Keith Hawkins gives Taft Union High School students a pep talk


Keith Hawkins, who was raised by a single mother in a poor part of  Pomona but overcame his upbringing, brought a message of hope and  redemption to Taft High School students at an all-school assembly  on Feb. 13.

Hawkins, an extremely expressive motivational speaker based in Sacramento, overcame a troubled childhood. His father left him before  he was born, he was homeless in the seventh grade, and in the California Youth Authority in the eighth grade. In the ninth grade, he saw one friend murder another. His “mom lives in a hotel with a man who abused for for 28 years,” he said. She refuses to change and also taught him to be afraid, a feeling he finally rejected. Fear, he said, is False Evidence Appearing Real. He told students they need to show courage avoid developing and getting locked into bad habits. 

“Because we come from a situation doesn’t mean we have to end up in that situation. You create a habit and a habit creates you.”

Hawkins changed his cadence from fast talking with a microphone to slow, deliberate speech without one to emphasize points. He also changed the tone from dead serious to humor to lighten the mood. He opened his monologue by telling the capacity auditorium audience that he was talking with two Associated Student Body leaders earlier in the day. Hawkins told them he hadn’t seen any black students on campus. One girl, trying to be helpful, said, “Oh, we have some,” while another girl chimed in, “We have five.” After the laughter subsided, Hawkins said, “I feel like a chocolate chip in a cookie.”

His trademark line was: “We don’t remember what speakers say as much as what speakers do. ... People remember, and follow, what you do.”

He challenged his young audience to challenge themselves. “Teachers, don’t students expect you to be energetic, enthusiastic, motivated and teach with passion? Now, do students come to class energetic, enthusiastic, motivated and with a passion to learn? If we’re going to have an expectation of someone, we should have those expectations of ourselves.

“He (my father) left me before I was born because he did not have any expectations of himself as a father. My mother did not have any expectations of him as a father.”
Hawkins presented some grim statistics to students about having children before they are ready. 

Of the 750,000 American teenagers who have babies annually, 70 percent will live below the poverty level, and 85 percent will not be with the baby’s father within two years, he warned.

Hawkins said his mom didn’t expect much from him and neither did he. 
But a high school coach changed his life when he told Hawkins “it’s what you expect out of yourself.”

He rose above his circumstances, earned a B.A. in communications form California State University, Chico, got married and is raising his daughter, Kambria, with his wife, Lori. He has co-authored two books and speaks to more than 400,000 students, educators, parents and businesspeople in North America annually. He has learned that “courage is when you’re scared but you do it anyway. When you have courage, you have opportunity. Integrity is about doing the right thing when you’re parents aren’t around. In the real world when you don’t have intercity, you get punished for it. In the real world, if you do have integrity, you will be rewarded.”
Speaking 25 days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday holiday, Hawkins said, “If he did not give that 17-minute (“I Have a Dream”) speech, you would not be sitting next to the person you are now. If not for Martin Luther King, I would not be up here today.”

He concluded his hourlong presentation by telling students to be true to themselves and don’t waste time comparing themselves to others or spending time with “friends” who just bring them down. He told students to not judge others harshly because you often do not know their story.

“Take advantage of every opportunity, expect more out of yourself, stop comparing on the outside. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t change my habits. We won’t remember what your say, but what you do.”

Following the well-received talk, Hawkins spent two hours outlining his message of acceptance and tolerance with a few dozen student leaders.