Getting There is a series featuring interviews from Generation Y young people who are breaking stereotypes and not only working hard to achieve their own definition of success but working to improve the lives of others around them.
Mr. Howard Jean, Director of the Call Me MISTER (CMM) Program, works to improve the lives of those around him by teaching self-empowerment and self-respect. The Program is headquartered at Cheyney University, the nation’s oldest historically Black institution of higher education. It is also the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). His work has garnered the interest of and put him on speaking panels with powerful players in the media elite including Bill Cosby, Susan Taylor, and John Quinones. Listen to him speak here. Mr. Jean was gracious enough to take some time to respond to questions for There From Here regarding his youth and tapping into his element. Read his responses below.
Sometimes our true gifts are hidden to us and are only revealed after someone who believes in us points them out. Did you see your gift, or did someone help you to identify it?
Gifts are something that we all possess and develop over time. Some gifts we have right now and some aren’t unearthed until later in life by design. The gifts that I possess, in my opinion, are the ability to help people, think critically and strategically, and power of discernment. My gift isn’t teaching. Teaching is the way I chose to pronounce that gift. I could have chosen any other profession and used those same gifts. We typically have gifts but confused our career or interest with the gift. Our gifts are only used to perform tasks. For me, it has been educating, community development and empowerment.
I think I began to identify my gift when I was in middle school and served as the student body president. When I ran, I looked at the problems or issues we had as students and thought of creative solutions that I or we could use to address those problems.
Authority figures can have a positive and/or negative influence on our lives. Did anyone in a position of authority over you try to steer you away from your dream? If so, how did you recover? If not, how did you fight their negativity?
I always say the situations and people you deal with and go through only help define and add more character or depth to your dream or particular goal you are trying to accomplish.
Growing up as a student in the school system of South Carolina, in a climate of subtle but present racism was the first encounter of persons (system) attempting to steer me away from my dreams. There were multiple times when our growth, creativity or zest for life could have been stifled by those in positions of leadership that did not share the same descent we owned. Parents, if you are reading, make sure you are more than involved in your child’s education; and, don’t allow those in control to deflate the potential of your children. This goes from kindergarten through high school. Misdiagnosis and misguidance seem to be extremely prevalent amongst our kids. Parents have the last word but many are unaware. My mother made sure we had equal opportunity and exposure to activities, courses and experiences in school.
Teaching in the same school district that I was educated in seemed to have a similar plight but with different rules of engagement and protocol. A moment, which I’d rather not speak of, could have derailed my plan but if it were not for a sense of purpose and creative map making, my success could have been hindered.
One thing that I maintain as a mantra is move forward, whether it’s an inch, foot or mile. Recognizing that every move towards your goal is a move towards your goal, no matter how large the progress. I have not always made huge steps, great accomplishments or received acclaim by the standards of others. But, I would embrace every opportunity and each goal achieved as MAJOR and BE happy in that moment. Success, to me is a pyramid that takes small and large stones to make. Some stones need to be small accomplishments or basic progressions in order to set the foundation for the rest of stones or success to come. Measuring yourself against others is the quickest way to failure. If you are able to measure today with yesterday, then you can see and appreciate your greatness. It’s impossible to see greatness in yourself if you are constantly looking at and comparing yourself to others’ greatness.
Can you talk about an important decision you made that impacted your life? Why did you make that decision? How did you feel then compared to how you feel now? Was it worth it?
The decision I made to become an educator and join the Call Me MISTER program. That was probably a decision that has impacted my life the most. It has been the platform for which I have been able to learn, grow, give and impact the lives of others. The decision to be an educator but more so a MISTER, is a lifestyle decision and not just a career move. Living a morally sound (not perfect) life is something hard to commit to for most people who were 17 years old. Knowing that your life will be an example for younger people to follow is something that can be overwhelming. But, because of what I was being prepared for over the course of my life leading up to that point, it was easier to accept. Being reared in principles, morals, responsibility and character are the characteristics that create well adjusted adults and by default great teachers who are also role models. There was no anxiety in making the decision because it was already in me.
What advice do you have for men who want to achieve success in their lives?
Great question. While on my path to what I call “success”, I have met some very influential people and learned some priceless lessons. Success should be defined and measured by the goals you set for yourself. What your neighbor is doing with their goals and dreams has nothing to do with what you are doing with yours. Success is a very relative and measurable goal. It is relative to who you are and your purpose. Your goals are measured by your impact and pace you need to accomplish those goals.
Also, as mentioned in my upcoming book “Be the CEO of YOU (working title)”, a secret that I am sharing for the first time in print but shared through my lectures to students across the country, is creating a list of “virtual mentors”. Because many of the people I look up to are far from reach, with the use of technology, they can be accessed anywhere at any time. Virtual mentors are people you look up to, admire and can learn something from. Don’t negate the traditional face-to-face mentorship experience. For those that don’t have the luxury of this form of communication, though, this technique helps.
This should be done in a way to avoid becoming them. Find a group of traits that your list of “Virtual Mentors” possess, and use those traits to create YOU. The power we have to create ourselves in the images we choose is profound. Once you tap into that power you then empower yourself, which will carry you further than any motivational speaker will take you.
I mention this in my upcoming book, which helps to organize plans for success and structure areas of your life in order to achieve balance. My book started out as a daily text message. I sent texts focused on what was revealed to me to a group of friends I referred to as “Movers and Shakers”. I decided to make this the more personal and structured way of doing things in my life. My text messages went from one page texts to two page texts to three page texts and so on. I received positive feedback and turned it into a daily email. I added more names to the distribution list and had my thought of the day circulated around offices. My messages became the base of morning meetings for teams. I felt that my perspective on success and maintaining focus could help others as it helped me, so I started writing the book.
What advice do you have for women who want to do the same?
If you are a mother, your definition of success cannot be measured against what the next mother is doing with her child. It has to be measured by what you are doing with your child. Now take that same concept and apply it to your dreams or goals. Women have been the backbone of America through our families for centuries. If they can see the relation between the strong women that have come before them and tap in to them through a virtual mentorship, I’m sure they will see similarities and a pattern of success. Women are created with an innate ability to create strategically and critically, henceforth motherhood. Success starts at the core of who you are. The power to birth a child, a nation, lies in all women, which makes running a Fortune 500 company look like “child’s play” (pun intended).
Over my career I have worked with a few and met many famous/influential people, such as:
President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Tavis Smiley, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Susan Taylor, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, Dr. Steve Perry, Mr. Salome Thomas-EL, Judge Gregg Mathis, Jill Scott, Mayor Ray Nagin, Boxer Paul Williams, Son of Honorable Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Warren Buffet’s Sister.