Do you know the stories behind the successful business owner in your neighborhood or the man you see returning home from work every day in a suit? According to social worker and author Brigette Ways, each of these men has a story, many of which are sprinkled with struggles not unlike those experienced by disadvantaged youth growing up in Pittsburgh today.

Through her motivational seminars, Ways exposes the potential in every man and woman and reveals how the most successful among us have often risen from lives filled with poverty, crime and violence.

YOUTH PARTICIPATION—Michael Hill Jr., 11, reads song of praise. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

On Feb. 26, Ways brought her Words By Ways motivational men’s seminar to the Wilkinsburg Salvation Army. She brought with her local professionals, community leaders and young men who have overcome great obstacles to accomplish their goals.

“Our format was to have men and young men who have gone through things and have overcome those things and to encourage other young men in the community that there’s hope,” Ways said. “One topic was tap into your greatness. We had different men from different professions get up and speak.”

The presentation “To Hug a T.H.U.G.,” which stands for To Help Unleash Greatness, exposed African-American men and boys to positive role models in an effort to boost their self-esteem and encourage them to strive to achieve what might not seem possible.

“You have to become transparent to tell your stories so someone knows how you got there so they can get there also. I believe everyone has a story,” Ways said. “The greatest message is we all have a purpose in life and when you find your purpose in life, you’ll find your greatness. Our goal is to continue this in the community.”

Presenters included Rev. Loran Mann from Pentecostal Temple, Rev. Terrance Davis from Second Baptist Church, Delsean Hart who is a pharmaceutical sales representative, Kevin Solomon who works in information technology and services and Kenneth Cleveland who is a program assistant with the Salvation Army. Out of the approximately 40 people in attendance, most were between the ages of 15 and 23.

“This man told us about Tupac. He wanted to be loved and he wanted to be a thug and he chose to be a thug,” said LeMar Hayes, 12. “I learned from that story that someone could grow from the smallest crack. You could grow up in the projects but you can still move up from that. I think I’ll use this advice to go to college to get a good job and to help my family.”

“This one man left home at 15 years old and he went on the street and sold drugs. He didn’t finish high school but later on he was able to,” said Robert Montgomery, 10. “You need to stay in school. Talk to God when you need something. It’s not good to leave your home at a young age. Don’t sell drugs and don’t be out in the street.”

In December, Ways presented her motivational women’s seminar H.I.P.S, which stand for Habits Inspire Personal Success at the Carnegie Children’s Library in Homewood. She plans to widen her community involvement by reaching out to other organizations and venues.

“We also do a women’s seminar too. HIPS. That focus was to encourage women that they are more than their hips. We’re trying to reach out to the community and encourage the people,” Ways said. “There are people you may see as great men and women, but you have to know their story and the way they have achieved their greatness.”

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