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From Vision To Reality: How Grit Got Me Out

11/17/2013 02:46 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

Grit is described by Angela Lee Duckworth as motivation, perseverance, and stamina. For me, developing grit wasn't a choice -- it was a necessity. Growing up in gang-riddled, poverty stricken South Central Los Angeles, about five blocks from where the 1992 LA riots started, I began playing basketball which was my escape from the chaos. As a kid with a learning disability and little interest in school, I rarely experienced success outside of basketball. The court was where I began realizing the true meaning of grit. According to the statistics, I should never have made it to where I am today. What the statistics don't tell you, is my mother's vision for me to have a better life and her ability to teach me how to deal with adversity, and find success in my own right.

Before entering high school, college was a far-fetched idea. My mother told me in order for me to find success I would need to leave my community by joining the military or getting a basketball scholarship. Since I could not see myself as a "military man", basketball would have to be my vehicle to success. My mother locked me out of the house everyday to practice and develop my skills on the court. Without knowing it, this was my first life lesson on setting long-term goals and overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream. The hard work and dedication paid off when I received significant interest from Division 1 basketball programs and eventually accepted a 4-year full scholarship to play basketball at Stonehill College.

From leading Stonehill College men's basketball team to the Division 2 Final Four, to a professional basketball contract offer in Sweden and invites to participate in NBA combines, basketball was my vehicle for success. I wasn't the fastest player, highest jumper or most skilled dribbler on the court, but I was gritty. I learned to move efficiently, think critically, and rely on my teammates. Every single day, I worked hard and left everything I had out on the court. My stamina and perseverance on the court proved to be the transferable lifelong skills that positioned me to be successful in the workplace.

When I left basketball, I entered unchartered territory, but called on my skills to get hired by a real estate firm. No one would say that I was the most knowledgeable person in the real estate industry, or that I had a particular knack for real estate that made me a better candidate than those who had studied the industry extensively. I did however have the necessary transferable skills that allowed me to gain and maintain employment.

Their community was frustrated with its current state but had no means to create change. I hated that I was not in a position to help. -- Marquis Taylor

During the time I spent working in the real estate industry, I was sent to the Mississippi Delta. Little did I know, this trip would change the trajectory of my life. The Delta opened my eyes to the unimaginable poverty in our country. Their community was frustrated with its current state but had no means to create change. I hated that I was not in a position to help. At that moment, I knew if I wanted to make a difference I would have to take drastic actions. I left my high-paying job in real estate to go back to school for my master's in education to create the change I wished to see in the world.

I quickly realized that I did not want to be a teacher. I wanted to motivate and educate kids who were falling through the cracks, who were disengaged from school but still had the potential to succeed.

Calling on my strengths and past experiences, I developed a non-profit organization called Coaching4Change (C4C). C4C provides after-school programs for high school students to keep them engaged in their school and community while challenging them to become leaders. C4C trains participants to coach and run sports leagues for local elementary students. We use coaching as a catalyst to build confidence and a sense of self-worth in our students. Our organizational goals are to keep our participants on track to graduate high school within four years, to gain and maintain part-time or summer employment, and to matriculate into post-secondary education. The teens in our programs are paired with college leaders to expose them to what success looks like just one step ahead of where they are now. Through our programs, we provide opportunities for our participants to experience small successes exercising the theory that success breeds success. The programs focus on the transferable skills that I have utilized and internalized, such as critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, effective communication, and team building.

As an athlete and social entrepreneur, I have learned that grit is about focusing on long-term goals. It is about working hard and not giving up, even when faced with adversity. It is about pushing past your comfort zone to challenge the status quo and knowing that success is only achieved because of long hours, sweat, and tears. When you demonstrate resilience and fully commit yourself to a vision, you have truly embodied the concept of grit.

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