Rahfeal Gordon has come a long way from the homeless shelters and streets of Newark, New Jersey. The 25-year-old event promoter was honored this year by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship for his work giving motivational speeches to youth groups. VOA's Carolyn Weaver has more in the latest insallment of our weekly series: Making a Difference.
Rahfeal Gordon, youth entrepreneur and motivational speaker, tells his audience, "If nobody ever says that you're brilliant, say it to yourself every day. Look yourself in the mirror: if you have survived something, I don't care how small, how big, you've survived it," he said.
Rahfeal Gordon's motivational speech is simple: He tells the story of his own life in three chapters. Each begins with a hip hop lyric that he knows will be meaningful to a young audience, like these incoming freshmen at Montclair State University.
Hip Hop Lyrics:
Ghostface Killah, "All That I Got Is You": "We survived winters, snotty-nosed and no coats/ We kept it real/but the older brother still had jokes--"
Tupak Shakur, "Dear Mama": "Suspended from school, scared to go home, I was so cool--"
Gordon says he uses positive hip hop lyrics to encourage youths, especially those who grew in poverty and abuse, as he did. His talk is called "Hip Hop Saved My Life."
"When I had my very dark moments in life, I would put on certain songs, whether it be from Jay-Z, Tupac, Kanye West," Gordon said. "They kept me going through the hard times. They fulfilled a certain void that I couldn't fulfill, like not having a father or mother there, so I felt they could relate because they would tell these stories.
You might see a tear, you might not. But just understand that where I come from, it's a long road," he explains. "Some of us probably share the same situations, but understand: you can make it, you will make it. You're here," Gordon adds.
Gordon says his childhood was happy until his parents became addicted to drugs and his father began to beat Gordon's three brothers and mother. They left to live on the streets and in homeless shelters. Gordon says he tries now be a voice for others, including a brother who was murdered at the age of 19.
"When I lost my brother, that was, really, a moment when things really started to take off, in the sense of saying, 'I really, really want to be that individual to really help people, to help individuals," Gordon said. "I can't be Superman. I can't save the world, but I think if I can help an individual, I am saving the world.'"
Gordon's grandparents, Orreleen and Wyatt Warren, also helped him survive.
"I love my grandmother. She is like, if they say, 'Who is your first girlfriend?' I say my grandmother!," he said. "They say a village child is an individual who is being raised by the entire community of people. Those people are now investing into you, so that you can become this village child, be a person who can hold a village on your back with ease," Gordon said. "And that's who I was, and my grandmother was like the mayor of the village."
Rahfeal Gordon says he hopes to one day take his motivational lecture to young people across the United States and in other countries. Earlier this year, he was named social entrepreneur of the year by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. The award recognizes youth businesses that aim to help communities.
"Woo! It's four years I've been trying to get this award!," Gordon says as he accepts the award at the NFTE Awards Ceremony.