The media center at Anna K. Davie Elementary was rocking Friday morning, as motivational speaker Justin Tutt inspired students with chants of encouragement during a workshop.
The 2008 Rome High graduate, who is now based out of Chicago, is the founder of the nonprofit Kutz4Kids Inc., which aims to uplift the younger generation with a message focused on the empowerment of oneself by finding individuality.
Principal Clifton Nicholson said there have been some challenges with students. He wanted to bring Tutt in to be a fresh and different voice in sharing the message teachers and administrators impart on students regularly: To end bullying, to teach respect for adults, and to value their education.
"I got one rule and one rule only, respect," Tutt told students to quiet them down while he spoke.
But they weren't quiet for long, as Tutt prompted them to sing back to him the lyrics of a song he taught them during a previous appearance.
"Making fun of me shows weakness in you," he would speak into the microphone and students would shout it back to him. "We are all different that's what makes us true. I be me and you be you."
It's amazing to come back to his hometown and instill in kids what he feels is greatly needed in their lives — a self-realization in knowing they can achieve their dreams, Tutt said. This comes from acknowledging the power each of them has within when they accept themselves as individuals.
"You have to be comfortable with being yourself," he told students, many of whom come from the same environment he did that has a shortage of positive male leadership.
Tutt warned students of the consequences of being controlled by what others think of them, none more so than the loss of their own identity through a myopic focus on trying to be cool.
The Man in the Black Chucks is a name Tutt has earned from his choice of shoes, a worn-out pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars, which he said reflects his own life and the challenges he has overcome as an individual.
Friday's program was an exercise in group motivation. During one segment, Tutt called sixthgrader Ladarius Summerour up to his interview setting, a pair of chairs angled at each other. Summerour was asked if he was powerful and he adamantly replied, "Yes sir."
Following the interview, Tutt called on him to see just how powerful he really is. Summerour would shout at the crowd, "I am powerful," to which fellow students would reassert with a resounding, "You are powerful."
Students then gave their definitions of powerful; examples given were respect, confidence and self-esteem. But being powerful doesn't simply come from words but from action, Tutt said. He called on students to hold each other accountable, ensuring they take action to be the best they can be.
However, the attempt to be the best isn't mistake-free, Tutt said.
"Nothing about me is perfect," he said, adding that he got in fights, he failed tests and overall he made a slew of mistakes.
His mistakes, thoughts and reflections are logged in his journal, which can be a tool for self-examination and the exploration of ideas. Each student was given a journal at the end of the program and instructed to write in it each day for 30 days, a process he said would change their lives as it did his.