Program aims to inspire middle schoolers
Students at East Forsyth Middle School learned last week that the road to success can be more than a little bumpy.
Winston-Salem State University Athletic Director William “Bill” Hayes and the school’s first lady, Dr. Deborah Reaves, addressed 75 eighth graders during a Career Forum sponsored by the Winston-Salem Chapter of The Links Inc. The forum is one of several the group hosts at area middle schools each year under its Services to Youth Facet.
“We have chosen to focus on middle school students. That is a very formative age. They’re making critical decisions; it’s important for us to use our expertise to try to help these students make those decisions,” explained Links Chapter President Janet Wheeler. “The hope is that those students that really had not been involved with professionals would see this group as role models and maybe shape some of the ideas about what they will ultimately be when they grow up. We’re just trying to be good role models for them.”
Reaves, a Link who spoke on behalf of her husband, WSSU Chancellor Dr. Donald Reaves, said his road to success was winding.
“When Donald was in the eighth grade, he had no idea whatsoever what he wanted to do,” she said. “He didn’t even understand why he needed to go to college. In fact, he said the only thing he was interested in was sports and girls.”
When the couple returned to their hometown last year for WSSU’s Cleveland Classic football game, Reaves was presented with a copy of his high school transcript and was “shocked” at how dismal his grades were, his wife said. Still, at the time, he was content with mediocrity.
“He managed to graduate – somehow. There were lots of jobs in Cleveland at that time … jobs that didn’t require a college degree or anything past high school,” she related. “He spent his time hanging out with his buddies. He said he didn’t even have a plan about what his life was going to look like… Then he met me. I said, ‘I can’t date you if you do not go to college.’”
And go to college he did. For the next decade, Reaves juggled a full time job driving trucks and a full time course load, obtaining first his bachelors, master’s and finally, his Ph.D. He went on to become a professor at Northeastern University in Boston and later matriculated to CFO at Brown University and the University of Chicago, a position he held for five years prior to taking the job at WSSU.
In today’s world, students don’t have the luxury of taking a job straight out of high school and expecting to make a good living as her husband once did, Reaves said.
“Getting a college degree should be your first priority,” Reaves said. “It should be something that you strive for, because now, we’re in a global community, a global society, and you need to be as educated as you possibly can in order to be successful.”
East Middle Principal Dossie Poteat called Reaves’ story “amazing.”
“I think it’s important for our students to hear about college opportunities and to see people who have not necessarily had it easy and had to work to make it through college and hear about them being successful,” Poteat said. “It’s important for us to see people who look like us to let us know that we also can be successful in life. It’s good for students to know even if you don’t begin on the journey to greatness, if you work, you can end up in greatness.”
Hayes also knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.
Hayes, one of five children, is a former All-American football player, but the Durham native told students at East Forsyth Middle School Tuesday that his rise to the top of his chosen sport, required great determination.
“Only by the grace of God do I stand here today, because I had polio,” Hayes said. “When I was like six, seven years old, I was fighting to walk. I would just lay in bed and look out the window and see all those guys playing basketball… I promised God that if He let me walk, that one day I would run, and I would never let Him down. I would never cheat; I would work extremely hard.”
Hayes said he overcame his physical limitations, but he still faced the challenge of living in poverty and all of the pitfalls that come along with it.
“Life for me has not been a crystal stair,” Hayes told the students. “I grew up in a real poor family, but my parents worked very hard.”
Despite having fallen behind in school because of multiple hospitalizations, Hayes managed to get his academics in good standing, and by the end of his high school career, he had turned the heads of some college coaches and landed a football scholarship. Hayes said his guidance counselors discouraged him from taking college preparatory classes in high school because he came from a low income background, and when he made it to the college classroom, he struggled as a result. At the end of his freshman year, Hayes received a rude awakening.
“One day after spring practice, my coach told me this was going to be my last year – he was going to have to give my scholarship to somebody else,” he related. “My grades shot up – I even made Honor Roll my sophomore year. I caught up with everybody and passed them, just on effort alone.”
The moral of the story?
“Don’t ever let anybody tell you what you can’t do,” Hayes said. “You can do anything that you envision in your mind; you’ve just got to put forth the effort.”
The students were required to take notes, which they will later turn into essays detailing what they learned from the forum. The top 45 notetakers will be rewarded with $5 each, courtesy of Victor “Vic” Johnson, the husband of Link Constance Johnson and a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education. Poteat said he was grateful to The Links and their supporters for helping to broaden his students’ horizons through the forum.
“A full, rich education cannot be done completely unless you have community support, because there’s more to education than books and academic knowledge; there’s a lot of practical wisdom and insight that is needed,” he said. “This is our first time (working with The Links) but I hope it won’t be our last. We were excited for the opportunity. I hope that the students take what they’ve learned today and begin to apply it in their lives.”