Rise from poverty inspires motivational speaker to encourage children

kward1@herald-leader.comNovember 17, 2013 


    What: Voice of the Children

    When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

    Where: Immanuel Baptist Church, 3100 Tates Creek Road, Lexington

    Cost: $12, tickets available at the door or online at bluegrasschristiancamp.org

Manny Scott says poverty isn't just the lack of money.

"It's the lack of access to the kinds of people who can help you make the most of your life," he said.

By those standards, Scott has a rags-to-riches story.

As a teenager in Long Beach, Calif., Scott said he came from "a beautiful but broken family" that had battled abuse, drugs and homelessness.

Between fourth and ninth grades, Scott missed 60 to 90 days of school each year and spent his time "roaming the streets, lost, without a purpose, without meaning, without hope."

Scott dropped out of school at age 14. His best friend was murdered.

But Scott, who will visit Lexington on Tuesday, said he was sitting on a park bench one day when a stranger sat down next to him and talked to him about turning his life around.

After that, Scott went back to school, where he landed in an English class taught by Erin Gruwell, whose unconventional teaching methods helped turn a group of students known as "rejects" into college-bound authors.

In 1999, Gruwell and her students published The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, and their stories were featured in a 2007 movie, Freedom Writers.

"She loved us. She believed in us," Scott said.

Based on his experiences with Gruwell and the man on the park bench, Scott said he began to envision a new future for himself.

He went to college and earned two degrees from the University of California, Berkeley — "one for me and one for my friend who was killed."

Scott said he's now happily married with three children and is working on a doctorate. He is a motivational speaker whose goal is to give young people hope for their futures and to encourage adults to "reach back" to help them as others did him.

Scott, 36, will bring his message to Lexington at two speaking events.

Tuesday morning, he will address students at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in a closed event.

On Tuesday night, he will be the featured speaker at Voice of the Children, an event hosted by Blue Grass Christian Camp.

"Manny's story has challenged me to notice the needs of others in the community," said Michael Fann, executive director of Blue Grass Christian Camp, which has been working with youth in Lexington's West End neighborhood. "He has perhaps the most inspirational life story I've ever heard in person, and I wanted as many people as possible to have the opportunity to be inspired in the same way he inspired me. We hope the evening will bring awareness to the vital and unmet needs of children in our community."

After the event, several local organizations that work with children will have booths set up.

Scott said this is not his first visit to Lexington.

Last year, he spoke at Rupp Arena to employees of Fayette County Public Schools, and he has done other church and school engagements here, too.

"Every city in the country has issues. A lot of people are in denial about those issues," Scott said. "Our young people feel as though they are the abandoned generation. ... Kids who are crying themselves to sleep at night, kids who feel like their parents don't even know who they are."

He said he will try to give the students at Dunbar "a glimpse of their possibility."

"No matter where you're from, no matter how hard your life is, you can overcome every one of those obstacles to do something great with your life."

His message to adults is that they are needed in the lives of children.

"You have the power as an individual to change someone's life," he said.

If you go

What: Voice of the Children

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Immanuel Baptist Church, 3100 Tates Creek Road, Lexington

Cost: $12, tickets available at the door or online at bluegrasschristiancamp.org

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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