December 6th, 2017

As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.

Thank you very much. It's always good to be back in Detroit, even when the weather is cold. I sometimes get a little irritated when I hear people talking badly about Detroit because I think it's a great town, quite frankly, and everything that I needed was here. I am very proud of my hometown. It has been great being here tonight. Thank you, Jim Clark, for coming all the way from Atlanta to be with us and for all of the things that you have done over the years. We really appreciate it. Len Krichko, what you've done here in southeastern and your fantastic, long, long career dedicated to children. And Arnold Jackson-what a great story that is. Someone who grew up in this very Boys and Girls Club to become chairman of the board. That is the kind of children that are produced.

And of course, ambassador-to-be David Fisher who lends tremendous support to the Boys and Girls Club and multiple other things particularly dealing with children over the years.

I want to recognize the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan and the Boys and Girls Club of America for the tremendous impact they have had over 150 years in our country helping young people. That is what it's really all about.

For me, as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, I spent so many days and nights working hard to try to give children a second chance at life. And some of them were from really bad living situations. And you would save their lives but then have to send them back into these terrible living conditions and you knew they wouldn't want to go. Sometimes I would order an extra test or two, so they could stay another day in the hospital. Don't tell anybody.

But now, we actually have an opportunity to make that living environment better. We all have the opportunity to try to make it better.

The Boys and Girls Club stand in a great tradition of reaching out and helping our fellow men. It's an American tradition. It's really actually kind of unique to America.

I think something special about this country that you probably didn't know, is that America inspired socialism. I bet you didn't know that.

You see, because the Europeans, they look over here and they saw people like the Fords, the Kellogg's the Rockefeller and the Vanderbilt's and then there was everybody else, and they said, "you can't run a country like that! You have to have an overarching government that receives all the funds equitably and redistributes it.

Ever hear anything like that before?

They didn't understand America. Because of all those people I just named and several others. Instead of just hoarding money and passing it down from generation to generation like they did in Europe, they built the infrastructure of our country. They built the transcontinental railroad and the seaports and the textile mills and the factories and the mechanisms that created the most powerful and dynamic middle class that the world has ever seen which rapidly propelled us to the economic top of the world. And the generosity didn't stop there.

In 2009, 40 of the wealthiest families in America pledged to give away half their money to charities.

Now you go somewhere else in the world-go to Europe. Go to Asia, Africa, South America-anywhere! And you go find the 40 wealthiest people and you ask them to give away half of their wealth. They will look at you like you've got six heads. What are you talking about?

This is an American tradition.

Who is always the first one in line, when there is a tragedy somewhere in the world, to help? We are.

So the Boys and Girls Club stands in that tradition because those great industrialists and other people were willing to give money to start schools and museums and Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs and all kinds of organizations to provide aid for others.

And that is something that we want to make sure that we continue in this country. And it is in this spirit that I stand before you today to talk about a very new initiative called EnVision Centers. The Book of Proverbs, 29:18 says that "without a vision the people perish." And that is absolutely true. So, in the beginning, we were going to call them vision centers, but we figured everybody would think there were coming to get glasses. So, now we're calling them EnVision Centers.

The legendary scientist and American hero George Washington Carver put it this way: "Where there is no vision, there is no hope." And that is what we want to make sure that we do, is give people, particularly our young people, hope.

I was on an Indian reservation a few months ago and I asked one of the children there, "what do you want to do when you grow up?" Blank stare.

A lot of times when I ask young people what do they want to do when they grow up, particularly in disadvantaged areas, sometimes they will come up with two or three things, and if you're lucky, maybe five things.

But there are not five things. There are a thousand things.

EnVision Centers are there to expose them to the other 995 things and how you can actually get there. That is the kind of leveling of the playing field that we are talking about. And who better to partner with than the Boys and Girls Clubs who already have that very vision and have been doing that kind of thing? It is something we need to make available to all of the children everywhere throughout our nation.

In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, "Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I believe that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it in the beginning."

Basically, what he is talking about is the "can-do attitude." That is what the EnVision center is, and what the Boys and Girls Club is trying to provide. The 'can-do attitude' as opposed to the 'what can you do for me' attitude.

When you think about the human brain and what it is actually capable of, anybody with an average brain can do almost anything.

You get people who say, 'I'm not good at math'. What a bunch of hog wash! Everybody is good at math if you teach them the right way. They can learn extraordinarily well!

And you probably remember the movie Stand and Deliver where the teacher was teaching calculus to the inner-city kids and they were outstanding at it, because he knew how to teach it. And that is one of the interesting things about STEM-science, technology, engineering and math-they are all built on building blocks. They're not difficult if you have those building blocks. Just like reading is not difficult if you know all 26 letters of the alphabet. But what if you only know 21 of 26? You knew all of the letters excepts A, E, O, S, and T? What you could you read? Nothing! You'd get frustrated. Say, "this is too hard. I'm not good at it." And yet you go and fill in the five letters and all of a sudden-voila! You're reading extremely well.

As a youngster here in Detroit, I was not an academic superstar. That's putting it mildly. I thought I was stupid. All of my classmates agreed. Once we had an argument in the school play yard about who was the dumbest kid in the school and it wasn't a big argument because they all agreed it was me. Someone tried to expand it to who was the dumbest person in the world, and they tried to pin that one on me. I said wait a minute. I said there are billions of people in the world, and they said "yep, you are the dumbest one." To compound the problem, that particular day we had a math quiz.

And see, I had a philosophical disagreement with the math teacher who seemed to think it was important to know your time tables. And as far as I was concerned, they were printed on the back of the notebook, and you could look them up anytime you wanted. Well, that didn't work so well when you were taking a test. So, I took the test and you were supposed to give your paper to the person behind you and they would correct it and the teacher would call your name and your would have to report your score out loud, which is wonderful if you got a 95 or 100, not so great if like me you got a 0 and just had an argument about who was the dumbest person in the world because I knew they were going to laugh hysterically when I said zero. I started scheming and said, I know what I'll do. When the teacher calls my name, I'll mumble. So the girl behind me will think I said one thing and the teacher will think I said something else!

So when the teacher called my name I said "Niiiine"

And my teacher said, "Nine! You got nine right! That's so wonderful, I knew you could do it if you just applied yourself! Class, this a great day. Benjamin has gotten nine right." And she was so happy! And finally, the girl behind me just couldn't take it anymore and she stood up and she said "he said none!"

And the kids were just rolling in the aisles and if I could have disappeared into thin air never to been seen again in the history of the world I gladly would have done so. But I couldn't.

So I had to sit there and act like it didn't bother me. But it did. It bothered me a lot. Not enough to make me study, but it bothered me a lot. But you know, my person who made the biggest difference for me was my mother, who died a few weeks ago.

She would always say, Benjamin, you are much too smart to bring home grades like this.

I brought them home anyway. But she was always saying that. She would always be encouraging. She didn't know quite what to do. But she only had a third-grade education and she worked as a domestic cleaning other people's houses, sometimes two or three jobs at a time.

But she was also a spy, because she wasn't just cleaning those houses. She was observing the people there. She said these are successful people, what is it that they do? And she discovered that they didn't watch a lot of tv and they did a lot of reading and studying. A lot of strategizing.

So she came home one day and imposed that upon us. And we were not happy at all. As a matter of fact, if it were today's world we would have called social services and they would have probably taken us away. In those days, you just had to do it. She said we had to read books from the Detroit public library and submit to her written book reports, which she couldn't read. We didn't know that.

She would put little check marks and underlines and we thought she was reading them, but she wasn't.

That process absolutely gave me a vision and I began to read about people of accomplishment in all kinds of fields. And I began to understand that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life is you. It's not somebody else. And that made all the difference in the world. And that was the same kind of thing that I learned in the club. You learned teamwork. You learned self-confidence. You learned character, and that was all so important.

I remember one time one of the boys had done something bad and nobody would confess so the person in charge had everybody line up against the wall-there were about 50 of us. And he said, "everybody has to stand here and we will not play any games or any sporting activities, nothing, until I find out who did it." And it didn't take very long for the person who did to realize that he was causing everybody else to be punished and that other people knew who he was, so he stood up and confessed.

And the leader used that opportunity to talk about honesty. And the development of character. And those kinds of things are so important. And missing in a lot of aspects of today's society, because some people consider it politically incorrect to try to give people character-because then you are judging them and you are deciding that "this" is a better way of life, and there is no better way of life.

Like the ancient Roman's believed before their destruction. There was no right, there was no wrong, and everything was relative. Hear anything like that these days? You know, it's one of the reasons we have these sophisticated brains, so that we can learn what has been done from other people.

Opportunity is the greatest door to equality-and particularly, educational opportunity. And for so long, those opportunities have been closed to so many. The EnVision Centers will once more open the doors of opportunities to families seeking their share of the American dream. And the EnVision Centers will leverage public private partnerships to address educational, economic, health and other kinds of challenges. Helping American families become independent and build their own futures. Giving communities ownership of their futures is the first step in the goal toward self-sufficiency.

EnVision Centers are going to be there to help them every step of the way. And they are the four building pillars of opportunity; economic empowerment, educational advancement, health and wellness, character and leadership. A lot of that sounds like the same principles that undergird the Boys and Girls Club. And you know, when it comes to economic empowerment, one of the things we have been guilty of in the past in our country is: as soon as someone who is on public aid begins to climb the ladder to self-sufficiency we pull their support. A lot of other people are watching and saying "there is no point in me even trying it." Those are the kinds of things that have led us to the situation we are in now. We have to understand those things and we have to correct them.

EnVision Centers will improve the economic stability of America's most underserved communities by empowering them with opportunities to advance their economic outlook not only with training that leads to a viable career path, but also training that leads to real and needed jobs immediately.

And we have an app that is downloadable, and it is specific for the region in which you live. And people particularly in the area who are on public assistance will be able to open that app and find out what jobs are available and what training is available. EnVision Centers will also be involved along with the small business association. I was actually with Linda McMahon earlier today, head of the Small Business Association, and they are very anxious to begin the apprenticeship programs and training programs in conjunction with EnVision Centers.

And the very first EnVision Center will be right here in the city of Detroit.

And then, improving educational advancement. The app will also be connected to both public and private organizations that impact educational outcomes and connect those Americans looking for educational opportunities with them. And you know, I always say if you give somebody a good education, you give them the ticket to their future. No one can stop anyone who has a good education. It makes all the difference in the world! And the Detroit EnVision Center will offer GED training courses. So particularly for a lot of the young women, as you know, they get pregnant out of wedlock and the first pregnancy frequency ends their formal education. And we want to be able to give them an opportunity to get those children into a childcare setting-and the app will be able to help to do that-so that they can get their GED or Associates degree or their Bachelors and Masters to become self-sufficient. But more importantly, to teach that to their children so we can break the cycles of dependency that have been growing for the last 50 years. Those are the kinds of things that will make an incredible difference. And, interestingly enough, some of you may be familiar with the Brooking's Institute study on poverty in America. They concluded that there were three things that a person could do that would reduce their likelihood of living in poverty to 2 percent or less. And that should perk everybody's ears up. What are those three things? Finish high school. Get married. Wait until you're married to have children. If you do those three things, your likelihood of living in poverty is reduced to less than 2 percent.

And we need to incorporate that kind of knowledge into the things that we do. The Boys and Girls Clubs have already incorporated that. EnVision Centers are incorporating that. Working with the broad spectrum of society: the federal government, state government, local government, non-profits, philanthropic organizations, faith groups-all together it is our responsibility to change things. You think about the fact that we have 330 million people in our country. That sounds like a lot of people! But it's a quarter of what India has. A quarter of what China has. We have to compete with them in the future, which means we need to develop all of our people. We really cannot afford to have large groups of people who are not fully developed. And we need to think about the prison population also. We have 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prison inmates. That doesn't make any sense. We need to find a way to train them. A lot of people go into prison with no education and no skills and come out of prison with no education and no skills. That is why we have such a high recidivism rate. They just go back and do the same thing again. We need to begin to train them while they are in prison and actually employ them while they are in prison, so they can build a resume so that they have a different path way when they come out.

We have been talking about this a lot and you will hear more about it in the future.

EnVision Centers will also be there to help integrate people back into communities who perhaps have made a mistake in the past. Because I have yet to meet a perfect person.

We also have to provide them with the foundation and mechanism to actually change the direction of their life. All of those are the kinds of things that will be done. And character and leadership development are a critical portion of what we will need to teach people. A vital part will be the mobile app, which will be demonstrated to the world tomorrow on Facebook. Johnson Joy, our CIO from HUD, is here, and several other of our HUD people are here. We have been working very hard with Len and with the people throughout this region to make this thing work extraordinarily well.

I think you are going to be incredibly proud of what we are going to be doing. That's our plan. That's the vision. But we can only accomplish it - not only here in Detroit, but across the nation-if we are willing to work together. All of us. Recognizing that we are all in the same boat. And if part of that boat sinks, eventually the rest of it is going down, too. It's up to us, the people. Not Democrats, not Republicans, not Independents, but the people of America to reject all the voices of division and hatred that have cropped up. And to study history. Because if you study history you will see that no severely divided society ever succeeds. We are allowing that to happen to us. The only people who can stop it are us, and we can take that energy and convert it into positive energy, and look for ways that we could empower people, because when we empower our people, we empower our nation. Thank you.


Content Archived: January 2, 2019