Stedman Graham speaks at South Meck, inspires self-motivation

South Charlotte Weekly

More than 200 students, teachers, parents, staff and community members listened as Stedman Graham discussed self-awareness techniques and personal lessons on the value of owning one’s identity at South Mecklenburg High School on Friday, April 17.

Graham’s community message is part of a three-part self-awareness campaign that takes place at six area Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools during the Sonima Foundation’s Live Sonima Tour. The Sonima Foundation is a nonprofit based in California that partners with schools to develop and promote health and wellness education. The Live Sonima Tour travels across the world to teach underserved students leadership skills through the combination of performing arts and character development lessons. The tour has reached more than 70,000 students and 100 schools.

Stedman Graham, best-selling author and leadership management coach, and Caroline Jones, singer-songwriter and author, join together to provide a positive message for youth filled with music, storytelling and tips for success.

“I use music as an instrument to tell stories, introduce concepts and try to be as authentic as possible,” Jones said.

She tells her message through music, allowing students to collaborate on stage with her during the performance. Jones performed for staff and students at South Meck and held a smaller music class with students involved in performing arts.

Graham spoke to students and staff in the afternoon, and followed with a conversation open to the community. He believes it’s important for youth to “find themselves” now, take hold of their identity and use their education in relevance to their skill set.

“Now, in the 21st century, we need to be self-starters and take charge of our own passions,” he said. “Be entrepreneurs and do things that give back more to our communities. Be leaders, as opposed to followers.”

Graham addressed the final crowd about his personal challenges, growing up in a small town in North Carolina and being bullied every day.

“I used to have to fight every day,” he said. “I had lots of anger and rage in me.”

Graham said basketball gave him the self-confidence he needed to turn his life around. He played basketball in college and professionally for a European team.  He also continued his education, earning a master’s degree in education from Ball State University.

Graham said what mattered most was learning to reorganize his thoughts and becoming the master of his own life.

“No one should validate your existence,” he said to the audience. “You define your power.”

Graham detailed his Nine-Step Success Process: love yourself and explore self-identity, create a vision, make a plan, define values, overcome fear and take risks, manage stress and make the right choices, build a team, read and research topics associated with the dream and make a commitment to the dream.

“Create the life you love by investing in your passions,” he said. “Students feel entitled, but a degree doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take care of yourself. You have to put in the work.”

South Meck Principal Dr. Maureen Furr was pleased with the message students received from Jones and Stedman.

“The message powerfully supports what we want for them; each student is special and needs to develop their uniqueness, so they can have the life they deserve,” Furr said.

The Live Sonima Tour visits six CMS schools in eight days – South Meck, Harding University, West Charlotte, West Mecklenburg, Zebulon B. Vance and Northwest School of the Arts.

Debra Kaclik, of CMS’s character education department, was introduced to the Sonima Foundation from a colleague who participated in the tour at Miami-Dade Schools. Kaclik said the tour furthers CMS’s “Making it Better” campaign that unites the community around students to create a culture of acceptance, achievement and accomplishment.

“This message means a lot for our students,” she said. “It builds an infrastructure of support for schools and reinforces our efforts.”

Kaclik said the tour will return to in the fall and they hope to hold at least one session at a larger venue to provide more space for schools, students, staff, parents and community members.

As Graham said to the crowd, “This isn’t just a message for students. Before we can help them, we have to help ourselves.”

Visit http://www.sonimafoundation.org to find out more about Sonima Foundation and The Live Sonima Tour.

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