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Address by Ato Boldon at Youth Training Center, Arouca

Wednesday 12 October 2005

Ato signing his autographs for some of the youths.

Ato presents Spalding Ball to Makonnen McQueen on behalf of YTC.

First I’d like to say that my constant complaint about this country is that most people sit on the side-lines and there are few who are willing to get on the front lines.

Let me say that this visit is as a direct result of one of your administrators and I’d like to especially acknowledge her because I was home in Los Angeles when I got an e-mail sent to my Web site saying, “I know it’s, not necessarily on the schedule but we have some young men that we would like you to come and talk to.” And when I saw the e-mail I immediately said, “You know what, this is not something I can pass up.”

So I’d like you all to give a round of applause to the person that made this really possible and that is Ms Sharon Ramsaran.

That’s the difference between talking about it and actually getting out there and doing something, because had she not sent the e-mail chances are this visit would have never happened.

The thing that I think gave me the incentive to want to come here is that I enjoy talking to young men.

I enjoy talking to young men because I believe that you all have been given such a responsibility and so many gifts to carry out those responsibilities but I’m a little harder on you all, I’m a little tougher on you all in terms of what you are required and what is expected of you.

Most of the stories you see written about me are the Walt Disney version, Newtown Boys’ RC, Fatima, UCLA, Olympics. The stories that aren’t written are probably the more important ones and I hope most of you will discover from my experiences something you can relate to in your own life.

I left here when I was 14 years old and moved to New York, to Jamaica, Queens. Now one of the things about moving to New York was, well, it definitely was not Trinidad any more, it was not Santa Cruz, wasn’t Mucurapo, it was not Fatima.

And along with the good things that the USA had to offer, and particularly, New York, came the temptations and the bad things.

For someone like myself, my years in New York were filled mainly with good memories but there were quite a few that I would probably prefer not to remember but I can’t forget.

The reason for that is I got myself involved with young men who were my friends —partners, liming— they were from my neighbourhood but at the end of the day, when I look back, what they wanted for their lives and what I wanted for mine were two different things.

Some of you are here because if left to your own thinking and logic you would not be here, however, at some point along the way you allowed someone to have such an influence on you that you started to go their route and that’s what happened to me.

Here’s what made the difference. One thing that I am most grateful for is my vision and my will. I believe everybody should have as many friends as they can possibly have. I also believe, that if I have a friend and that friend is involved in something or going down a road that I know is going to lead to both of us getting into something we are not supposed to be getting into that is a friend I don’t need and he can be replaced; he or she can be replaced.

I was speaking yesterday and talking about attitude, attitude I think for young men is a great thing, it’s one of the most important things you have but rarely is it properly channelled and let me give you my example: You turn twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old and you get the sense “I’m becoming a man now,” little muscles and things start to show up, little hair on the face and you start to get a sense of your own strength, your own character, your own power.

As young men, sometimes what we do is we take all of that power and attitude and new-found promise and we channel it in all the wrong directions and what I mean by that is you get to the point where no one can tell you anything.

“Parents, don’t have no time for them, they don’t understand me. This is about me. Teachers worse as a matter of fact. Anyone in authority, I go have a problem with them, cause I have attitude.”

Here’s the problem with that, while you have that attitude for all these people who, whether or not you know it, are trying to help you, here comes some friend of yours or some partner who has a plan to go and do something or get involved in something that you know deep down is not what you are supposed to be doing.

Where is all that attitude now? You don’t have the attitude for him though and you give in “yeah, let’s go.” My point is, the reason that you’ve been given that new-found strength, power and attitude is to keep you out of trouble.

It’s to help you to make the proper decision, not to rebel against everyone who is trying to help you and then when someone comes along with something that is totally out of line with what you have been raised and taught to do, you have no attitude for them and you go along with them.

All it involves is looking at things a little differently, changing your thinking. I watched a lot of my friends in New York die, some of them weren’t lucky enough to go to any detention centre, they just died.

Why? ’Cause they figured, well, once again young, starting to feel myself, feel like I’m invincible and someone who also thought they were invincible showed them otherwise.

So what was the difference with me? What brought me from Trinidad to New York, steered me clear of that kind of stuff and then moved me on to what I have managed to accomplish in my life so far. What was it?

It was a belief that my life is worth something. Everyone in here has a life that is worth something and whether or not you know it, it’s worth a lot.

I understand clearly, that some of us have had to deal with things in life, all of us have had to deal with things in life, some more harsh than others. I am a firm believer that most of the time delinquent children are the result of delinquent parents. So I understand for some of you it’s not even your fault, it really is not, because the people that were suppose to look out for you and put all their effort into keeping you on the right path didn’t do that and as a result maybe you went off for a little while, but guess what you’re still alive.

So I hope none of you ever feel as though you are to be looked down upon because you’re not. I understand clearly the difference between me being able to leave today and me not being able to leave today is a couple of decisions along the way that I made that were the right decisions, it’s just that simple.

It’s no big catastrophic difference and I went to this better school, no. We have all had the opportunity to do right and to do wrong. Some of us did wrong and got away with it, some of us chose to do right at the right time and it kept us out of more trouble.

And I’m not telling you this because I read it in any book, I am telling you this because I have lived it, I have seen it. It’s okay I can stand up here and talk for three hours, the question is: At some point you have to believe that your life is worth something.

Not only that, you have to believe also that failure or being side-tracked is going to happen in life, it’s going to happen, and don’t think it didn’t happen to me, it happened to me a lot. It’s not a question of how you fail, it’s how you get up from that failure.

If you feel as though it doesn’t get any better than this and why bother try, then expect results in line with that kind of thinking, however, if you believe, “you know what, I’m still alive, I’m still young.”

Obviously, you all have people in here that care because they would not have contacted me if the didn’t. These people understand clearly that the way to fix what’s going on out there is to start with young people. Because we are not going to be around forever. Trinidad will go on, people will move on, so it’s up to you.

So when I was in New York and these things happened and it was a question of: “Okay, what decision am I really going to make?” All of us are going to be tempted, we are all going to have that one moment of truth where you have to ask yourself, “What do I do now?”

If at the moment you ask yourself that question, you believe that your life is worth something, it changes how you look at it. If you think your destiny is to be shot on a block or to have somebody stab you while you bleed to death on a street, then guess what, maybe those decisions come a little easier. Is like, yeah well I can do that because this is the best I’m ever going to be and there is not too much out there for me, I don’t want too much out of my life.

If you think your destiny is probably to be dead by the time you’re 25, 26. Then I think the decisions become a lot easier. The decision becomes difficult when you realise, okay I’d like to grow old, maybe die in my bed when I’m 85, I’d like to have a family, I’d like to be around to share time with the people I love in life.

If you think in that manner all of a sudden these decisions become a lot easier for you because now some idiot can’t influence you to do something you don’t want to do. Why? Because regardless of what he or she wants you to do, you know in your own mind “no that’s not the path I want to go down, let them go.”

Why is it that people who are about to go and do things that are totally against what they know is right always want company? They are never by themselves They always want someone who maybe is not thinking straight at the time or maybe does not think too much about themselves to accompany them.

Young men have to start being responsible, you have to start acting as though, you have been put here for a reason.

Last night, I was reading something by a young talented comedian who said that, someone asked him if he knew he was going to be a comedian when he grew up and he said, “I didn’t know what I was going to be but I knew what I was not going to be,” and I thought about that for a minute and I said you know that’s really interesting because that is the way that we have to think.

Okay, I may not know exactly today or tomorrow, exactly what it is I want to do but here’s the thing as long as you stay away from the things that are going to prevent you from being able to make a choice as to what you want to do then you’d be all right.

Say you make the wrong decisions society will try to help you, however, you only get so many of those chances and if you are fortunate it will happen in such a place as this where you have people who are interested in making you better, helping you think with more intelligence, with more forethought, but if it happens on the streets you may not be that lucky because there maybe no coming back from that.

I have come to realise that the most important thing you can do as a young male is to just stop and think. We have a beautiful hormone that floats through our body, it’s called testosterone, all the males here have it, even some of the females have a little bit of it, but it can lead you to make a decision from which there is no return.

It means that you have to, at some point, say, “Let me put brain in front of body.” It’s just that simple, put brain in front of body because that’s the way it’s suppose to work anyway.

You are not suppose to use your fist and then think about the repercussion, you are not supposed to pick up a gun and then think about what may happen or what may happen as a result of that, you’re supposed to think before you do any of that.

The difference for me between what could have been and what in fact happened was because I figured out real early “I’m not the biggest, I’m not the strongest, I’m not the smartest but as long as I don’t allow anyone else to influence the decisions I make that can affect my life then I have a chance, in fact I have a very good chance.”

So when you see the things that I have been able to accomplish at age 31, it’s not because I was born with some kind of special ability, it’s because I figured it out early and if I figured it out you all can figure it out.

At some point you have to realise okay, as long as I keep myself in such a position that I am not going to take away my options I have a really good chance because the more you stay on the wrong side of the law the fewer options you have and what you don’t want to be is 30, 40, 50 years old talking about what you had planned, what you wanted to do, what you could have been, what you should have been.

You’ve been given a chance and you’ve been given a great opportunity, question is what do you want to do with it, seriously.

If you feel that this is as good as it gets for you, some of us like to blame our family, “Well you know I come from a long line of people who just made poor decisions.”

First of all, that’s a poor way to think, I’m an athlete I know about streaks, streaks are meant to be broken. Anybody aware of the football game that is going on today?

Everybody is talking about 1973 against Haiti, the referees thief and we didn’t go to the World Cup, we were unlucky, we didn’t go to the World Cup so that’s a streak.

Then we have the other streak of “well we don’t beat Mexico, our record against Mexico is pretty poor, we have so many games that we have lost against them in a row” and I don’t understand how no one has seen that all it means is there’s a chance for a streak to be over.

Streaks are meant to end. So if you are saying I come from a long line of people—mother, father, brother whatever—who are known for making the wrong decisions, why can’t it be you to stop the cycle? I don’t see any reason why not.

When I decided that I wanted to choose what I did for a living nobody understood it and that was fine. I say this all the time—don’t expect that everyone is going to see your own vision. That’s why its called your vision.

When I decided I wanted to be a track and field athlete that had never been done before in my family and they didn’t want to hear that. Get a real job, I was told, basically get something when we have to talk about it, it sounds good in the family and being a sprinter doesn’t sound so hot.

Young men at this stage in your life, if you have something you want to do remember that not everyone may share your vision for what it is you want to do, that’s why it’s called your vision. Myself and everybody else in here can tell you why it is you can’t accomplish what it is you have in your own mind.

But guess what we don’t control that and that’s the good thing. I could tell you that, you’re going to end up in a ditch somewhere shot dead, whatever, guess what it’s not up to me that’s up to you.

As long as you realise you do have control and you do have your own life still right here as young people what are you going to do with it? Throw it away? That is your prerogative, too. But I can tell you that as someone who had the chance to make decisions, right or wrong, and I made the right decisions.

Even when they weren’t popular and when it made me uncool, I can tell you being 31 and having all the things I have available to me now are well worth it because some of the friends I have from New York who did survive the hard life on the streets, now they call me up and saying “Ato we could not see it then but we realise now some of what you were trying to show us because, you know at this stage in my life I don’t have anything to show for it,” and all I can say to them is well, I’m sorry to hear that but you too can find a way to keep going now.

They talk about getting old, consider the alternative to getting old. What is the alternative to getting old?

Before I take your questions let me go over quickly what I want to get across to you to day. I understand some of you have made decisions that were not the correct decisions at the time, some of you have made multiple decisions that were not necessarily correct, I myself have done the same, however, it was not the end of the world.

I fell flat on my face sometimes, I failed, I was told I was this, I was never going to be that and I got up and I said I don’t care what you say, I control that. I got up and I moved on and over the years stumbled again, fell got up, moved on but through out it all I did not let anyone, any external forces, prevent me from going along the path that I had for myself; that I wanted for myself to reach my own goals.

In other words, I drive this car, I am the one in charge, if you are sitting behind the steering wheel, and you want to allow somebody in the back or in the passenger seat to drive that’s at your own risk because you are the one who is supposed to be in control and you have the control whether or not you know it, you have the control.

The question is are you going to use it and how you going to use it .

Thank You

The Youth Training Center Choir tribute to Ato.

Senior Superintendant Nassiah, Sharon Ramsaran, communications specialist, proudly display YTC trophies. At left, TPCL staff.

 

 

 

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