This is graduation week in New York. This is always one of my favorite time of year because I usually get invited to different schools throughout the city to deliver important messages to the students that are graduating.
Yesterday I got to be the key note speaker at The College Academy ( formerly George Washington high school) in Washington Heights. The reason I was invited there was because the school is predominantly Hispanic with kids from Dominican, Puertorican and many other Latino backgrounds.
This past year has been a very tough time for all people during the pandemic and many are angry for various reasons. Some don’t even know why. Some just want to use this as a vehicle to go crazy in the streets and vent because they just are not secure in who they are. Some just don’t feel like they are somebody. Some just don’t feel like they belong. Many feel so insecure about themselves because at one point or another they are told in not so certain terms to know your place.
The person that asked me to speak at the school is a gentleman by the name of Ralph Paniagua. He was the first successful latin businessman that I met in my earlier days with the Yankees. I didn’t know they existed. He has known of my journey in life and felt that I was the right person to deliver a strong message to an audience that possibly needed it. I eagerly agreed.
I told the students that I too had been angry and insecure , that I did many stupid things growing up and was headed in a bad direction. That I did things that I wasn’t proud of.
I told them the story of my life and how George Steinbrenner decided that he was going to give me a break in life. I told them that it was the confidence that he instilled in me that helped me become a man. I told them that he would teach me about the very fine line between prejudice and jealousy because I thought many white people were simply racist. He thought me that all police are not bad police and how he would help creat the silver shield foundation for the children of police killed in the line of duty. I told them that he was the reason why I have had five books published. When I did my first book someone tried to take credit for it because they had given me some advice. This upset Mr Steinbrenner very much so he told me that I had to write another so that I could prove that the first one wasn’t a fluke. Well I wrote three more and came back with an animated film. I won the international book of the year award in 2007. He use to tell me to stop thinking of myself as a nobody, that I was somebody. He use to tell me that I belong here there and anywhere as long as he was alive.
I told the kids that there life was just beginning and the greatest thing that they had to look forward to was parenthood. I told them that parenthood would be the greatest love of all. I told them that I think I have been a good father because I had a great mother who had all odds stacked against her as a single mom when I was an infant and she always put me first. Because of that I always said that I would always love my children like a mother because that’s the greatest love of all.
I told them about my children and how two are police officers. How one was a golden gloves boxing champ and now works for UPS and how my daughter is in the cosmetics field.
I told them that the most important lesson I learned from George Steinbrenner was that you can do anything anything in life if you try hard enough.
The last few weeks I have attended many funerals because of the gun violence in the Hight’s and the Bronx. If we take time to reach out to our young who need help and direction we can get our city back.
In my home at one time there were six boys including me. Today I am last man standing. That’s because a powerful white man told me and made me believe that I was somebody… that I belong too ! However the greatest lesson that I have learned from my years with the Yankees is that it’s not about Black and White , it’s about Love.
Today I pray with all my heart that at one point or another these kids and all kids throughout the city have mentors help show them the right direction in life.