Hill delivers hard-hitting message to WSJ students

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / January 14, 2000

EDGARD – Walking into the gym at West St. John High is like walking into arevival meeting. Students are standing in the bleachers clapping theirhands and singing. A man with a microphone is marching up and down thesidelines of the basketball court, waving his hands, exhorting the audience to sing louder. Behind him is a projection screen with the word “Respect”written in big bold black letters. Rap music is blaring out of the twospeakers behind the man with the microphone.

“What is it that we need?” the man asks the students.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” the students yell back.

The man is Fairest Hill, motivational speaker and leader of an organization called Youth On the Move, USA Inc. This is his second visit to West St. JohnHigh in six months. Hill takes his motivational show on the road all yeartrying to get today’s youngsters to believe in themselves and realize their true potential as human beings and citizens.

“I talk to 5,000 kids a week,” he says. “Almost a quarter a million a year,and I get a tremendous response.”Hill gets several faculty members to step up and sing the respect song with him. Several of the teachers start dancing around, and the studentsrespond with a roar of approval.

“You must have respect for your self,” Hill yells at the audience, “have respect for your family, for your friends, for your teachers and for your classmates.” This gets a round of applause.”But,” Hill says quietly, “if you want respect, you have to give it. Letrespect be the keyword for the rest of your life.”There is talking and joking among the students, and he stops talking.

“I will not continue until you all quiet down.”There is a silence, and he smiles as he walks up and down in front of his audience.

“You shouldn’t need somebody else’s approval to feel good,” he starts and then stops.

Hill points to a young man in the center of the audience.

“I want you out now. If you don’t want to listen, I want you gone,” Hill tellsthe young man. “Yes, I mean you.”The boy slowly stands up and walks down the bleachers with a knapsack on his back. At the bottom, one of the school’s coaches escorts the boy out ofthe gym.

Hill is tough, and that comes from a tough upbringing. Born and raised inthe housing projects of Detroit, Hill says he learned about commitment and success from two people he idolizes, his mother and his teacher.

“They were both tough on me,” Hill says, “but they both taught me that there is hope and they gave me motivation.”Hope and motivation are the key to Hill’s lectures.

“In my travels I have found out that kids like hope and motivation.” he saysexcitedly, “Most young people want hope and they want to be pushed.””Hope is dreams,” Hill continues, “and my mom told me to fight for my dreams like my life depended on it, and that is how I’ve been living ever since.”Hill worked hard and got out of the Detroit projects and graduated from Detroit College of Business with a degree in accounting and management.

Hill is also an accomplished musician and composer and has performed with people like MC Lyte, Will Downing, Bobby Brown and R. Kelly. Hewrites most of the music he uses in his motivational seminars. Hebelieves music is the one real way to get through to today’s kids.

“These kids today are very intelligent,” Hill says. “They have to be tounderstand and do rap. That takes some smarts, and that is the way toreach them.””Ninety-five percent of you want to listen, and I want you to listen,” Hill tells his West St. John crowd. “But it is that other 5 percent that I have toreach, the 5 percent that just don’t care.”Hill goes on to tell the 95 percent and the 5 percent there are several rules one must live by to succeed.

“There are three things we should never waste,” he tells the teens. “Don’twaste time, don’t waste ideas and don’t waste purpose.”All this waste is just part of a slave mentality that kids have, Hill explains. To get out of that mental rut, Hill goes on to say there are fivesorts of people one should not hang around if one wants to be a success.

Don’t be friends with negative people, selfish people, lazy people, inconsistent people and controlling people, he explains.

“These type of people,” Hill says, “take away self-awareness and self- respect.”He especially targets the girls with the idea of controlling people.

“Don’t let the brother tell you what to do,” Hill tells the girls.” He ought tobe privileged to be with you.”Controlling people keep a girl in a slave mentality, according to Hill.

“You can’t learn to fly if a person won’t let you spread your wings,” Hill says to loud cheers and clapping from the girls in the audience.

Hill began his campaign to help the youth of America back in the days when Nancy Reagan was telling kids to “just say no” to drugs.

“I started traveling around with an anti-gang seminar, and it kind of grew from there,” says Hill.

He is a very busy man. He’s giving three seminars at Leon Godchaux JuniorHigh, the Glade School and East St. John High, then going to California tolecture at 10 other schools.

The seminar starts to get like a church service with Hill as the pastor and the students as his congregation. They repeat things Hill tells them. Thereare shouts of “yes” and “Amen” from the audience. Hill’s pacing speeds up. He puts a CD on of a song called “I Am Somebody” and gets several students to come down to the mic and sing with him. Several teacherscome over and sing “I Am Somebody” to the students.

Hill stops the music.

“There must be zero tolerance of violence and drugs,” he roars. “The newmillennium is the most crucial point in our history, and our heart has to be in everything we do. 2000 is the year of opportunity.”Again there is talk and joking in the audience, and Hill stops his speech.

“This is amazing,” he chides the students. “I have talked to elementarystudents that are better behaved than you are.”There is quiet again.

Hill talks quietly and seriously to the students about the erosion of our value system and how America has become blind to what is going on.

“We treat shootings and teen-age pregnancies like they are normal, and they are not,” he tells the kids.

“We must rebuild America, and you are the ones to do it,” he exhorts his audience. “It is time to get up and get back what is lost. This is no game. Itis time to wake up, time to stop being foolish! Let us not lose it.”The bell for the next class rings and all the students start to get up.

“Don’t anybody move,” Hill yells at the students.

Everybody freezes.

“This is a new day,” Hill says quietly. “It is time to do things the rightway. Thank you.”Most of the students rush out. The ones who remain wait patiently to talkto Hill, and he poses with some of them for pictures.

Seventeen-year-old Gary Watson says he was impressed with the seminar.

“I liked his positive message,” he says.

Corey Miller, 16, agrees. “He told us that it’s important that everybodyhave a positive attitude.””He touched my heart, ” Jeremy Lumar said simply.

Hill has started a new program called Project 2000, and he is trying to get the St. John School Board to institute it here.”The program addresses negative peer pressure,” Hill says. “What I do istake 50 kids from each school and meet with them once a month for a year and teach them about positive peer pressure.”By now the basketball team has come into the gym and started to practice.

Hill packs up the tools of his trade in a small suitcase and, despite an hour of running, yelling, arm-waving and singing, he still looks energetic and ready to go.

When asked about his energy, he smiles and answers, “The secret is to keep challenging the kids, and they challenge me.”

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