Are You up to a Challenge?

By Joan Janzen

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld said, “You have to motivate yourself with challenges. That’s how you know you’re still alive.”

Reggie Dabbs speaks to students all across the US, and presents them with a 10 for 10 challenge – do an act of kindness every day for ten days. In a recent interview with Joni Lamb, I heard Reggie explain how he began speaking to students and playing the saxophone at schools. Whether he’s speaking to kids or prison inmates, he’s reaching out to people who think no one could possibly relate to them. But Reggie does.

His biological mom was a pregnant teen who, in her desperation called her former teacher, who had encouraged her students to call if they ever needed anything. Mrs. Dabbs and her husband had six adult children, when they took the pregnant teen into their home and cared for her until the baby was born. They became Reggie’s foster parents and later adopted him.

When he was six years old, Reggie realized all his classmates’ parents were young, “but my parents were old”, he said. One day he asked his parents, “Hey, why are you both so old?” That’s when his parents hugged him and told him he was adopted.

After hearing the news, Reggie assured his parents he was OK, but he said, “The voice in your head can help you, or it can be your demise.” By age 13 he couldn’t sleep at night and the voice kept telling him if he disappeared, no one would look for him. But one night he was quietly crying in his room, when his dad walked in.

Because his dad had noticed how sad Reggie had been for the past few days, he decided to sleep outside his son’s bedroom door. He hugged Reggie and said, “From now on I’ll always call you Son.”

Reggie said, “After that everything changed, because I knew somebody was there for me. Everybody needs to realize they’re loved. Sometimes it’s not the people you live with. Sometimes it’s a coach, a teacher, those people who decide they’re going to help someone else.”

“By the eighth grade I was severely ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). My mama said I was A.D.D.D.D.D!” But when his mama discovered that music calmed her son down, she bought a saxophone from a pawnshop. “Whenever I got fidgety she told me to go to my room and play my saxophone along with the radio,” Reggie explained.

“After that my ninth grade teacher realized words got jumbled when I read, but if I could hear her voice I could do anything,” he said. His teacher recorded herself reading every one of Reggie’s text books. “Now they have apps for that, and she could have made some money,” he laughed. “But little stuff like that made me realize there was a plan for my life.”

He realized the plan involved him sharing his story with students. “I do elementary all the way through to high school, because the hurt kids are going through is starting younger and younger,” he said. “I love going to elementary schools. I play a lot of saxophone, have a lot of fun, and there’s lots of singing.” He sees lots of kids suffering from anxiety and depression, but found that just one word of hope makes a difference.

At one school there was a boy in his audience who was surrounded by three security guards. The principal told Reggie this was the worst child he had seen in 28 years of education. Reggie presented his 10 for 10 challenge, and the next day he received a call from the principal.

“The principal called and said we have a girl with cerebral palsy. Every day at lunch she leaves her crutch at her seat, walks through the line and gets her lunch. But today she didn’t make it to her seat cause she fell, and food went everywhere,” Reggie recalled. “That boy was the first one to help her up. He went back in line and bought every food item she had, put it in front of her, and said ‘This is for you. You gotta eat. You need your strength. You encourage me everyday when I see you walk with your friends’.”

The principal took the boy into his office and asked why he had helped the girl. The boy replied, “It was that dude, Reggie. He looked at me and said I can do this. My mom keeps telling me to do something wrong and go to prison just like my dad and get out of her life. But Reggie said I can be hope for someone, I can be love for someone.”

I don’t know about you, but that story made me cry. Reggie receives hundreds of messages from kids telling them their sad stories. Those stories compel him to continue extending hope to students of all ages.

Standing in an auditorium, he says, “Some days you’re going down the hill so fast you want to quit. But I’m telling you, never get off the ride of life, because they’ll fix the ride. The only question is, will you be on the ride when they fix it?” His message is particularly relevant, as Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) is being offered to people who are suffering mentally.

Reggie leads the students in a cheer, “Never give up! I got your back!”

He drives home the fact that you can never change your past, but you can change your future, and you can make a difference in someone’s life.

So how about it? Will you take up the 10 for 10 challenge, and do an act of kindness every day for ten days? All it takes is one of word of hope or act of kindness to change someone’s life.

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