Moments before White Oak Elementary's annual Boys to Men Breakfast was served Friday morning, Carlos Carrera was helping second-graders with some math problems in Lee Powell's classroom.
Later, as men took their places in the serving line, former county commissioner John Mitchener talked and laughed with a few elementary school boys, same as the other familiar faces from near and far across Chowan County that included Vidant Chowan/Bertie hospitals president Brian Harvill, Fire Chief Billy Bass, Sheriff's Detective John McArthur, attorney Thomas Wood and several Aces' athletes. According to the school’s Kim Ullom, 230 men showed up so almost each of White Oak's Cubbies had a role model to spend time with that morning.
Breakfast's goal was to inspire the men of tomorrow to be the best they can be.
Guest speaker was Nigel "Legin" Anderson, a gospel hip hop and spoken word artist, speaker and podcaster who uses transparency to connect and art to communicate with his listeners. Inspired by his father’s battle with addiction, Legin talked about what makes a person valuable, truly valuable.
When Anderson began his speech, he asked boys what they wanted to be when they grow up. One kid said a judge because he “wants to be able to tell folks what to do.” Another said he wants to be a geologist while his friend aspires to be a professional football player because he wants to “make a lot of money.” Rather than be a lawyer or doctor as he told his father, one boy said he hopes to be a YouTube star much like DanTDM — who makes millions of dollars reviewing video games.
“What I want you to think about is what makes that job important,” Anderson said. “Why does it matter that you are a good judge, a good football player, that you are a good YouTuber. What makes it matter?”
Anderson noted that men — people — are more than their jobs. He said the “big lie” is that popularity and paycheck are what defines a person when nothing could be further from the truth. Anderson said having a good character counts for more than money.
“There's a lie in our culture that I want to re-frame and it's a lie that I used to believe when I was growing,” he said. “That lie is that how popular you are, how many people know your name, how much money that you have — that those things are what make you important. That's not true. There's nothing wrong with being good at what you do, but the lie is believing that those things make you important.”
Anderson continued, “If those things don't happen in a way that you think they should, then you start to think you are not as important as somebody else who it looks it's happening for.”
Anderson talked about his upbringing — fatherless — and without a lot of money, athletic ability or popularity.
“I didn't feel very valuable and then to top it off, my dad wasn't around and I didn't have a man around telling me that I mattered,” he said. “I didn't know that I mattered and it hurt a lot.”
Anderson looked for role models so as to better define his life, spur success.
“The way that I tried to make myself feel important is that I looked at what these guys who matter are doing and I wanted to be like them,” he said. “I did what music artists were telling me to do, what movie stars were telling me to do and what athletes were saying. They had money and popularity. Everybody wanted to be like them and I thought that what makes them important — I need to be like that. I started to live and act in a way that I thought mattered so I could feel more important about myself.”
That attitude didn't serve Anderson well.
“Along the way, I hurt a lot of people. I didn't care if I pushed somebody down so I could feel better about myself. I just wanted to do what I had to do to make myself feel important. I believed the lie that stuff outside of me made me matter and that's not true,” he said.
Later, Anderson discovered the truth.
“It's not what you have or what you do that makes you important. It's not what people say about you that makes you important,” he said. “It's the simple fact that you are who you are and that you are here that makes you important.”
Anderson continued with passion and prose.
“What makes you valuable, what makes you matter and what makes you important is not how good you are at sports or if you become the best geologist, maybe if your YouTube channel blows up — those things are cool — but they don't make you valuable,” he said. “What makes you valuable and what makes you matter is the fact that there's only one you — you are very rare. There's not another you. You are the only you that is ever going to exist. ... There's 7 billion people on earth, but there's only one you.”
You define you, Anderson preached.
“No matter what you go and do — whether it is football, teaching whatever it is — nobody is going to be able to do it the way that you do it,” he said. “Nobody is going to be able to be you because you are the only one who is you. That makes you super valuable.”
Then more wisdom was shared — metanoia!
“There's no measuring stick for how important you are,” Anderson said. “When you understand that — when you understand what's true about you and that's true about everyone else — you begin to treat people that way. It's hard to talk down to yourself when you believe that and it's hard for you to talk down to somebody else. ...When you start to live and do your dreams, you can live and not think that you are not as important as somebody else because maybe they make a few more dollars than you or that you are better because they make less than you.”
Reading the Gospel was a part of Anderson's genesis — “made in the image of God and nothing outside of that matters.” Freedom comes from revealing the lies.
“I don't want you guys believing the lie,” Anderson said. “I didn't know the truth until I was 21 years old. If you all can believe that truth now in elementary school, you're going to skip a whole lot of heartbreak and hurt that a lot of people are going through. I just want you all to understand. ...You guys are valuable.”