Speaker motivates students to find their gifts
During a moment of levity, motivational speaker Morris Morrison instructs Carmichaels Assistant Principal Dave Bates on dance moves.
Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
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CARMICHAELS – Sharing his story of overcoming adversity, renowned motivational speaker Morris Morrison told students at Carmichaels Area Junior Senior High School Friday to look inside themselves for greatness. He encouraged the faculty and administration to do their part to bring these “God given gifts,” out of their charges.
One moment, he had the audience laughing and applauding and, the next moment, they were in tears. It is the reason why 84 Lumber business man Joe Hardy sponsored Morrison’s trip to the area to speak to youth in several school districts.
It is nothing short of amazing that Morrison is where he is today. As a young boy, he found himself surrounded by those who could have held him down. He was in a neighborhood where selling drugs was a way of life. His mother died of a heroin overdose at the age of 23. His father was the person responsible for getting her into drugs.
“She was a model, actor and dancer. She went straight to New York City to follow her dream and she became very successful, very fast. She was very, very beautiful. They found her body in a hotel room one day,” Morrison said. His father also succumbed to drugs.
A beloved aunt, Gwendolyn Sanders, would take over raising Morrison. She would fall ill when he was just 15 years old. Morrison, at her bedside in Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, bargained with her and God.
“I didn’t want to be orphaned again. I began to squeeze her hand as hard as I could. I thought if I did it long enough and hard enough maybe she won’t leave me,” he said.
When Morrison finally looked up, he saw a tear trickle down Sanders’ cheek.
“I’m not gonna choose drugs or sell drugs. I’m going to finish high school. I’m not going to get a girl pregnant before I get married. I’m going to be successful,” he told himself. “I’m going to go to college. I’m going to do something with this opportunity she gave me.”
When Morrison was in the parking lot, he looked up at the window to his aunt’s room and the light went out.
“I can’t describe it to this day how it changed me. I knew she was gone. I knew I was on my own. Something was flipped inside of me,” he said. “I began to think, ‘How do I become successful now?”
Morrison credited a driver’s education teacher at in Fairmont State High School, in Fairmont, W.Va., for seeing something in him. It just takes one person in a child’s life, he said. Morrison was a sophomore when this instructor handpicked him to represent his high school at a leadership conference at West Virginia University’s Jackson’s Mill. Morrison didn’t want to go because he would have to miss basketball, but he went.
A year later, he was the starting point guard for Fairmont when they won the 1996 state championship. It stunned his teammates and many others when Morrison chose not to play his senior year. His inner voice that he has named ‘Craig,’ told him there was something else he was meant to do. When Morrison received a call from that same leadership conference asking him to return as one of only 50 seniors selected in the state, he said he knew this was that something else. If he had been playing basketball, he would have been obligated at the time to play.
Instead, Morrison attended the five-day conference. The 50 seniors arrived for the first two days to plan. By the end of day two, in a large circle, they voted for one of their peers to be the speaker for the next three days for the underclassmen in attendance. Morrison was taken aback when he was chosen. His adviser encouraged him, telling him, “Son, you’re a leader. Your peers chose you.”
Morrison said he overcame his fears and by the end of the conference he was confident and comfortable in the role. He came up with what he calls the morning mirror test. Morrison told the students that confident students look in the mirror and they like what they see.
“I worked my butt off and that mirror started to look better and better every day,” he said.
First, he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Fairmont State University. He wanted to learn how people think. Next, he went on to achieve a master’s degree from WVU in industrial labor relations.
It wasn’t until he learned a pint-sized life lesson that Morrison found himself motivating people like he had as a senior at that conference.
He credited a family outing with four family members. Two of them, brothers he calls Captain Dale and Mier Mier, showed Morrison the way. Neither knew how to swim. Dale, about 6 years old, was determined he could do it and after several hours he did. Not to be outdone, Mier Mier, 4, jumped in the deep end. After a few more hours he, too, was successful.
“I asked myself, ‘If Captain Dale had the courage to take his life vest off when are you going to jump Morris?’” he asked. When he got home, he told his wife, Lisa, he wanted to quit his job with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and do something more with his life. She surprised him when she said she was wondering how long it was going to take him to get to that place.
“My gifts and my abilities had been inside me all along. What gifts are inside of you right now that you don’t even realize are there?” he asked the students. “Leaders don’t follow the crowd. Listen to that voice inside you. I don’t want you to look back and have any regrets. I believe every single one of you has gifts.”
Morrison said the longer you fear something the longer it will keep you from being great. He left the students with these messages: “Be open to try new things that you’re not comfortable with,” and, “You can never convince another person of something unless you are convinced first.”