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Guest speaker reminds teachers of their role to inspire

“Your work can ripple for generations to come,” speaker Manny Scott told District 153 teachers during an in-service day presentation on Feb 14. 


Walter Harris, a member of the custodian staff at District 153, greets featured speaker Manny Scott after his presentation. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

If you met Manny Scott, you would acknowledge him as someone who is successful. He’s completing a Ph.D., is an inspirational speaker and author with a beautiful family.

Yes, he says, he is successful, but much of the credit goes to teachers and school personnel who gave him love and hope that helped him turn away from gangs and a self-destructive lifestyle.

Scott had District 153 teachers crying, laughing and walking away inspired when he addressed them during a Teachers Institute Day Feb. 14. 

Scott’s life story is one of struggle. Raised in California, Scott’s father was in prison, and his stepfather nearly killed his mother. The family was often homeless. He remembered sometimes sleeping on the beach. His clothes were ill-fitting and dirty, he went hungry and had nowhere to do homework. 

He ended up in English as a Second Language class for a year after a teacher misunderstood his attempts at written assignments. By sixth grade, he was too embarrassed by comments from fellow students and teachers to ever raise his hand. 

Manny Scott told District 153 teachers their outreach to students could be life changing. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

“I used to hate going home, and I hated school. The only place was the streets,” he remembers. As an 11 year old, he turned to gangs learning to steal and burglarize. He would be drunk and high. He would ditch school for 60 days or more.

His best high school buddy, Alex, was killed on his way to Scott’s house. In shock, Scott dropped out of high school after one semester. 

He tells the story about being chased by police and running into a park. There, a drug addict asked him why he wasn’t in school. The addict told Scott he needed to go back to school because his life was worth something. The addict walked him to school.

Scott recalled, “that crack head had more compassion for me,” then any friends he had. 

Scott remembers crying to the assistant principal that he wanted to come back, begging her: “Don’t give up on me.” She had a difficult time believing him. His first report card showed F’s and D’s.

The assistant principal took the time to work with a counselor to get Scott back in school. He proved he had motivation, but says it was the teachers who helped him connect.

“I want to impress upon you that when you see Manny Scott with your own eyes, know the might of your power (as teachers) to change someone’s life,” he said. For him, it was “one conversation with an administrator, a science teacher who was amazing and hilarious and engaging; a math teacher who was patient with me, pushed me and poured kindness and love into me; an English teacher who believed in me.  

“When you see me, you’re reminded of all these little interactions that are enough to change the trajectory of someone.  Your work can ripple for generations to come,” Scott said.

Scott’s story is told in the movie “Freedom Writers” about the class interactions with their English teacher who was able to connect to them and inspire them. 

Scott and his classmates were kids at the bottom. He said these are the ones that too often are written off.

“Kids at the bottom need the same love and same chance. If you leave the pain and trauma unattended, they will eventually self-sabotage,” Scott said. He encouraged teachers to “help them heal and watch them grow. Renew your commitment, even on your worst day – on your absolute worst day. You can never earn enough money” he told them “but whatever time you have left, it shall not be in vain.”

Ellisa Hastings, who’s taught for 12 years at Churchill School, said she left the talk inspired to remember “kids come to us with backgrounds that we don’t even know about, and sometimes in those hard moments we just need to remember that. Hearing his stories and the teachers that made connections and inspired him gave me perspective on why I became a teacher.”

Rhunaviah Allen, a classroom assistant at Willow School, said she could personally relate to some of his stories, and she thought Scott showed great courage in putting his life’s struggles before an audience. 

“He was great!” she said. “It sparked me to stay in it another day to help another child.”

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