Speakers tell students of obstacles they overcame

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By Jesef Williams

Whether it was lifting weights or studying for class, Kennett Washington said he always dreamed big and worked hard toward achieving his goals.

Washington, a Lancaster native and professional fitness trainer, along with Phillip Mickles, principal at A.R. Rucker Middle School, spoke to students Friday morning at Clinton Elementary School.

Mickles and Washington, who both grew up in Lancaster's New Town area, spoke of the adversity and struggles they endured before achieving success as adults.

Mickles lived in a three bedroom "shotgun" house with his mother, grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and two cousins. He told the group not to use where you live as an excuse not to do well in school.

He talked about how he lost his athletic scholarship and was kicked out of West Virginia State University for fighting.

As some naysayers back in Lancaster said, "I knew you weren't going to be anything," Mickles regained focus and later earned three degrees from the University of South Carolina.

"You're going to have some tough things happen to you,"Mickles said. "Even in adversity, you have to see the positive things that can come out of that."

Mickles told Clinton Elementary fourth- and fifth-graders to always do three things:

u Write down your dreams and goals.

u Read them every day.

u Do something every day to achieve those goals.

Washington, who played multiple sports at Lancaster High School, attended Clinton Elementary School after his family moved to Lancaster from Washington, D.C.

He grew up with his mother and seven siblings, and like Mickles, later moved to Pardue Street Apartments. All of his brothers had to sleep in one bed.

Crime was a mainstay in his neighborhoods, whether it was Washington or Lancaster. He remembers seeing the body of someone who had been murdered outside his doorsteps in Washington.

Washington said his mother made sure he and his siblings were safe and stayed out of trouble. She provided him with the core principles that have led to his success today, he said.

After graduating from Lancaster High School, where he played football, ran track and wrestled, Washington attended Gardner Webb University in North Carolina.

He is now a black belt martial artist and is the owner and operator of Health Strength Personal Training in Charlotte, having certification under the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Washington is also a natural body-building champion.

"This is something I love," Washington said. "It's not just physical training, it's training the mind. It takes self discipline."

Washington suggested that students take the "SOFT approach." SOFT stands for success, opportunity, faith and time.

Toward the end of his presentation, Washington left the group with a big surprise.

He challenged each student to write his or her own definition of success.

The two best definitions will be chosen – a boy and girl – and the winners will join Washington for an afternoon at Celebration Station in Pineville.

Fifth-grader Andrea Borcherds was ready to get started on her definition. She already has an idea of what it may sound like.

"I want to win," she said. "It'll be fun to go to that (Celebration Station)."

Debbie Brock, a fifth-grade teacher at Clinton Elementary who helped arrange Friday's visit, said she knew Mickles and Washington's message would resonate.

"I knew both grew up in the area and the kids could relate to them and make a difference," she said. "It was awesome."

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1152