Good Afternoon, my name is Antonio. I am a junior and I attend Benton Harbor High School and I am a Youth of the Year finalist. I love attending the Club. I feel that when I’m at the Club, I can just be myself. I have developed a family at the Club. I feel that they helped me grow as a person through tough times. I have made life-long friends that I trust. At the Club, I have a place that I feel like I belong and I am free of pressure.
Since I am a junior, I have to start thinking about what colleges I am planning on attending and, most importantly, my SAT score. Growing up was quite different, I didn't have a mother to spoil me with love and care and teach me right from wrong. That hurt me emotionally and mentally. I started slacking off in school and my grades dropped dramatically. My dad offered to put me in special education a number of times. I started to feel worthless. In my school, all people did was put each other down; they hated to see anybody succeed. Something like shooting crabs-in-a-barrel. In my mind, I was just another black statistic that had nothing going for his life.
Growing up in Benton Harbor, people only knew words like FAILURE, DEFEAT and DROPOUT— but not me. I had to make a change for the better, so I signed up for the Teen Center. My first day at the Club, I was quite nervous. I stayed in the lobby because I didn't want to be seen by anybody. But when Mr. John came in, it brightened up my day. I remembered him from the Youth Campus. I felt that if anything happened to me at the Club, he would be there to help. Mr. John was a good role model in my life. I felt that if I needed it, he would do anything it took to make sure I had it—even if it was the shirt off his back.
My favorite thing to do at the Teen Center is play basketball and chill with friends. When I'm at the Teen Center, I feel like I learn something new every day—from tying a tie, to a firm handshake. Programs like Passport to Manhood with Mr. John and Mr. BJ helped mold me into the young man I am today. My favorite basketball player, Kevin Durant, also encouraged me to be great. He once said, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” I have that written on the ceiling in my room so that when I wake up it’s the first thing I see.
In order to be great in life I have to work hard. The type of person I am, I am willing to do whatever it takes to make it. The Teen Center helped me realize two things. One is that college is possible, and two is that, as an African American man out of Benton Harbor, Michigan, I, too, can make it!