Know Your Story

April 27th, 2011

When kids realize they are not expected to be anything or do anything significant, those children’s lives can become stagnant pools of distracted water. There is no flow—nothing of value coming in and nothing of value going out. We have taught a generation that their teen years are just “practice-life.” Sure, we give it other names, too, like “sowing wild oats” or “finding yourself,” but what we are telling them is that what they are doing right now does not actually count.

That is where Reggie (that is me in third person) differs from the rest of the world! I tell students that the life they are living right now, at any age, is not at all a practice run—it counts. I am not saying that mistakes cannot be forgiven or that detours cannot be rerouted. I am saying that students in their teen years can positively influence the world right now! Conversely, they can also set themselves back for years to come, even permanently, by their actions or inaction.

Just ask a young, single mom or a sixteen-year-old drug addict. They will tell you their choices are
already impacting their lives for the long haul. Or even more tragically, stand over the grave of a young man who checked out of this life early because he did not understand the value of who he currently was. Someone needs to tell these kids the truth, in many cases before it is too late.

Sometimes when I am speaking, I randomly pick out four young men from the crowd—guys of
random age, size, and ethnicity—and have them stand up. I then tell them that they are now all my sons, which is usually pretty humorous, especially if they are white. I have always wanted white kids! At this point, you can bet their friends will begin to tease them and laugh. Typical. I tell them to ignore everyone around them for the next three minutes and listen to the words I am about to speak into their lives. For these few moments, only my sons and I are in the room.

I point to the first young man. “I’ve always loved nicknames,” I say, “and all of my children will have
nicknames. You, my son, will be called Champion.” The room gets quieter as the kids assembled try to figure me out. I continue, “I want every person in this room who has lost a loved one to cancer to stand up.”

Immediately, there is an alarmingly loud reverberation of hundreds and hundreds of chairs
squeaking or bleacher seats creaking as a great number of students slowly rise to their feet. A sobering shiver ripples through the now silent crowd. The impact of this modern plague hits home with kids who were laughing hysterically only thirty seconds earlier. I continue to speak to my Champion. “Somewhere in the recesses of your mind, there is buried the knowledge that will cure this epidemic. You don’t realize it now, and maybe you think that you don’t have what it takes, but listen to me, my son: I believe in you! You can do it!”

With no hesitation, I turn to the next young man standing. “And you, I’ll call you World Changer.
Listen, son, sometimes I travel to the continent of Africa. There is one area of Africa so decimated by
violence and bloodshed that I’m not allowed to be inside the borders after dark. I literally have bodyguards who escort me the entire time. I begin speaking to kids in the twelfth grade at 6:30 a.m., and by the end of the day, I’m speaking to preschoolers.”

The student is obviously curious about why I am telling him such a long story while he is still just
standing there. I don’t miss a beat. “On a trip I took a few years ago, I had spoken all day long, and it was starting to get dark when a little boy took my hand, and through a combination of broken English and a translator, he asked me to come help him with his mother. His eyes were piercing and my heart was moved.

So with bodyguards in tow, I began walking across this field of wheat with this little boy toward his home, not knowing what I would find when we got there.

“Just ahead of us, we saw that the wheat was flattened, so my bodyguards went ahead to check it
out. They returned to inform me that the boy’s mother had already died.

“I turned around to walk away when I felt a little hand take hold of mine. In his best English, my little
friend said, ‘Will you help me bury my mother?’”

Pin drop. No one’s talking now. The young man before me has suddenly forgotten the thousands of
eyes on him. He is listening. “Son, somewhere inside you is the answer to the global decimation that is AIDS. You will end the issue. Your hands will heal the nations.”

Next boy. “Your name is History Maker. From the deserts of Africa to the streets of New York City,
there are millions of people starving to death. They lack clean water and adequate nutrition. But you, my son, you possess in your mind the ability to transform the science of agriculture. You will grow tomatoes as big as watermelons, and you will make miles of crops grow in the middle of deserts. You will solve the issue of world hunger.”

Finally, I turn to the last young man standing. “And last, but certainly not least, your name is simply
Legend. Your voice will transform people’s lives. They will travel from hundreds and even thousands of miles around to hear the words from your lips. They will enter the room ready to give up—even to end their lives—but they will leave that same room with hope. Your words will mend the gaping wounds in the lives of a generation.”

This is one of the solemn moments of my school presentation, one of the few. It is solemn because
most of those kids have never been exposed to the idea that they possess the potential to change the world. They think they are screw-ups. Misfits. Haphazard accidents stumbling through messy and mediocre lives. Their age is irrelevant. Humanity itself is the common thread. They are you. They are your kids.

They are me. They are my kids—kids that I want, even if no one else does.


This excerpt from REGGIE: You Can’t Change Your Past, but You Can Change Your Future by Reggie Dabbs with John Driver (2011) is used with permission from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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