ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Teaching high school students can be challenging, and keeping their attention during an assembly is even more difficult.
Motivational speaker Eric Thomas knew he had his work cut out for him speaking to students at Vashon High School, especially because 70 percent of the district’s students are reading below grade level.
Thomas told the students how he grew up, not unlike how many of them had. He also was trying to inspire them to turn their lives around, and work to their full potential.
But his speech took a serious turn when a group of students refused to be quiet.
“Listen to me very closely. They pay me $50,000 to $100,000 when I speak to corporate America. I go to a basketball program and they pay me good. I ain’t getting a dime here. I’m here because I love you, but I’ll be darned if I come here for free and you disrespect me. I ain’t 20-years-old. I ain’t 19-years-old. I’m a grown man. I’m here because I love you. I’m here because I love ya’ll, they ain’t paid me a dime. As a matter of fact, I came to use my influence to raise money so a group of kids can go to Costa Rica. I’m not here to get nothing, I’m here to give you something. I’m not here to take nothing from you. I’m here to give you something.
And listen to me closely, when people love you, you don’t do them like dirt. When people care for them, you don’t disrespect them. You ain’t got but a few people who care about you in this world. Didn’t you hear what I just said? If you’re in the wrong place, you’re going to get shot and killed. Ain’t nobody going to go to jail for it. Ain’t nobody going to go to jail for it. Ain’t nobody gonna do no time for it. So the few people who you do have that care, you can’t treat them like garbage.
You can’t disrespect the people that’s trying to look out for you, cause you ain’t got a whole bunch of, you ain’t got a lot of dudes, look me up! You ain’t got a lot of dudes that do what I do that’s coming to your school. No disrespect, the dude’s you listening to, you listening my man and jamming to his album, he ain’t coming here. And I just heard we had a rapper here last night. How many schools did he go to? How many elementary schools? He came and took your money, but he didn’t invest nothing back into you.
And you’re gonna have the nerve to laugh and joke when teachers are trying to teach you? You got the nerve to act the fool when somebody cares about you? You’re talking when I’m talking. Do you know that if I go to a Jewish school, them kids are quiet. If I go to a white school, them kids quiet. If I go to a Latino school, they quiet. The only kids that disrespect me is black kids. That’s it, my own, are the only ones who disrespect me. I work in any other school and they’re like, ET, we’re taking notes. I come home, you talking. You’re capping jokes. You think something is funny. Look how we’re living. Ain’t nothing funny. Ain’t nothing funny y’all.
When I got my PHD, what embarrassed me, they’re asking me like, ‘What’s wrong with our urban schools?’ I’m like why are you asking me? I’m in class just like you’re in class. The teachers want to know, professors want to know why are your kids, what’s the problem in the school system? I’m embarrassed, ya’ll. I’m a grown man and I’m embarrassed that they talk about ya’ll and you want to know why I’m embarrassed? Because what they don’t know is that you ain’t even trying when you take the test. You didn’t give your best. They think you dumb. You ain’t dumb. You can’t take our people from Africa and put us in a diaspora and spread us all over the world. We survived slavery, and we can’t pass a test? Come on!
I ain’t stupid. You take everything from us and we still survive. You want to tell me that we can’t learn how to write? Have you lost your mind? We are survivors. That is all we do is survive. And you’re gonna come and tell me that you can’t take a test. No, you can take the test. The problem is that when you take the test, you barely take the test. I challenge you to go in there and get that doggone piece of paper and pencil and do your best. I challenge you to go into class and act like you got some sense. No one has to put you on medicine. You know how to sit down and shut up. You do it when you’re watching videos.”
The response to his speech has gone viral. Thomas commented on his site, “I gotta be honest with you. “Nothing Funny” was as unscripted as it gets and, the response to the video has been staggering! I cant even begin to tell you how many of you have hit me up, in tears, because it hit home so hard! Believe me, I know how hard it was, it shook me too!”