Keepin’ It Real: YES Academy Students Hear Their Own Lives In Talk From Motivational Speaker
Tuesday, March 5, 2013 • 7:12am
PATERSON, NJ – Mablean Gomez wanted to cry. Shaquast Thomas got goose bumps. Nadira Forbes and Jeremiah Roman felt as if he were listening to the story of their own lives.
The four students were part of a captivated audience at Paterson Public Schools’ YES Academy that attended a talk last Friday by professional speaker, author and TV personality Yvonne Harvey Williams.
Williams, a native of Paterson, hit home with the youths from YES Academy, an alternative education program, as she described the struggles of her life and how she overcame them.
“She really touched me,’’ said Gomez. “I got really emotional, like I really wanted to cry.”
“The speech she said touched a lot of people,’’ said Thomas. “It made a lot of people emotional. It gave me the goose bumps and I believe it gave a lot of people the goose bumps.”
Thomas acknowledged he has been getting involved in some things that are not good for him. Williams’ speech, he said, was a wakeup call that will encourage him to do better and push him towards college.
The school’s small auditorium was almost packed with about 100 students, faculty and staff members. Everyone’s eyes seemed glued on the speaker.
Williams was born and raised in Paterson. She recalled being beaten and ridiculed by her stepfather. Feeling like she had nowhere else to turn, she hit the streets and began to drink and smoke.
Williams also began looking for love in all the wrong places. She had a boyfriend who was in and out of jail. He also would hit her. She became pregnant at age 14 and had a miscarriage.
All that did not steer her from her self-destructive lifestyle, Williams told the students. She got another boyfriend and by the time she was 16 she became pregnant again. This baby was born pre-maturely and had to stay in the hospital for three months. The father of the baby didn’t stick around.
Williams said that when she brought the baby out of the hospital, she didn’t know what she was going to do because she couldn’t take care of herself. She realized that she had to do something different because she had to take care of her baby.
Williams began to cut people out of her life that didn’t mean her any good. “Any person that does not enhance the quality of my life I cut them off,” she said.
She went to Job Corps and got her General Education Diploma. From there, she went on to college. Now, she speaks all over the country, has written two books and has her own t-shirt business. She also and raised her son, who is 22 years old and doing well. And she has a husband who she said loves and respects her.
Williams had the students’ full attention. At one point, she asked them why they thought was it important for her to tell them her story. “Because anybody can do it,” said one of the youths.
The youths nodded their head in agreement when Williams said their parents are trying to get them on the right course in life. The students clapped and cheered when she said they ought to be around positive people who have graduated from college. Williams said she was tired of people looking at Paterson’s youths as if all they can do is kill each other.
In the audience, Forbes said she felt as if the speech was directed straight to her. She said she came from a bad situation where she allowed people to hurt her. But now, the student said, she’s in a better situation and trying to get her diploma.
Another student, Roman, said he identified with Williams’ experience of being mistreated by a stepfather. Roman said he gotten past that. Now he is working on his high school diploma so he can then go into the police academy and then on to a career in criminal justice.