Recently at Sharing Night in the Global Youth Village, Steven (Estavan) J. Brown gave a powerful and moving speech of his personal story of evolution and challenging his peers to use the power of education to evolve.

“Guests, staff, and youth participants, hello and welcome to this evenings special gathering…

Before I begin, I’d like to warn you using the words of the phenomenal, Cuban, Salsa singer Celia Cruz, who once said  “Ladies & Gentleman, thank you for coming. Remember that my English is not very good looking but I am very glad to say that.”

English is not my first language. You may or may not be able to tell but as I stand here before you today, I see many familiar faces. Faces of perseverance, of ignorance combatted with education, of hesitation fought with aspiration, and of struggle conquered by success.

[framed_video column=”two-thirds”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9YVbcrGxyU[/framed_video]

Right before GYV, these last four years have been very important for me as I have strived to be the very first in my family to attend college and graduate from it. They have not, at all, been an easy four years.

My family and I are from the projects of East Harlem and originally from the slums of Brooklyn. My mother, straight from Puerto Rico and my father, Dominican Republic.That being said, I was always afraid that college wouldn’t be for me but I knew neither was the “hood”.

See, I didn’t want to be my elementary schoolmates who were hanging out in the front of their buildings every night or the one who couldn’t make it to his high school graduation because the police got him long before he could get ahold of himself.

Things far too common from where I come from.

My mother always made sure I knew the importance of education for a person like me, a minority but she never forced me to do anything or go anywhere I didn’t want to.

Since I was a child, my family always believed I would be the one to make it in the family because of my determination to evolve and now standing in front of you and with 9 nephews and nieces watching my every move, evolution is the most important thing I can speak about today because evolution is education.

My mother didn’t force me to change but she sure did give me the necessary tools to help me evolve.

 

I do not ask YOU to change. Don’t change anything about yourself because there’s beauty in your very own existence but evolve…evolve like those legendary butterflies.

All I ever wanted was a chance to fly. I like to believe we all just want a chance.

The desire for me has always been there just like my skin color and the long curls than run from the top of my head to the midsection of my back.

That desire to evolve has lead me to study abroad twice in Spain and Hungary and participate in a two week exchange program in Japan, making me the first of my family to travel across various seas.

That desire has had me nominated for more awards than I would have ever thought I’d have in my life for student excellence and initiative.

That desire has transformed me forever as I consider job opportunities in other countries and service programs like the Peace Corps, helping others who desire the same chance I’ve worked hard for.

 

The chance to evolve has given me an opportunity to grow and to become a better version of myself that my family already saw in me when I was younger. It gave me the opportunity to say I worried about my past, I grew from my present, I succeeded for my future, and so,  my people can, too.

If you are here today, you are here because despite your skin complexion, your preferred language, your desires, or your challenges, you decided long ago that you, too, wanted a chance and used education as your tool to get that.

We are at a very important crossroads not only in our lives or in our schools but in our nation.

2014 and 2015 has been a year of sacrifice, determination, persistence, and of hope.

 

In 1997, during his inaugural address about the turn of the century, Bill Clinton said “Parents and children will have time not only to work, but to read and to play together, and the plans they make at their kitchen table will be those of a better home, a better job, a certain chance to go to college. Our streets will echo again with the laughter of our children, because no one will try to shoot them…”

About 18 years later, we are still fighting for that dream using more conviction and more tactical approaches than ever before.

This nation has undeniably changed in the last two centuries but my friends, WE have been the evolution, WE created the chance and gave ourselves that and today, that could not be more true.

Today, I stand before you the first graduate of my family becoming yet another young educated, motivated, and confident young man, who just so happens to have some extra color.

Today, we come together and join our sisters and brothers living across the globe and add history to our generation through the cultural values of the Global Youth Village. Not as Blacks, not as Whites, Latinos, Asians, Christians, Muslims, homo or heterosexuals or any other singular group but as 1 unique, united, assembly of legendary butterflies, more colorful than ever.

For all of us to do this together, though our paths have been that of the individual, we are able to speak our ‘thank you’s’ to those who have paved the way for us through their own blood, sweat, and tears.

The crucial part of evolving is impacting those coming after us, like they did, making it better and easier for others. This is what I like to call, aspire first, and then inspire second.

I’d like to close my speech with one of my most favorite and influential poems by Walter D. Wintle.

If you think you are beaten, you are

If you think you dare not, you don’t,

If you like to win, but you think you can’t

It is almost certain you won’t.

 

If you think you are outclassed, you are

You’ve got to think high to rise,

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize.

 

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man,

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN!

 And so with that, I challenge you all to evolve using the power of education, for with every color we bring to the table, we can truly paint this world more beautiful than it was yesterday.”

Thank you.