Pep Squad
Be Ian-Spired

The buzz of voices from the 500 seventh graders at Prairie Middle School waiting on the bleachers at assembly was enough to intimidate the coolest of motivational speakers. But as counselor Tami Watkins walked out onto the gym floor, quiet came almost instantly, "Your teachers heard a speaker who inspired us by what he had to say. We invited him back to share his story with you. Please welcome Ian Humphrey."

Obviously, Ian had connected with the adults, the authority in the school. I was interested to see how he would inspire these kids.

Ian stepped onto the polished hardboards with a confidence gained from rising to a challenge not one time, but again and again and again and not just to survive each time, but succeed. I’d seen him tell his story superbly in demanding situations. The last time I’d heard him speak was in August 2010 at the Toastmasters International Conference at Palm Desert. After the first round he placed in the top nine speakers in the world, and again the next day, with a different speech, was speaking to 1600 Toastmasters assembled from 106 countries. At stake was the title of TM’s World Champion Speaker. His passion for the message he brought to Palm Desert was as hot as the 115 temperature outside.

Ian didn’t win the title, but as a new-to-Toastmasters competitor, he scored an incredible victory. He’d beat he 1-350,000 odds against making it into the top ten speakers in the world.

Now, here in front of these kids, he had the opportunity to tell his story, to "Ian-spire" them.

"I’m here to talk to you today about three things: one, peer pressure; two, overcoming challenges; and three, never give up … I didn’t know I could be successful, I thought you were born to either be successful or not, I didn’t know success was a choice."

Ian related his early life with autobiographical matter-of-fact details. Born into the toughest neighborhood in Los Angeles two months premature when his mom was attacked by a neighbor, after months in the hospital, Ian survived. Three years later, he found and swallowed a bottle of prescription medicine, went into a coma, doctors didn’t believe he’d recover, again, Ian survived. Because of that incident, the state blamed his mom and she lost custody of him. He was placed in a foster home where locked inside a closet, he was mentally and physically abused.

The foster mom would periodically open the door to the dark closet and scream, overflowing

"YOU’RE STUPID and you ain’t gonna never amount to nothing."

But, as Ian put it, "I was still standing." Then, "At age eleven I knew my mom was close to regaining custody of me….but before that could happen she passed away …. BOOM! "… I went down … I started feeling sorry for myself and giving up on life. I surrounded myself with the wrong people. Their bad habits became my bad habits."

Even though Ian graduated high school, the hood and his companions kept the odds for his not succeeding high. Convicted after participating in a robbery, at age 19 he was locked in prison to serve fifteen years.

When his cell door slammed shut, Ian fell on his knees, and for the first time in his life, he cried.

"Ashamed of the person I had allowed myself to become, I began to plead for help. A counselor, Charles Lyles, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and said, ‘Mr. Humphrey, you can get out of here and do great things. This doesn’t have to be your life.’ Before he stood up and walked away, Mr. Lyles looked at me and said, ‘I believe in you.’ That was the first time I heard those words."

After serving four years of the robbery conviction, Ian was paroled. As Ian walked out from behind the barbed wire of the prison, he wasn’t sure he would make it on the outside. The voice of his foster mom still haunted him, her words "you’re stupid" still hung in the air. The voice of the prison guards, "We’ll see you when you get back." had the truth of statistics – seven out of ten inmates eventually return to prison, many within the first three months. "Those were the voices I heard every time a potential employer said, "We can’t hire you …."

"I began to believe that going back to prison was easier than my struggle with rejection. Easier than asking another friend or family member for a handout or a place to sleep on their floor — I spent many night contemplating whether I should just quit."

From a speech Ian had given in competition, he shared something with the seventh graders listening so intently to what this passionate man had learned – something that helped him believe he could succeed. "My sliver of hope was a small piece of paper I carried with me everywhere I went … I’d written some of my hopes and dreams — things I associated with success — a house, a career. Wife and kids … and I don’t know why, but as a little boy growing up in South Central L.A., I believed all wealthy people overflowing

(Continued on page 7)


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