuse, drug overdoses, suicides, and many others.  His just happened to be his father’s struggle with alcoholism, his mother’s resulting pain, and then the experimentation with drugs and alcohol amongst his peers early on as teens.  Chris’s other over-arching message was about “Wellness”, and how both parents and schools need to be more vigilant and aware of the struggles of young people which can lead to any number of injurious outcomes later in life if not caught early and addressed.

“Over the last seven years I’ve had the responsibility of sharing my story in front of a million kids.  I truly believe in my heart that I’ve made a difference for some, and I do this for many reasons,” Chris Herren said opening up his talk.  “When it comes to addiction, I think we’ve gone horribly wrong.  I think we put way too much focus on the worst day, and we forget about the first day.

“It’s safe as parents to show our children pictures of drug addicts and how to watch a movie and at the end explain to them what happened.  It’s hard to sit them down at 15 years old and say honestly, ‘Please tell me why you’re letting this begin.’

After telling his story, Chris took questions from the audience – parents and teens, whom he also makes himself available to through email.  Afterwards he graciously took pictures with those of us in the audience and took further questions individually.  I seized the opportunity to ask him one to two more.

“He’s one of the people that I will unconditionally love for the rest of my life.  I did the eulogy at his funeral at the Thomas and Mack Center in front of 12,000 people.  What I told everyone that night is that he meant the world to me.  He changed me,” Chris reflected afterwards when I asked him to say a few words on Jerry Tarkanian.  “I do what I do today because he did that for me.”

“He gave me a second chance and I truly believe people are worth second chances.  If we didn’t give second chances to people in recovery, we’d be much worse off.  He instilled that in me and it continues in my life today.”

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional careers and coaching

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Hill Harper discusses Honor Your Future Now campaign part two

This article is the continuation of my interview with Hill Harper discussing the National Honor Society’s Honor Your Future Now campaign.

Anwar Dunbar- Tell me about the Honor Your Future Now Campaign, and why you decided to get involved?

Hill Harper- I eagerly came together with the National Honor Society and National Junior Honor Society to help with this campaign.  It’s really a call to action for students titled Honor Your Future Now.  They’re providing resources, they’re providing advice to prepare for college and careers, and hopefully lifetime success.  I got involved because I was a member of the National Honor Society when I was in school, and they reached out to see if it was something I would help them talk about.

There are five pillars of the National Honor Society:

  • Scholarship- Performing well in school, doing your best and preparing for college;
  • Character- This one is huge for me and actually goes back to what we just talked about: making choices in your life which are character based choices, demonstrating high standards of honesty and integrity, courtesy and being a high character person;
  • Leadership- Stepping up and embracing the fact that as a young person, saying I can make a difference in my school, in my family’s life and in my own life;
  • Citizenship- Being a good steward and a good citizen, understanding what your rights are in this country, understanding that you are just as in control of your community as anyone else and;
  • Service- Volunteering in community service projects and getting involved.

So if you think about it, these all create a well-rounded person, and I love touting those pillars and those ideals, and they really underlie a lot of what I believe.

Right now we want to talk about how to pay for college.  If you go online to Honor Your Future Now, there are lots of resources.  There are a lot of misnomers that students walk around with.  I talk with students all over the country and they’ll tell me, “Yeah, I want to go to college, but I can’t afford it.”  The simple fact is they can’t afford not to go school, and there are different ways to pay for college.  The National Honor Society has a college funding graphic on the site.  It’s like an infographic and there’s also a link for the Free Application for Federal Student Loans which is a link to the government student loans.

Often these students are coming from schools where their college counselors aren’t up to speed on all of this information about how to pay for school.  You have: scholarships, grants, work study programs, and loans, so many different ways to pay for school.  Students have to understand that you may have to combine these things, and it’s not just going to be one thing fixes all.  It’s not necessarily going to be a full ride scholarship, and it’s not that you’ll necessarily have to take out loans for the whole thing.   You’re going to go and learn about all of the things that are offered and then cobble together how to pay for your education.  You’ll get a little scholarship money here.  You’ll get a grant here, and some work study there.  You’ll get a federal loan as well, and doing all of this, you’ll be able to cobble together the money to pay for school.

AD- In addition to the rising costs of school leading to exorbitant amounts of student debt, what other challenges do you see today’s college students facing?  In general, are there qualities and values that you see today’s students (i.e. the millennials) missing that were more prevalent when you were in college?

HH- I think being a critical thinker, and an innovator, are some of the things that will help you get ahead.  At the same time understanding technology and really digging in, in terms of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will really help.  I hear so many students say, “I’m no good at math, and I’m no good at science.”  When someone says that to me, they’re really expressing a fear more so than the truth because it’s all relative.  It’s not about being good.  You have a proficiency in something to a certain degree that other people may not have.  Proficiencies aren’t good or bad.  It’s just where you are at that particular time, and you can improve those skill sets.  If students have these blocks saying, “I’m no good at this, I’m no good at that”, they’ll block it out and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that their proficiency level won’t rise.  So the biggest thing to me is conquering the students’ fears.  There’s a lot of fear about future jobs and job growth.  There’s a lot of fear about technology, engineering and math and science, and there’s a lot of fear about where we’re headed.

Here’s the deal, an educated person who is a critical thinker, who is educated and a good communicator, and actually embodies the five pillars of the National Honor Society is someone who will be able to work in the future, be gainfully employed, and by the way, happy with their career choice.  The person who allows fear to stop them from pursuing their higher education, to stop them from even going onto the Honor Your Future Now, and the National Honor Society websites, that’s what I’m most concerned about and that’s what a lot of people do.

AD- Okay Hill, I have one last question.  Do you have any closing words or advice for students or parents who may read this interview?

HH- Absolutely.  Think boldly and creatively about your future.  Think globally and not locally.  So many students I talk to think that they have to stay within their relatively small geographic circle, and that they can in no way afford to go anywhere else.  And again, that’s misinformation.  Fear for me stands for: False Evidence Appearing Real.  So much false information is passed down amongst students, teachers, and parents.

The number one place that the students go to for advice around paying for college is their parents.  So if parents are actually reading this article, I need parents to go to the National Honor Society and Honor Your Future Now websites, and look at what’s there, because you are going to be the most instrumental person giving your student advice, and if you don’t have the right information, they’re going to get misinformation, so don’t be afraid of what’s out there.  Don’t be afraid to learn as much as possible and don’t be afraid to apply to as many different types of scholarships, grant programs, and other loan opportunities to find the best place for your student to go.  And if you’re a parent, don’t be afraid to let your student go away.  I’ve heard many parents say, “Well they aren’t ready to go out of state.  They’re not ready to go there.”  Don’t let your fears hold back the opportunities for your student.

I have a quick story of a young man who was from Mississippi who had the opportunity to go to Alaska to get some higher education and some vocational training.  His parents initially didn’t want him to go but he went, and his whole life and world have changed.  He has all of these different job offers at this point in different fields in energy and oil production.  These are opportunities that have been given to him, where he is going to become two to three times the highest earner in the history of his family, and that’s coming right out of school.  That’s because he looked for opportunities that were further away from where he was where the opportunities didn’t exist, but they figured out how to make it work.  So those types of things do exist.  It’s just a matter of the individual and the parents of the students doing the work and not being afraid to take a risk.

AD- Okay Hill, those are all of my questions.  Thank you again for this interview.  Your messages about the National Honor Society and Honor Your Future Now will really benefit a lot of students and families.

HH- Thank you, Anwar.

To learn more about the resources for college planning discussed by Hill Harper in this interview, visit the National Honor Society, and Honor Your Future Now.

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