Marv West, executive director of the Commission for African-American Males, gave a universal message of self-determination and support to about 200 inmates at the Toledo Correctional Institution yesterday.
Mr. West said he speaks at various state prisons about five to six times a year to get the word out about the commission and inform inmates about the resources available to them.
The inmates sat attentively as Mr. West told stories about his own revelations through his life and people who encouraged him along the way.
He told the inmates that they have the ability to turn their lives around and there are agencies, like his, that can assist in various ways.
"They asked a lot of good questions and you can see it in their eyes and nodding their heads, so that told me I was reaching some of them," Mr. West said after his speech and question-and-answer period, which lasted a little over an hour.
"Of course, you can't reach everyone. I don't have a canned speech. I just try to get a feel for the audience and give them information they need."
Mr. West told the inmates a story about another inmate he has come to know, who used his time to organize and plan events and educate himself.
Mr. West said that inmate already has developed plans to run an ex-offender program when he is released to help other inmates.
"He's using his time to perfect his skills - his organizational skills and his planning skills," Mr. West said. "He can sing, he can act, and he can organize. He knows what he wants to do."
Mr. West spoke of his own personal approach to projects, starting with deciding on what a person wants to do, writing it down as a constant reminder, taking action, making improvements, and duplicating the success.
"[Taking action] is the one most of us get stuck on all the time," Mr. West said. "If you want to be a speaker, just go speak to somebody.
"There's nursing homes where you can talk to a group of about 50 to 60 people sitting there with time on their hands. Someone will appreciate your presence."
Mr. West told the inmates to take advantage of their skills. He told them to find their niche, highlighted by his own business stories.
He said he started a painting business and got jobs because he was willing to move furniture and clean up afterward when other painters wouldn't.
He said an idea that one of his staffers had about a free African-American television network last year led to a more modest television program the commission started.
Mr. West said that television program is now shown independently on 13 television stations and cable outlets around the state, with a potential audience of more than 1 million viewers.
Anthony Washington, 54, who is serving time for aggravated robbery out of Columbus, said he was surprised to hear from Mr. West that only 42 percent of African-American males are graduating from high school nationally.
He said Mr. West's speech got his attention.
"He brought up a lot of points that I hadn't previously taken into account," Washington said.
"I didn't think about my education or dressing the way my possible employers might dress. When I went on interviews, I didn't dress like the people I wanted to work with and wanted to work around. I never thought about it in that sense.
"I have a child and grandchildren and when I hear those statistics, it made me very concerned and conscious about what's going on in their lives and all the problems they're going to face," Washington said.
"He brought all of those things to light for me, and it makes me want to be more involved in their lives - even from in here."
Jesse Patterson, 20, of Bowling Green, serving time for aggravated robbery, said he found Mr. West's message encouraging and enlightening.
"He talked about a lot of information I want to look into," Patterson said. "He talked about a lot of things I didn't know and about a lot of resources I didn't know was out there."
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