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Author: David (Page 2 of 4)

Bulletin Board Material

Bulletin Board Material

“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.”

–Oprah Winfrey

Celebrity Profile, Part 2

Before graduating from high school, Oprah did something that forever changed her life. She won a speech contest that offered, as its prize, a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She studied communications there and was able to put her past behind her.

As a 19-year-old college sophomore, she became Nashville’s first African-American female co-anchor of the evening news on CBS affiliate, WTVF-TV.

After graduating from Tennessee State, she joined WJZ-TV in Baltimore to host a show called “Baltimore is Talking.” She hosted that show for seven years before making the biggest move of her career.

There was a talk show in Chicago, at the time, that was last in the television ratings for the region, and there also was a giant in the industry at the peak of his game. Phil Donohue hosted a talk show by his same name, and he was number one in the country. Oprah accepted the challenge and moved to the Windy City to anchor “A.M. Chicago.”

Six months later, the station renamed the show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the rest is history. She went on a 25-year run, from 1986-2011 as the number one talk show host on the planet. It remained the highest rated television program of its kind.

By 2003, she became the first African-American female billionaire, and also was named the greatest black philanthropist in American history.

She went on to start her own company, to star in movies, to direct, produce and act in movies, television shows and Broadway productions. She’s co-authored five books, and her company produces ‘O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine.’

But Oprah has not earned her wealth to enrich herself. She’s never forgotten her humble beginnings, and the struggles she had as a teenager. By 2012, she’d donated more than $400 million to education causes. She used her fame to form Oprah’s Angel Network (in 1998) that operated until her show closed in 2011. During that time, the Angel Network raised more than $80 million that was donated as grants to various non-profit organizations around the world.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Southeast, Oprah extended her reach and created Oprah’s Angel Network-Katrina. That effort raised more than $11 million, and Oprah donated $10 million herself to the relief effort that caused more than 1,800 deaths and more than $125 billion in damage.

Perhaps her most favorite philanthropic effort came in 2007. After a trip to South Africa, where she learned how the AIDS epidemic was impacting young children, Oprah got to work. She funded and oversaw construction of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The school began with 150 students and has grown to 450. The school features state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science laboratories, a library, a theater and a beauty salon.

Many people will only focus on Oprah’s wealth and fame, but I believe it’s important to recognize the other part of her life. Oprah began her life as a child with no shoes on her feet and potato sacks for dresses for school. She put her best efforts into school and school-related activities, which made a significant difference in her life. And then, when she achieved fame and wealth, she utilized that platform to help countless others who were less fortunate.

Don’t Say, “I Can’t.”

Celebrity Profile

Celebrity Profile

Imagine being an infant and just learning how to walk, but your family can’t afford shoes for your feet. Imagine being so poor that instead of wearing dresses to school, like the other girls, you have to wear potato sacks refashioned to look like a dress.

Imagine not even knowing your mother or father because they left you, after separating from each other, shortly after you were born. Imagine being sexually abused by family members and family friends beginning when you were nine-years old.

Circumstances were so bad, you thought running away from home, at age 13, seemed liked a good alternative. Then, a year later, you become pregnant with your first child, only to lose the child shortly after birth.

None of those circumstances paint a picture of hope of a positive future. None of those circumstances would lead many people to continue to strive for greatness. How could you wake up in the morning and dream of doing great things when basic survival was the order of the day?

Most people see Oprah Winfrey, and they see one of the most successful people in the history of the world. Talk show star, movie star, movie director and producer, owner of her own company and the first black female billionaire. But the success that everyone sees from afar was that last thing anyone could imagine in 1954.

That was the year Oprah was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her unmarried parents split up shortly after she was born and left her on the farm with her grandmother, who raised her for six years. Life on the farm was sparse, but Oprah’s grandma was a stickler for reading.

Her grandmother taught Oprah to read by the time she was 2.5 years old, and grandma was tough on her when she started school. Oprah skipped Kindergarten, writing a note to the teacher telling the teacher that she belonged, instead, in first grade. Oprah was promoted to third grade after that first year of school.

Unfortunately, when she was six-years old, her mother sent for her, and the grandmother sent Oprah to Milwaukee to live with her mother and two half-brothers. The sexual abuse began three years later. At age 12 her mother sent her to live with her father in Nashville, but her mother would call her back periodically, so Oprah shuttled between Nashville and Milwaukee, never having much stability in her homelife.

Her father was a barber and a businessman, and he had served in the military. He instilled discipline in Oprah, and he made her education a priority. She lived with him, full time, for the remainder of her high school years. It was during this time that she began to thrive, and, perhaps, the turning point in her life was upon her.

[Come back next Wednesday to see how it all turns out]

Monthly Minute (#4)

In the classic movie, the Wizard of Oz (still my favorite movie of all time), there is a point about three quarters through the movie when the four friends confront the Wizard but are turned away. All four begin to lament the things they will not receive from the Wizard, and the Cowardly Lion goes on a rant about all the creatures that would demonstrate his courage were he not afraid of them. He ends his speech by listing examples of creatures that do have courage. He finishes by saying, “…what makes a muskrat guard his musk?” He concludes by asking, “what have they got that I ain’t got?” and his friends answer, in unison, “Courage.”

But the Cowardly Lion, and anyone who believes same, is mistaken. Courage is not the absence of fear. If you ask a fire fighter if he or she is afraid, before they enter a burning building, they’d admit they are. No doubt. But they go in anyway.

Reflecting upon my interview with Neva Warren and her setting the record of becoming the youngest person to hike the Appalachian Trail by herself, the thought that sticks with me is Neva’s Courage.

Again, many people have a misconception of courage. Some think courage is simply conquering a fear or a phobia. Others believe courage to be about being a ‘tough guy’ (or girl).

I’ve heard it said that courage isn’t facing fear, it’s acknowledging your fear and continuing your quest despite that fear. Brave people don’t lack fear, they have the courage to continue to battle whatever their obstacle is, despite their fear.

Neva had great courage. She knew she had a journey of more than 2,200 miles. She knew she was, physically, much smaller than all of the other hikers, which meant she couldn’t travel as far or as fast every day in order to maintain a good pace. She rolled her ankles multiple times, she fell down in the mud, she fought back against her depression (the cause for which she was hiking) and she continued to hike. She watched big, burly men with beards drop off the Trail. She cried often, but she kept going.

Whatever your next challenge or obstacle is, it’s okay if you’re afraid. Just don’t let your fear stop you.

Don’t Say, “I Can’t”

Bulletin Board Material (#4)

{It’s amazing how much information a writer might receive in an interview. Not all of it fits into the story, so I select an important thought from the person I interviewed and share it as Bulletin Board Material. Print it out, paste it on your mirror, or hang it on your refrigerator.]

“So many people are going to tell you that you’re not up to the challenge, it’s too hard for you, no way you can do what you want to do. When the trail looks too hard in front of you, you have to make your own trail.”

-Neva Warren-

Black bears, rattlesnakes and coyote…Oh My (Part 2)

The toughest part for Neva, perhaps, was the lack of consistent companionship. While many who hike the trail meet up with other, like-minded souls, Neva had a physical challenge that prevented that consistent comradery.

“I was, maybe, at most five feet tall at the time, so I only went about a mile and a half per hour,” Neva explained. “Which is too slow for most hikers. I met a lot of hikers, and the Trail does bring out the best people. But I wasn’t able to keep a companion for more than a day or two because they got tired of going slow for me.”

The other challenge for Neva wasn’t physical.

“I decided to quit the trail and to leave to trail around 2:00 every day,” Neva said. “But continuing on is more a signal of strength. I’ve been kicked down, I’m in the mud, I’ve rolled both ankles, but I’m going to get up and keep going because that’s what I have to do. I saw a lot of people drop off the trail. The thing that kept me going…I cried every day, and I sobbed all of the time. I kept thinking that I’m not going to make it to Maine…all of these people are telling me that I’m not going to summit in time.

“I didn’t pretend,” Neva continued. “Being able to cry, and being able to say, this is really hard, and to keep going while I was crying… I can’t count the number of big, burly men with beards who dropped off. You can’t maintain that attitude. You can’t pretend that you’re stronger than the trail.”

Neva was 14 years old when she began her journey, and she turned 15 during her hike. After six months and 22 days, she completed her goal. But she not only was able to fulfill her personal quest, she also was able to help others because of her trek.

“Most of the time, what took me off of the trail to rest was struggles with depression,” Neva explained. “We have a long family history of depression and being out in the woods with nothing to distract you is like being put in a sensory deprivation chamber. That triggered more depression for me. I was trying to raise awareness for mental health.”

To that end, Neva partnered with Hike for Mental Health in order to raise money for her cause.

Now a sophomore English major at the University of South Florida, Neva is preparing to go to Ireland in the fall to study abroad, and she’s planning her next adventure. Her Appalachian Trail conquest has served her well.

“I think it gave me an unshakeable strength,” Neva concluded. “When I came to college, right away I took 17 credits, and took a part-time job and I’m writing for the school newspaper. For many people, this is their first time away from their parents. I knew I had the strength, I knew I didn’t have to worry. I know I can work through it and keep working on. That’s the greatest gift the Trail gave me.”

Don’t Say, “I Can’t”

Black bears, rattlesnakes and coyote…Oh My!

Hiking the Appalachian Trail doesn’t sound like something anyone would consider fun. It’s the longest hiking trail in the world at 2,200 miles long and it extends through 14 states from Springer Mountain, GA. to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It can take between five to seven months to complete a thru hike (those individuals who complete the hike in one attempt, from start to finish), which means you’re beginning your jaunt in extreme heat in Georgia and finishing in the cold of Maine.

Along the way you might encounter the American black bear, poisonous snakes like the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead, as well as wild boar, foxes, bobcats and coyote. If you’re not bothered by any of those critters, you have to deal with a multitude of deer ticks, mosquitoes and black flies (whose bite might be worse than a mosquito). Just in case none of that bothers you, there’s a plentiful supply of poison ivy that follows the trail for thousands of miles.

You have to do all of this with enough gear in your backpack so that you can survive a few days at a time, which might include a sleeping bag, some sort of rain gear, clothing, food, water, and some people carry a tent. Which amounts to carrying two school backpacks on your back – both full of textbooks.

According to most sources, only 10-15% of people who attempt to complete the Georgia-to-Maine excursion actually finish. Only 10-15%.

Neva Warren wanted to do it anyway.

“My parents had been interested in it, and I read a few books about it,” Neva said. “We went on a family vacation to Shenandoah National Park, and we did a three-mile hike on the Trail together. I really enjoyed it. It was cold and rainy…and I loved it.

“Once we got back to the lodge, I said, I think I’m going to do the whole thing,” Neva continued. “But not with you guys…I want to do it alone. When I found out that I would be the youngest, male or female, to complete the hike alone, part of my motivation became proving people wrong.”

Neva was 14 years old at the time, and barely five feet tall.

Training was difficult because her family lives in Florida, so no matter how many miles she was able to hike during training, there was no way to simulate the conditions on the Trail. Once on the Trail, she carried a full pack, which included a sleeping bag, food, clothes, sleeping pad, water pouch, snacks…and a keychain of Niall Horan from the British boy band, One Direction.

“The first day, maybe like two miles into the hike, I rolled my ankle and fell down,” Neva said. “At the time, I said to myself, well, this is my life now, and I broke off little sticks and tried to make a brace and laced my boot tight. I told myself that I had to keep going. The second day I rolled my other ankle. The third day I got new boots…

“I can’t say that I ever stopped rolling my ankles, I just eventually got used to it,” Neva went on. “It was never bad enough to take me off of the trail. I was lucky not to have any major injuries.”

Monthly Minute (#3)

Reflecting upon my interview with Shane Burcaw (“Laughing At His Nightmare), the thought that continues to make me smile is the way in which Shane processes and deals with everyday life.

When I was a kid, my mother subscribed to a uniquely shaped monthly magazine called, Reader’s Digest. One monthly feature was called, “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” In that feature there always was a story of a difficult situation that turned comical and made you laugh. I always read that feature.

Shane uses humor like a photographer uses a lens.
“My family makes jokes when we are annoyed or angry or upset,” Shane said. “That mindset has totally influenced my worldview, teaching me that negative events only have as much power as we give them.”

As I said in the first post, most medical statistics indicate that Shane has outlived his prognosis. He’s 26 years old and he’s been experiencing life from the seat of his wheelchair since he was about two years old. He weighs less than my German shepherd mix. Yet he chooses to find humor in his daily life, and a weekly feature at his blog ( is “Weekly Smiles” in which Shane goes through his week and shares what made him smile every single day of the week.

Please understand, and this might be challenging, but when Shane talks about utilizing humor as his way to view life’s challenges and routines, it’s not like a Bugs Bunny cartoon (I know, I’m dating myself). There is substantial research to support the fact that Shane’s worldview has tremendous health benefits.

“Laughter addresses the same issues as fear,” said Gina Barreca, Ph.D in an article about the value of humor. “Not to dismiss them, but to strengthen our ability to confront them. Laughter is essential in terms of being able to cope with the stresses and pressures of everyday life. Being able to find and use your own humor…indicates a useful ability to envision a situation from a number of perspectives. We enrich our lives when we are able to create and deal with humor.”

Don’t Say, “I Can’t”

Bulletin Board Material

{When I interview someone for a project, there’s usually pages of notes, and not all of the important information can fit into an article or a blog post. So, on the third Wednesday of every month, I’ll present to you Bulletin Board Material, which will be a short thought from that month’s interview that you can print out, tape on your mirror or refrigerator or your school locker to remind you of the important stuff.}

“When you are faced with a challenge, try to ask yourself if negative emotions, like anger/annoyance/sadness, are going to help you effectively cope with or resolve your struggle? What can you do to reframe your mind to more positive things? It might be as easy as going for a run or calling a friend, or it might take some time and energy, but we all have a cognitive arsenal that we can use to help ourselves out of a low. You just have to make the commitment to do so.”

–Shane Burcaw

Laughing At His Nightmare, Part 2

Shane began taking a new drug treatment about 18 months ago. Spinraza was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016, and the drug may stop or significantly slow the progression of his disease. On those infrequent occasions when his brain might tell him about his mortality, he changes his focus to the myriad of projects he has ongoing.

“Early on in life, it was harder than it is now,” Shane said. “I basically just do my best to embrace it and live every day as hard as I can. No one knows when their time will be up, so it’s a lesson that all people could benefit from.”

Shane isn’t just blowing smoke, he’s put his thoughts into action in a number of ways. Seven years ago, he started a blog, called Laughing at My Nightmare ( His writing is part comedy and part reality, with a dose of youthful wisdom.

“I was just bored one day, and I wanted to tell some funny stories,” Shane explained how the blog came about. “I never expected it to take on such a life of its own, but as I continued writing it, I began to realize people connected with my mindset of using humor to cope with adversity.”

He now has hundreds of thousands of followers, and along the way, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Moravian College. Then publishers realized that he had such a large following on his blog, he was asked to write a book based on his blog.

Laughing at My Nightmare was Shane’s first book, and his second was a children’s picture book called Not So Different, in which he wanted to show kids, early on in life, that having a disability is not a bad thing. His first two books have been such large successes that his third book, Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse will be coming out soon. It’s all about the misconceptions that people have about disability.

While his writing career was taking off, he and his cousin, Sarah, started a non-profit (Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc.) with the sole mission to provide vital equipment to people living with muscular dystrophy diseases. This has turned into a full-time job for both of them. To date, Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc. has made 45 equipment grants totaling more than $85,000. Shane said that in a few months they will be providing a $50,000 grant to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle for someone in need.

Shane has performed more than 150 speaking engagements across the country, from a Mennonite festival to Harvard and from biotech companies in San Francisco to children battling life-threatening diseases in New York City. They continue to raise money for the non-profit, and June 16 will mark the annual running of the Laughing At My Nightmare 5K.

Shane prepares for that event the same way he does everything else in his life…with a smile and a laugh.

Don’t Say, “I Can’t”

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