In the opening keynote address on the second and final day of Clemson University’s Men of Color National Summit, Desmond Howard urged the high school students Friday morning to pen their own autobiography and cast themselves as the lead actor in their own film.
Speaking from the heart and without prepared notes, Howard said he jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the summit when invited. “I love speaking to our youth, to men of color, to people who are trying to advance the communities that many people don’t care about,” said Howard, who works for ESPN as a college football analyst.
Afterward, Howard posed for pictures as dozens swarmed around him to get a chance to meet him.
The Heisman Trophy winner and Superbowl MVP used his keynote to urge the Tiger Alliance high school students attending the summit at the TD Center to not let a “ghostwriter” pen their stories. “You are the main actor in your featured film. You are the author to your autobiography,” he said. “Don’t let someone make you play a supporting cast role.”
In film, Howard said, there is sometimes a writer, a director, and a producer. Sometimes that is one and the same person. “In your life we need you to be able to execute all three roles,” he said.
In order to take the lead in their lives, Howard told them “you have to be wise to some of the decisions you make.”
As a freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, attending the University of Michigan from 1989 to 1991, Howard said his experience “wasn’t all roses.” People see the end result, such as the Clemson football team’s recent national championship. “But what you see oftentimes is what is the final product,” he said. “But what it takes to get there you absolutely have no idea about the struggle.”
Howard said he felt much pressure his freshman year as a little fish in a big pond. He considered transferring schools and did not get along with his position coach.
He said he turned to Associate Athletic Director Greg Harden, who became a mentor to him and remains a close friend to this day. If not for Harden, he said, he would not have won the Heisman.
Harden encouraged Howard to change his behavior by changing his attitude. “It was more making sure I got my mind right and made the right decisions moving forward,” Howard said.
“Don’t be afraid, please please don’t be afraid, to seek help, to seek guidance … from anyone you see as a light of influence,” he said. Mentors, he said, “have the wisdom to help you navigate through whatever storm you need to navigate through.”
Don’t to be too proud to seek guidance, or think you can figure it out for yourself or “rely on friends who know about as little as you do. Talk to an adult. Please reach out to a mentor. Reach out to a teacher or someone who has shown interest in you,” he said.
In closing, Howard told them not to let anyone “turn you into a statistic” by getting on the wrong track toward a path of low expectations.
“To have this summit shows you there are people who really care about you. They want to help you and assist you in staying on the right track,” he said, noting that there are many people who want to support you. “It’s going to come down to the decisions you make, the people you surround yourself with and reaching out for help when you need it.”
"Are we individually and collectively worthy of our children?" Johns asked. "Will we do what's required of us?"
"Despite all the progress we've made in this country – and we've made a lot of progress – there's still a lot of work to be done," Quiñones said, describing how time and time again he has been judged by the color of his skin and the accent of his voice.
Until you've heard from some of the 203 who have gone through the program, you can't begin to appreciate the impact Call Me MISTER has had on their lives and on the lives of the children they reach.