Iyanla Vanzant at Boys and Girls High School Complex

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Education Leaders Standing together: Candice Cooper, guest, Taijah Nelson, Melissa Bedminster, Grecian Harrison-Walker (Principal of Boys and Girls High School ), Iyanla Vanzant (center in white), Lavonne Gaston, Allison Farrington (principal of Research and Service HS), civic leader Stefani Zinerman, Sandra Cummings (Community School Director, Good Shepherd Services).

Iyanla Vanzant was called to Brooklyn on Tuesday, May 8th. She arrived and delivered, galvanizing minds and uplifting spirits at the Boys And Girls High building in Bedford Stuyvesant. The author, spiritual teacher, life coach and TV personality was asked by old friend Stan Kinard, community liaison for the school, because some students were having difficulty after a classmate was recently shot multiple times (off school grounds). “I need you,” is all Kinard said, and it was enough.

The school building, easily recognized by its colorful mural by the late, great Ernie Chrichlow, currently houses Boys and Girls proper, the Research and Service High School and the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice. Each has its own mission and challenges, but the students tend to cooperate. So all felt the blow, though not all students were equally familiar with the young shooting victim.

Before she addressed the children, Vanzant sat in a room with Kinard, faculty members and community stakeholders to come up with concrete plans for assisting the students on optimal levels going forward. People volunteered to accept areas of assignment and to follow through on collaboration for the sake of their common commitment – the students.

Once on stage, Vanzant’s message and impact transcended the solemnity to help students examine their trajectories and to claim agency now, to determine their futures. Likely because they’ve been conditioned to appreciate straight talk, the students were mostly attentive and receptive to Vanzant, who began her presentation with clips from her show, Iyanla Fix My Life. The first showed her working with a family of young men and their absent father returned. In the second clip she interacted with a young woman to hilarious, but pointed effect.

Most of what Vanzant offered was food for thought at any age. Both students and faculty came to the mic to express confusion, betrayal and heartbreak. Each left with something to think about and to be about. See below some of her sharing:

“I usually say to people that I’m not good with kids. I had three of my own. It was a mess! But what I am good with, is mind. And I’m real good with spirit and I’m good with soul. And when I see you, I see such incredible power in your mind, your spirit and your soul. Yes, I know that once your foundation breaks down at home, it spreads out to every single thing that you do. I know a lot of you are experiencing broken foundations. Just like me. Just like my children. I was pregnant at 16, pregnant at 19, pregnant again at 21. I didn’t go to college till I was 30 years old. I graduated when I was 33 and went to law school. So you are so much further ahead than me.”

“People will reward you today for your bad behavior, but I want you to be clear: when you make a mistake today, it’s so that you can learn and grow from it. I am so glad that my mother forced to me to stay in high school! You have to have a vision. What is your vision? The vision will move you forward. You can’t just sit around and see what’s gonna happen. How do you see yourself? What do you see for yourself? And it doesn’t matter what it is, if you believe in it.”

“A caterpillar is an insect that has to crawl thru dirt all is life. On its belly. And then one day… it realizes, ‘I can have a change. It recognizes that. ‘I gotta change.’ It just happens. I don’t know how it happens. But when the caterpillar has been crawling through dirt and spit and poop on the ground, It gets the notion that, ‘I have to change.’ You know what it does then? It crawls up a tree. Change is an uphill battle. So the caterpillar climbs up a tree and goes out on a limb. It hangs on a limb – a dangerous place, because it could fall. It could be eaten by a bird. And then, with one string from within itself, it wraps itself in a cocoon so that it can mature into a butterfly. What you need to change is not outside you. It’s not on social media. It’s inside.”