We all know that young people, most especially urban young people, sometimes stray from profitable paths because they lack proper guidance. There are three reasons why messages to young people are not received: The message may be deficient, the messenger may be unpersuasive or the message itself may fall on parched ground.
In mid-May the principal of Harding High School in Bridgeport, the unflappable Victor Black, responded to a request from motivational speaker Wayne Winsley to address his students. His Achievement and Motivation presentation, tucked into a program called “Brave Enough to Fail”, is one of hope and courage: Strive to discover and nurture in yourself the seeds of promise that lie at the root of your character – and do not be afraid to fail, for the ladder of success is marked by rungs of opportunities disguised as failures.
Mr. Winsley came to Harding High School strongly recommended by Pathways to College teacher Marvin Towler of Hillhouse High School in New Haven: "Wayne Winsley is a dynamic and engaging speaker. He masterfully infused his presentation with amusing anecdotes that kept our students interested in his powerful message. Mr. Winsley provided our students with knowledge that will help them succeed in college but more importantly in life." And Greg O’Neill of Granby High School was equally appreciative: “Fantastic, just fantastic, Wayne’s Brave Enough to Fail presentation was a tremendous hit at Granby High and I strongly recommend Wayne to any school or college.”
At Harding High School, Mr. Winsley had expected he would be addressing a group of students smaller than the sea of upturned faces before him. Mr. Black wanted to open most of the school, upwards of 850 sophomores, juniors and seniors and 350 freshmen students, to Mr. Winsley’s inspirational message.
There was no lectern and no notes. Mr. Winsley, for more than 20 years a radio broadcaster in Connecticut, prowled the stage, microphone in hand, studying closely the faces of the students for hints that his message has found rich soil. At some point during his presentation, Mr. Winsley took a personal turn. He traced his own personal development to a remark made by a man “who was not my father” and who said something “that stuck with me; he said excellence will beat prejudice, poverty and adversity all the time.”
Mr. Winsley was brought up by his great grandmother, who died while he was in the military. His request to superiors that he be permitted to attend her funeral was denied because such privileges were granted only for immediate family members: fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Yet his great grandmother was the only family he knew, one of the lights of his life, herself a child of poverty. But the military, Mr. Winsley knew, unerringly follows the book. He swallowed his disappointment but knew that the heart has its own non-bookish reasons. He maintained a stoic silence from a sort of primitive fear that the plea from his heart was bound to be rejected. This was a mistake he would never make again: If you do not venture beyond the book from fear of failure, you will deny to others the possibility of a humane response. Every seeming failure is door to some future success. But the door only opens to the touch of one who is not dismayed by failure. A disabling fear of this kind leads ultimately to years of agonizing regret and a total waste of personal energy.
After Mr. Winsley’s presentation, one Harding student commented, “I thought the information was very motivational and helpful. As teens we sometimes give up on life-goal dreams because of our fear of failure.” Another said “I will use it in everyday life as inspiration -- not be afraid to fail but keep trying.” And a third said, “I will stop getting mad at myself when I fail. All I have to do is pick myself up and continue.”
Mr. Winsley plans to visit at least 50 schools. Prior to his presentations, Mr. Winsley distributes to students a remarkably artful picture book “Where are you going?” published by his wife, April Dawn Winsley. Mr. Winsley’s principal sponsor is The Water Innovations Alliance, the public policy voice of the world's water researchers, technologists and innovators. Of course one can never have too many sponsors.
Mr. Winsley has an enviable ability to energize students, and there is something of the missionary about him. Every one of you, he told Harding’s students, has within you an inner GPS (Greatness Positioning System) system that will let you know whether or not you are traveling in the right direction.
Angry Birds, a video game adapted for phones, has become a huge success, Mr. Winsley told the assembled students. The game’s inventor was inspired by birds engraved on a wine glass, and no – he was not drunk at the time. The game is the largest and most successful mobile app the world has seen so far. Yet try to imagine the reaction of financiers to a proposal in which players throw angry birds at pigs – Are you kidding?
“This is a passion of mine, Mr. Winsley said, “and has been a passion before running for political office -- to inspire and work with our children. Planting seeds for success is what this is all about. My message to the students will be to have enough vision to see it and be brave enough to try it.”
It is a passion to which young people struggling towards self-worth should be exposed.