“Note to self: `The more you begin to fool yourself, you’re not fooling anyone else.’ I wish I understood why I chose to live the way I did. But, the best thing that comes to mind, I did what I had to do – to eat, survive and live. Many can stand and judge another’s situations, but try wearing their shoes and then perhaps only then you can tell their story.”
Jeff Hodges opens his conversation with the reader by allowing us to wear his shoes. His brutally honest series of personal anecdotes take us into his childhood life in the streets where he succumbs to a world of violence, crime, and drugs. In his series of gut-wrenching narratives, Mr. Hodges thoughtfully weaves his ownership of his choices in with his deeply embedded “feelings of abandonment, which his real father left him [me]with”. In detailing his struggles to come to terms with the injustices in his life, it is Jeff who directly confronts his demons -within himself – deciding that he “has had enough”…. and he “wanted to change and sought after it.” In doing so, Mr. Hodges imparts a powerful message of courage, perseverance, and of hope – one that demonstrates the resiliency of the human mind and spirit and serves as a platform for Jeff’s life-changing messages and mission.
After setting the thematic tone of personal accountability a midst extreme diversity, Jeff Hodges takes us on a journey through a collection of conversations – delivering a series of life lessons from distinguished, yet down-to-earth individuals. It is through these conversations and their myriad of perspectives, that Mr. Hodges is able to reach out to his primary audience – young men of color – and inspire them with words of encouragement, “If you want to your situation to change, you have to change”. With timeless teachings from relevant mentors, Jeff accomplishes this goal.
Although there are many interviews that resonated with me, several struck me in profound ways. From Dr. Elisa English, her words, “Particularly in communities of color – sharing pain is seen as a sign of weakness and weakness is seen as a lack of faith…black men have experienced so much in terms of violence, oppression and depression – so it is expected that we [they] can handle everything and they will make it through. But getting through is just not that simple.” As Dr. English describes this generational trauma, she also imparts practical lessons of communication, dialogue, and of embracing transformative traits which will begin the healing process for each individual and thus, a community. From actor, director, producer Malik Yoba, we are reminded of one of the most fundamental life lessons in change, “- whether it’s reading books, going to school, asking questions – you have to have a sense that your life means something…[that] I can create the future destiny…I can create my own vision…”. Mr. Yoba reminds youth that transformation begins within and empowers them to search for what is meaningful and purposeful to them. In working with youth over the years, I believe this message is incredibly valuable as young people often base their hopes and dreams on the external messages from the world as well as from their immediate environments. Turning within to find direction and self-empowerment is a foreign and lost concept – one that youth must be taught and modeled. And from professional baseball player and author, Brian Barton, we are reminded of the powerful role that self-perception play in self-efficacy. Mr. Barton teaches us that in conducting those brutal self-inventories – in a “state of honesty, a state of humility, and most importantly accountability so we can identify who we really are” paves the path for “taking control of our own lives.” What I greatly admire about this knowledge is that for any individual, especially youth, to be able to think of themselves as becoming an agent of change, they must be able to look inward to discover or uncover their own hunger for a different way of being.
Jeff Hodges’ “A Collection of Conversations: A Guide To Success” is not another `how-to book’. It is one extraordinary man – along with a cadre of colleagues – having a fatherly (and motherly in some cases) relevant conversation with youth. As mentors who care deeply about our hurting young people, Mr. Hodges and his distinguished contributors, deliver their most powerful message by serving as role models themselves, never diminishing their own responsibility and accountability they carry in their respective roles.
In Mr. Hodges own words, “One of the most important things in life is to always remain true to self, a man of your word; one who has integrity, shows loyalty and is not swayed by the lack of realness in other. It’s my firm belief, in order for our young men to act and behave as kings, we – the elder men – must present ourselves as kings.” Thank you, Jeff, for serving as one…
Holli Kenley, M.A. ,MFT