The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff hosted the Chancellor’s Fall Convocation in honor of the National Day on Writing at the Kenneth L. Johnson, Sr. HPER Complex to a near capacity crowd of faculty, staff, students and community. Powerful renditions were performed by the Marching Musical Machine of the MidSouth (M4) and the UAPB Vesper Choir. Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth was also present to read a resolution in honor of the National Day on Writing.
Nathan McCall, national bestselling author, was the guest speaker and asked students to think about finding their place in life and pursuing a meaningful purpose. He quoted great leaders such as Nelson Mandela who believed education is the ultimate personal development tool. McCall also stressed the importance of living in the moment while planning their next steps. He noted that while they were in the right place to catapult themselves to greatness, one key element was going to determine whether or not success would be achieved – their mindset.
“If you don’t condition yourselves, you will waste opportunities because you don’t have the right frame of mind.”
To illustrate the importance of having the right frame of mind, McCall offered his life as a cautionary tale.
“I stand before you today as an established writer,” McCall said. “But my path to success was more difficult than you can imagine.”
He shared his tumultuous journey as a headstrong, rebellious young man that had the opportunity to go to college but ended up getting involved with the wrong crowd. His activities changed from playing in the streets to gambling with his life in them. He became a thug that was into gangbanging, car theft, getting into fights, breaking into homes, selling drugs, armed robbery, and then some. By the time McCall was in the tenth grade, most of his friends had already dropped out of school. His frame of mind almost seemed right when he enrolled in college at Norfolk State University but found himself trying to go to school and hang with same group of friends who were now high school dropouts. He thought he would be able to hang in the streets and go to school at the same time – eventually, life caught up with him.
When McCall was just a freshman at Norfulk State, he had an altercation with another man that resulted in him shooting the man in the chest at point blank range. The bullet missed the man’s heart by a fraction of an inch and he lived, however, McCall had a one year sentence to serve. The judge had mercy on him because he was in college. He went to school during the week and prison on the weekends. McCall said that while it was an ideal arrangement, he still had the wrong frame of mind. He stopped going to college. Six months later, while still on probation, he and two other guys were arrested for robbing a McDonald’s restaurant. This time, he didn’t get off so easily. He was sentenced to serve 13 years in prison for armed robbery.
This was the breaking point for McCall who decided to use his demise to change his life. He began to read everything he could get his hands on, honed his critical thinking skills, and found a love for writing. He was granted parole after serving three years. He went back to school and graduated from Norfolk State University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism.
“I realized that once I built my intellect, I raised my self-esteem,” McCall said. “Once I raised my self-esteem, I could change my behavior. Once I changed my behavior, I could take charge of my destiny.”
Although McCall went on to write for publications like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Washington Post, it was the sight of his old friends that were stuck in their same state of failure that caused him to write his first book, Makes Me Wanna Holler. The book was on the New York Bestsellers list for several weeks. He went on to write a second book, What’s Going On and mentioned that he is working on a third.
At the conclusion of his speech, he told students to remember that they were not alone. He recited an old African proverb that states, “I am because we are. Because we are, I am.”