Unleashing Potential: Inspiring Purpose with Jeff A.D. Martin

Unleashing Potential: Inspiring Purpose with Jeff A.D. Martin

by Chris Tompkins | August 10, 2023

With over 15 years in law enforcement, including roles as a police officer and investigator, Jeff A.D. Martin draws on his experience to help young people realize their potential. Jeff is an award-winning speaker — the number one Diversity and Inclusion speaker in Canada — a coach, and author of two critically acclaimed books: Brothers from the 6/Sisters from the 6: Role Models in My Community, and KNew Me: 10 Men, 10 Stories of Perseverance.

The importance of positivity

When asked about what our kids are currently facing, Jeff confirms what we already know: depression, anxiety and suicide rates among youth are at record highs. But he’s careful to point out that while it’s easy to see the negatives, we have to remember the other side of things — there are many kids who are rising in their difficult situations. Jeff references post-traumatic stress growth (PTSG) and explains, “that is the growth that we have coming from difficult circumstances. With the kids that I’m speaking to in school, yes, I’m seeing high levels of anxiety, depression, and things of that nature, but I’m also seeing resiliency.”

Jeff believes that we can re-tool our brains to think differently with positive self-talk and see the good in any situation. He cites his time working with men in prison and giving them the simple assignment of looking in the mirror and saying their name followed by the words, ‘I love you. According to Jeff, speaking to ourselves like we would speak to our best friend, “really does put a command on our life. You walk taller, you stand taller, and you walk in the room with more confidence because you are telling yourself who you want to be.”

The nuances of diversity and inclusion

Jeff points out that when we think about diversity and inclusion, we necessarily think about what it means in terms of being inclusive of different skin colours and backgrounds. But he also underlines the importance of being inclusive of ideas, too. He explains that people will see things through a different lens based on how they grew up, and because of that, everyone brings different perspectives to the table. To highlight the benefits of prioritizing diversity and inclusion he asks: “How powerful is it when we bring those ideas together? How much bigger can that project be? Can that business be? How much stronger can [that project we’re working on] be if we allow these ideas to be heard?”

Most things are caught, not taught: The importance of role modelling

Statistics show that most parents do not speak to their children about race. Jeff says it’s critical that we give them the right information rather than letting their ideas be shaped by what they hear from kids at school. He thinks the reason most parents don’t broach the topic is because they don’t know the answers themselves. He urges parents to talk about it anyway, and be honest if your kid asks a question you don’t know the answer to.

“You say to them, ‘Together we will learn; together we will get better,’” he says.

It’s necessary that parents model the things they want their child to do — not just about diversity and inclusion — but about everything in life.

“If you’re doing it yourself, you give them the opportunity to see you, to model the work that you’re doing,” Jeff says. “If you are doing work on diversity, if you’re learning about other cultures that you’re not a part of, then your child will start to do the same.”

For more on what Jeff has to say on inspiring our kids, listen to the full episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.


[00:00:00.820] – Speaker 1
Well, hey, everyone.

[00:00:12.680] – Speaker 2
I’m Chris Tompkins, the host of the Shaping Our World podcast. We started this podcast a few seasons ago to really give parents, youth leaders, teachers, I guess anyone who wants to know more about young people, who cares about them and wants to help them shape their world. To give them an insight into what’s going on in the world of our youth today, really a front row seat. Today’s guest gives us a really good insight in today’s youth. Jeff Martin is a soul stirring, thought provoking, highly requested, transporting, informational speaker who’s been using his platform to inspire people from around the world. Much of just love for people can be attributed to his years of involvement as a community advocate, a mentor, and also to his 15-plus years of experience in law enforcement. Jeff has worked as a police officer in various investigative roles. He is a youth communication specialist with over a thousand forensic interviews with children. Jeff’s also an author of two critically acclaimed books, a City of Toronto best selling children’s book, Brothers from the Six, Sisters from the Six, Role Models in My Community, and an Amazon best selling personal development book, New Me, Ten Men, Ten Stories of Perseverance.

[00:01:34.300] – Speaker 2
Jeff is an award winning professional speaker, a certified coach, University of Guelph certified leadership professional, Harvard University certificate recipient for public speaking, diversity and inclusion trainer from Ashton College, and the Curator of Inspire Legacy Company Online Academy, where he teaches the art of public speaking and student character development. With his career and life experiences, coupled with his benevolence and passion to inspire, Jeff shares his gift of purpose in efforts to help others find their true potential. Jeff was a great interview, and we really hit it off and dove deep into some of the topics that I know we all care about. I can’t wait for you to hear our conversation today, so let’s roll it. Jeff, it’s great to have you with us.

[00:02:31.150] – Speaker 1
Chris, I am so excited to be here to be speaking with your amazing community on this wonderful podcast. I’m excited. Let’s go. Let’s dive deep in this conversation today.

[00:02:40.250] – Speaker 2
I know. I’m excited, too. And if the listeners could hear, we became fast friends right off the bat. And so I know this is going to be a great conversation. So, Jeff, let’s dive in. What shaped your world when you were growing up, when you were a kid, a teenager? What were the biggest influences in your life?

[00:02:55.590] – Speaker 1
Well, I got to say this. Number one, the biggest influence in my life had to be my belief in something bigger than me. I grew up in church. I recognize that for me personally, that there is a creator that is bigger than me, that this world is not about me. It’s not about what I do. It’s about really trying to make this world better because I was here, because I have this opportunity to be here. Again, it’s about recognizing that there’s something bigger than me, that God is bigger than me. I think all of us really have a greater purpose on this earth. That’s why we’re here. Another thing that really shaped me as a young man was my parents, specifically my father. My father was always someone, and even to this day, he’s always someone who finds bread and he’ll bring a big case of grapefruits or something like that. He brings them to church and he gives them out to people at church. He brings candies and chips and all the kids love them because he gives all this stuff out to the kids. And it was seeing his benevolence. It was seeing his heart throughout my entire life that has led me to where I am today.

[00:04:06.140] – Speaker 1
I do it differently than my dad, but I do it because of my father. And so I really have to say, based on my parents, but specifically, again, my father in this element because of his heart, that’s why I have the heart that I have today.

[00:04:21.170] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I love that, Jeff. And I think as we set out to do this podcast, we wanted to inspire parents to be those type of role models nd I know so many of us parents listening are wanting to do that. And unfortunately, because of the work I do, and I’m sure the work you do, and we’ll get into this later, that’s not always the case that kids can look back and talk about a real positive influence was their parents growing up. So kudos for you to have a great example in your dad. And I think for parents listening who are tracking with this, good for you for even showing up to this conversation because that’s a huge positive influence. And we know from research and stuff just how important parents are to shaping young people. So love to hear that. So what’s shaping your world today? Tell us a little bit about you, Jeff, beyond the bio. We’re going to talk about your work, but help us get to know you personally. What do you love doing? What are you interested in? Are you a Raptors fan? I don’t know. What’s shaping your world today?

[00:05:17.530] – Speaker 1
Well, being born and raised in Toronto, I think you automatically become a Raptors fan. That’s my thought anyway. But for me, I really dedicate myself to serving others. And again, as I spoke about having it come from my father, and then now I’ve taken it to a different stage, different element. But it really, for me, is about serving in everything I do. It’s recognizing that there’s so many people out there that are struggling based on their circumstances, based on the… They believe that there’s lack of opportunities based on the things that they’ve come up in. But I really believe that when we are in a situation that’s difficult, as difficult as it is, it gives us an opportunity to learn. It gives us an opportunity to grow and to become better. And so for me, again, one of the things that I love to do is help and serve. So whether it be from speaking to writing books to at one point in time, I was doing my own podcast. I’m flirting with the idea as well of coming up with a different concept, but it really just comes down to serving, to helping others.

[00:06:22.850] – Speaker 1
And that’s what I really surround myself with. I don’t believe I’m one that really has hobbies, so to speak. I just really try to find ways to serve every single day.

[00:06:33.520] – Speaker 2
That’s awesome. And so how does that weave into what you’re actually doing for work today? Tell us a bit more about your actual role and job and how you spend your time Yeah.

[00:06:46.190] – Speaker 1
So I am blessed to have to wear a number of different hats. I do work as a police officer for the last 18 years and I’m still active in that area. But I’m also proud to say, Chris, that I am the number one speaker on the topic of diversity and inclusion in schools in all of Canada. The number.

[00:07:07.920] – Speaker 2

[00:07:08.700] – Speaker 1
Speaker. I’m blessed to be able to have that role, so to speak, to be able to go into schools throughout Canada and the US as well and really speak words of wisdom and words of life to our young people, to our teachers, to our parent community, to our educators. Because especially we saw a lot of it during the pandemic. There were people who were tired and burnt out and just really dealing with the stresses of life. And that hasn’t changed. We are hopefully on the other side of this pandemic. Who really knows? But when it comes to stress and depression, those things have risen to astronomical numbers. Being able to step out there and share my voice, share my opinions on the things I speak about, it’s a blessing. It really is. T hat’s what I spend most of my time doing, speaking, presenting to organizations, to schools, and then again, coming up with other concepts, ideas, books, educational opportunities, and efforts of just really, again, adding to the conversation, helping to change hearts and minds, and really helping to make a difference.

[00:08:21.070] – Speaker 2
That’s awesome. I wasn’t planning on asking this, Jeff, but can you recall a specific moment, incident story young person that… When you get into work like this, there’s so many factors, but can you point back to a time, a moment, a story, something that were like, I need to double down and spend more time speaking into and shaping the world of young people.

[00:08:47.200] – Speaker 1
Oh, man. Chris, there’s been so many examples. The one that comes to my head now, I’ll share two quick ones. The one that comes to my head is I was speaking in a real tough neighbourhood in Toronto. This is going a few years back before the pandemic. And it was an elementary school. And so after my presentation, there was about nine or 10 young women in the eighth grade who all came running to me and just hugged me. And so there were hugging me and hugging me for a while. I’m like, Okay, this is getting a little awkward, guys. It’s going on a little too long.

[00:09:22.040] – Speaker 2
Older gentleman here.

[00:09:23.530] – Speaker 1
Absolutely. Jokingly, of course. But a teacher comes over and the teacher is like, Hey, guys, back to class. Back to class. Let Mr. Martin do what he has to do. Pack up, whatever. And after all these girls leave, the teacher says to me, Out of all those girls, and I got to tell you, some of them are some of the roughest girls in our school. But out of all those girls that came to you and hugged you, not one of them has a father in their life.

[00:09:50.920] – Speaker 2

[00:09:51.670] – Speaker 1
It was a moment for me. And even when I think about it now, it chokes me up because I recognize that I was called to be in that space at that specific time.

[00:10:03.370] – Speaker 2
I was.

[00:10:03.910] – Speaker 1
Called to be there when these girls needed me the most. And I get it. I come in there and I do my thing, and sure, I’m not going to be this permanent fixture, but for them to feel comfortable enough to come and hug me, a stranger who spoke to them for an hour, it means that there was a connection that I was able to make with them at that specific time. And they needed that physical connection. They needed that hug. And so when I come out of situations like that, I walk away, of course, full of emotion, but I say to myself, This is why I’m here. This is why I’m in this space. I had another situation. Again, speaking at a school, a young man came to me afterwards and he said, I don’t feel like I’m good enough.

[00:10:49.470] – Speaker 2

[00:10:50.470] – Speaker 1
I said, Why is that? He spoke about some of the things that he’s going through, and I was able to speak life into him at that moment and say, You are not defined by your mistakes. You’re not defined by the difficult situations you come from. You’re not defined by the negativity that comes from your household, that comes from your school. That is not who you are. And again, in that moment, I was able to speak words of life into him. And I realized something that there’s a lot of people, especially coming from these tougher neighborhoods, or even to be honest, Chris, some of these more affluent neighborhoods where sometimes parents don’t have the time because they’re always working and just trying to make that money. I realized that these are the kids who are struggling the most. And many of them have never been affirmed. Many of them have never been confirmed. Many of them have never been told that they are amazing, they are wonderful, that they have what it takes to create something amazing in this world. And so when I’m speaking words of life into these people, I recognize that I could be the very first person to do that for them.

[00:11:54.050] – Speaker 1
I feel like I’m laying the groundwork. I’m planting a seed. And with God’s grace, that seed over time down will grow into a massive beautiful tree. But without that seed, without someone watering that seed, it will never happen. And so I recognize when these certain situations take place, I recognize that I don’t think it’s just coincidental. I believe that I’m there in that space for a reason. There’s a listener right now, Chris, who’s listening to your podcast, who needs to hear these words from me. It’s not because Jeff is special. Jeff is unique. It’s because someone just needs to hear it at this point in time.

[00:12:28.850] – Speaker 2

[00:12:29.460] – Speaker 1
So it’s about planting those seeds and allowing those seeds to grow. And the fruits of that seed, the fruits of those trees can feed generations to come because that seed was first planted. And that’s what I’m really hoping to do when I come across people while I’m speaking.

[00:12:47.900] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I love that. And that’s so powerful, Jeff. And I think you highlighted a couple of key things about sometimes it’s the small things that can mean so much at the end of the day. And you’ve highlighted two really significant things in the lives of young people. We know that physical connection is so important from the research projects that show what happened to babies and infants when they’re neglected from physical touch, right up to what we know it does for us personally when we get a hug. And I think so many young people, even parents, remember to hug your kids. That even comes out from your story. But also the power of words of affirmation. We all need to hear affirmation and spoken to. The consistency of adults who are in the lives of young people who young people look up to, but also just random strangers who sometimes see something in young people and to encourage all of us to be able to speak more life into people. We have a thing here, we want to capture people, kids when they’re doing great things and speak right into it and call things out in them that we see.

[00:13:55.900] – Speaker 2
I think already, those are some great things, even in your stories, how you see your role and what you’re called to that we can take from this.

[00:14:06.210] – Speaker 1
You’re absolutely right. Because I’ve worked in law enforcement for so long, Chris, I have sat across the table from those who have been sexually assaulted. I’ve sat across the table from those who’ve done the sexual assault thing. I’ve sat across the table from those who’ve committed murder. And I got to tell you that when I sit across from these people, and again, I’ve done work as well within the prison system, not as a police officer, but as Jeff, the speaker, as Jeff, the motivator. I’ve gone into prisons, I’ve done work with these guys. And I got to tell you, when I sit across from these guys wearing these orange jumpsuits or sitting across from someone who’s just committed a crime, I look at them and regardless of how old they might be, 27, 37, 47, I recognize that at some point in time along their journey, they got lost. And it’s not because they got themselves lost, oftentimes. It’s because society at some point in time has let them down. How do I know this? Because there’s been no seven year old that said to themselves, when I grow up, I want to be a murderer.

[00:15:05.660] – Speaker 1
There’s been no four year old that said, when I grow up, I want to be a rapist. But at some point in time along their journey, society has let them down. Teachers have let them down, parents have let them down. The court system has let them down, and they let themselves down. And so they come along this journey where they believe going down this path of negativity of crime is what they’re supposed to do. But if we were to take that child, if we can foresee their future, what they’re about to do and take that child out of that negative element and put them in something positive, they would not become that. So you’re absolutely right, Chris. It comes down to parenting how that child is raised, giving them the love guidance. It’s not even about money, Chris, because a lot of people may not have the resources, but you know what you do have. You have love, you have kindness, you have affection, you have hugs. And it’s about pouring into our children as much as we can and so they can become functional and positive adults.

[00:16:03.990] – Speaker 2
That’s really good. Jeff, because of your work and your speaking engagements, you’ve got a front row seat to what’s going on with young people today. I’d love to just take a snapshot of how you see youth today, what are kids dealing with, what are some of the challenges. But Jeff, I also like to focus on some of the positives, too. What are you seeing in today’s young people that really inspire you? Help us see the world young people the way you see it.

[00:16:31.730] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s a great question. From the first end, as you spoke about, I do see a higher level of depression. I do see a higher level of anxiety. I have a friend of mine who owns a funeral home, and I’ve spoken to her a few times during the pandemic and now, post pandemic, and she said, Jeff, you wouldn’t believe how many young people, I’m talking about teenagers, people in their 20s who are coming through here who have died based on suicide, who have died based on drug overdose, trying to deal with their problems, alcohol abuse based on what they’re trying to avoid, the pain they’re trying to mask. She said, I’ve never seen the numbers as high in my life. And this is just within the last 2-3 years. So anxiety has risen, depression has risen, suicide ideology, suicide attempts have risen. But at the same time, I got to tell you that I believe that there is resiliency that’s rising as well. Because although some children do go the route of suicide or really just being in their problems, there’s also a number of students, a number of kids, and adults as well, who decide in that difficulty that they’re going to rise.

[00:17:45.190] – Speaker 1
Society often talks about PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. And although it was initially coined to those who came back from fighting in the war, seeing people die, having to kill people for your country and what it can do to you mentally. Over the last number of years, I’ve recognized that there’s people who have PTSD who haven’t gone to war. You’ve grown up in a tough neighborhood, or you’ve witnessed domestic violence in your home, things of that nature. But one of the things that we often don’t speak about is the other side. We talk about PTSD, posttraumatic stress disorder, but we rarely speak about posttraumatic stress growth, PTSD. That is the growth that we have coming from difficult circumstances. That is the things that we find value in when we come out of difficult circumstance. Within the students, within the kids that I’m speaking to in school, yes, I’m seeing high levels of anxiety, the pression, things of that nature, but I’m also seeing resiliency. If we go back a couple of years and we remember the protests that took place back in 2020 during the whole George Floyd situation, and the whole world was protesting, it wasn’t people in their wheelchairs who were out in the streets.

[00:19:02.810] – Speaker 1
It wasn’t the seniors who were out in the streets. It was the young people. It was the high schoolers. It was the older teenagers. It was the 20 year olds who were out in the streets, protesting against what was taking place. And so there’s a level of resiliency that these kids come with that I’m not sure if any other generation has come with. There’s a level of fight that these kids come with that I don’t know if anyone else has come with because just based on what they’ve been through, they’ve recognized that they got to push through and find that PTSD, so to speak. And so, yeah, there’s a lot of positivity. Yes, we can find the negativity, but Chris, as you and I just talked about, we don’t want to focus on that. We want to focus on the positivity. And I see a lot of that within our kids as they come up. And I really do believe that our kids are really preparing our world to be great, to be greater than it is now.

[00:19:54.550] – Speaker 2
Yeah. And I love that being able to turn the things that happen to us into opportunities for growth. I think that’s connected to one of the things I want to ask about now. So we’ve talked about it on the show. You’ve highlighted it. Depression and anxiety are at record levels among young people. And in one of your workshops about confidence and self worth, you aim to help combat this here in Canada. And part of this is around using positive self talk. And you talk a little bit about the impact of using IM statements. So can you talk a little bit about how that, how kids, young people, how positive self talk, the way they see themselves, these IM statements can actually be a tool for young people to have that PT and SG?

[00:20:46.360] – Speaker 1
We as human beings have on average 60,000 thoughts a day is what’s said. And of those 60,000 thoughts that we have a day, they say roughly about 80 % of those are negative, and 95 % of those are repetitive thoughts. So you continue to fill your head with negativity and repetitive thoughts over and over again. That’s basically our brain trying to help to keep us safe. If I go out there and try to be a public speaker, they’re going to laugh at me, so I’m not going to go on stage. If I go out there and write a book, my family’s going to think it’s horrible, so I’m not going to write that book. And so our brain is trying to keep us safe with these negative thoughts. Chris, got to tell you this. The other day I was sitting down and reminiscing about life and this thought that sometimes comes to me, it came back again. It came back about a job that I was in years ago and how I went through a very difficult situation. It made me feel ill in that moment as it has in the past. I stopped myself.

[00:21:48.760] – Speaker 1
I’m like, hold on a second. When did this happen? Chris, that happened in that job in the year 2000. Twenty three years ago. I continue to live relive this moment that’s literally making me ill in that moment. And so we as human beings, we do this. We constantly do this. We relive this. We punish ourselves by reliving that negative moment. And so it is so, it is so utterly important for us to speak positive to ourselves. Positive affirmations, because guess what? We are giving ourselves negative affirmations all the time. When I think about the negative thought to the point where it’s making me ill, that’s a negative affirmation. But if I can consciously pay attention and stop myself and say, Hey, Jeff, listen, that was 23 years ago. Jeff, listen, that was one moment. Jeff, you had a bad moment in that situation, but look at the great things you’ve done during the rest of your life. But now I’m changing my thinking. I’m shifting it to being positive. When we can speak positive to ourselves and give ourselves those positive affirmations, we are commanding ourselves, putting a command on our life. Today is going to be an amazing day.

[00:23:01.290] – Speaker 1
Like, Jeff, today you’re going to make an impact. Jeff, you are amazing. You are wonderful. Jeff, you are going to do some wonderful… Whatever it is, but it’s using those positive words to change your thinking. Again, Chris, as I mentioned, I do some work in prisons. And when I sit with these guys, again, sitting there dressed in the orange jumpsuits, they’re made to look intimidating. But when you speak to them, you recognize that they’re really just broken boys. And I say boys, these guys are some of them are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, but they’re broken boys. Every time I speak to these guys, different group of guys, I ask them to make this promise to me. I say when you go to a mirror and I know you’re in prison, so I know you’re in a place that you really can’t show vulnerability, it can get you killed. But even if you have to whisper it, I want you to go to that mirror, look at yourself and say your name because there’s a thing that happens when you say your own name, when you hear your name. I want you to say your name and say, I love you.

[00:24:03.070] – Speaker 1
Like, Jeff, I love you. Chris, I love you. And I want you to look at yourself in the eyes when you say it because the love has to start from within. Not all of us are blessed with the opportunity to have loving parents, loving boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, brothers, sisters. Not all of us are blessed with that. So it has to start from within. It has to start with those positive affirmations. Jeff, I love you. Jeff, you’re going to smash it today. Jeff, that idea that you have, it’s a great idea. Keep going. Keep working at it. Speaking to ourselves like we would speak to our best friend. But when we do so, it really does put a command on our life. We now start moving in that positive directions. And scientists have proven it. You can see when scientists have looked at the brain, you can see the molecular structure of the brain change. It shifts because we start speaking a certain positive language to ourselves. And now you walk taller, you stand taller, you walk in the room with more confidence because you are telling yourself who you want to be.

[00:25:03.340] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s so good. And just for me to add a little bit to that, Jeff, I recently read a book called The Happiness Advantage by Sean Achor. He’s a Harvard professor. And it’s all about how positive mindset can help us with outcomes as well. And one of the things that’s really interesting just on what you said is, not only does recognizing the positive side of things and finding the language around that help us feel better about where we are, help us approach the day. Actually, it’s proven when what we focus on, Jeff, we see. And so if we have a more negative mindset, we tend to experience life, the things that come up as more negative. Whereas if we… Psychologists call it predictive and coding. It’s about priming yourself to see what you want to see. And as an example, when you write down a list of three good things that happen in your day, your brain is forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives. So you know that whole thing, Jeff? Like, if I want to go and buy a black Jeep, and then all of a sudden I see them everywhere.

[00:26:20.330] – Speaker 1
I was about to say, yeah.

[00:26:21.710] – Speaker 2
So that’s the same thing happens for us on negative things in our mind and positive things. So not only does it help us just how we feel and how we approach stuff, it actually helps us experience life more positively moving forward or more negatively if that’s where we’re wired. So I love what you’re saying because it not only helps us combat what we’re facing, it actually changes what we see and experience as well as we move through life. As parents, we need to practice that with our kids as well, right? With our young people. And we started off the conversation with highlighting some of the challenges, but also some of the positives. If we’re wired to focus more on the positive things we see in our young people, guess what, Jeff? We see them more often, right? They start to show up. But if we’re focused on the negative and the problems, that’s what we’re going to see, ironically. And so anyways, it doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the things. It doesn’t mean that we’re naive. It just means what we see what we tell ourselves is true, we scan for the environment to validate that, and then we tend to see it more often.

[00:27:39.380] – Speaker 1
Oh, yeah. We as human beings, we are confirmation creatures. We want to confirm what we already know. And I’ll use a pretty obvious example of Donald Trump, someone who was very hated as a US President and even today. And there’s people who Donald Trump would say this or that. And before I even go on, I’m not here to support, to say I’m with or against him. I’m just using him as a point, Chris. But based on some of the things he said that were just off the charts, people would say, You see? You see? He’s not a good guy. And if he did something that was good, that person would not be able to see it. But they could point to all the negative things that he was able to do because we want to confirm what we already believe. T hat’s what we do as human beings. W e do it on the other side as well. We believe that someone is wonderful and they could do two or three bad things. W e put that aside because we only want to see the great. But the truth is, as you said, Chris, things are happening every single day.

[00:28:36.470] – Speaker 1
I had a girlfriend of mine who was telling me that she went to LA and met a bunch of celebrities and she was having a great time. And in the same conversation, she told me that her mother was ill and not doing well. And so you have positive things and negative things that happen in the same day and the same week. But what do you choose to focus on? It doesn’t mean that we ignore the negative, we deal with the problems, but we can still focus on the positive as well.

[00:29:02.070] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s great. I love to switch gears because you spend a lot of your time, and as you mentioned, the number one speaker for diversity inclusion in school. So I’d love to dive into that. Can you speak about the importance of diversity inclusion? I know it may seem obvious on the periphery, but a lot of our listeners would be white just due to the context of the work that we do. And so I’d love for you to just talk a little bit about from your area of expertise, why is this topic so important? What are some of the outcomes of making our school, our environment more inclusive? How do you help kids embrace the diversity that’s right around them and celebrate it and step into it and maybe even call it into existence in areas where maybe it’s not as prevalent?

[00:29:49.410] – Speaker 1
That’s a great question, Chris. When we talk about inclusion, it really, of course, includes including those of different colors of different backgrounds of different things of that nature. But ideally, what it is is being inclusive of ideas as well, because those who come from different backgrounds than you, because of their background, because of the lens that they had growing up, their ideas and thoughts are going to be different than yours. Imagine now, Chris, you and I, we talked about some of the similarities off air, but there’s a lot of differences as well in terms of the way you grew up and the way I grew up. You and I will bring different ideas to the table when we’re coming up with a business idea, with a school project, whatever it is, just based on our upbringing. And so it’s about being open to different ideas. I’ll share this, Chris. Years ago, when I was a young man working my way through college, I worked as a security guard at a hotel. And one of the cleaning staff would come in every day and I’d say hello and keep it moving. And he tried to speak more to me.

[00:30:55.200] – Speaker 1
But in all honesty, Chris, in my young, immature days, I didn’t really give him the time of day. And I think in my mind it was based on his position. I could say that embarrassingly yes now. However, that’s what it was as a man in my early 20s. And some time went by and he disappeared. I didn’t see him. And so I asked some of his coworkers, Hey, I haven’t seen him in a while. Where did this guy go? And they said, Oh, he went to work for NASA. And I was like, What? Nasa? Is there a cleaning company named NASA that he transferred to next door? And they’re like, No, no, no. Nasa, NASA. He went to work for NASA. I said, What are you talking about? They said that he was a rocket scientist. I was like, What? He was a rocket scientist who was in the process of trying to get his paperwork together. And while he was doing so, had to make ends meet to take care of his family, so he’s working as a cleaner. But in the process of getting his paperwork together, finally came through and he took off to the US to work for NASA as a rocket scientist.

[00:31:56.580] – Speaker 1
Here is someone who in that moment, I was not inclusive to him, to getting to know him, to understand who he was and his ideas. And again, it’s about being inclusive, being open to learning, to growing from somebody else, regardless of how different they are from you. I watched a movie the other day. It was about Frito lay. And it was about a young man at the time, Richard Montanez, who was a Mexican immigrant. And some people may say there’s an asterisk against that based on the landscape of the US. He was also a next prisoner. He was also a next gang member. That’s a lot of asterisks that you would have that someone would put him in a box. But here is this man who was working at Frito Lay, who recognized that because of his background, his Mexican background, his people liked things that were spicy and hot with chilli, but these chips did not have that. So he took the spices from Mexico that his people loved and he put them in the chip. He introduced it to the CEO and the company at that time that was going down that might have gone out of business, turned around and started making millions of dollars based on the ideas of Richard Montanus.

[00:33:09.710] – Speaker 1
Again, that is being inclusive to recognizing that here is somebody from a background that some people would. Again, there’s an asterisk against him being an immigrant, being a prisoner, being a gang member, but he was able to bring something to the table that saved this company. And so, again, it really is understanding that we have ideas that come from that are molded by where we’re from. And because we’re from different places, those ideas are going to be different. But how powerful is it when we bring those ideas together? How much bigger can that project be? Can that business be? Because that thing that we’re working on together, how much more stronger can it be if we allow these ideas to be heard? Because it gives different perspectives. It gives a bigger and stronger connection because we allow this inclusivity to take place.

[00:33:58.890] – Speaker 2
I love that. In your children’s books, and we talked about that in the intro, Brothers from the Six and Sisters from the Six, you give kids role models from the local community to look up to. In your newer books, Brothers from Canada and Sisters from Canada, you widen the scope to include historical figures, specifically from the black community who have helped shape our country into what it is today. Representation is so important in teaching kids that they can achieve their goals. And having positive role models starting at home gives kids an advantage early on. So I love what you’re saying. How can we as parents, and maybe this is obvious, but I’d love for you to dive in, how can we model this idea that you’ve talked about, inclusivity of ideas? How can we even start that at home? Can you give us some tips on that?

[00:34:49.410] – Speaker 1
That’s a great question. There’s a stat that shows that most people don’t speak to their children about race and specific things to have to do with inclusion. Most parents don’t speak to their kids. But I promise you, being in these school yards with these kids, being in these schools, these kids are talking. A lot of parents don’t want to talk to their children about sex, but these children are talking. I always say it makes sense for us to give them the right information than for them to get that information from little Johnny, who’s going to send them down the wrong path, some friend of ours is in the playground. It’s important for us to take the role on as difficult as it is to teach them about race, to teach about inclusion, diversity. And most parents don’t do it because they don’t know the answers themselves. But if you speak to your children, you want to model something, you go to your children and you speak to them about those hard conversations. But then you also say, if you don’t know the answer, tell your children, I don’t know the answer. It’s okay to be honest.

[00:35:51.220] – Speaker 1
But in that process, you say to them, together we will learn. Together we will get better. And so when it’s… They say that most things are caught, not taught. So you tell your child to go do something, and if you’re not doing it yourselves, then they’re not going to go do it. You tell them to go read, go do their homework, but you sit back and you binge watch on Netflix, you watch all the housewife shows, you watch every basketball game or hockey game, your child is not going to do what you told them to do, not consistently just because you told them to do it. But if you’re doing it yourself, you give them an opportunity to see you, to model the work that you’re doing. And so if you are doing work on diversity, if you’re learning about other cultures that you’re not a part of, then your child will start to do the same. So if we’re talking about modeling, it really is about getting involved even with groups that you might not be a part of. I always say this, Chris, if there was a typhoon that took place, let’s say in China, and this typhoon ripped up houses and causes flooding and thousands and thousands of people were killed based on this typhoon, if this typhoon doesn’t even blow a leaf off the tree in your backyard here in North America, it means that you don’t care.

[00:37:06.000] – Speaker 1
A lot of people don’t care because it doesn’t affect them in an obvious way. But if you dig deeper, you recognize that it does affect all of us. Number one, having such a tragic situation on the other side of the world, from a human standpoint, we should be able to connect. There’s goods and services that might come from that side of the world that now the prices are rising because it’s harder to get those goods services here. And again, it affects us. It’s important for us to recognize that although some communities that we might not be a part of, they’re having issues, those issues still affect us. Your children are still talking about these issues in the playground. And if we decide to ignore it, your child is going to get information that’s not going to be correct. So it’s okay. Have those conversations with your children. Sometimes those conversations are going to be difficult. But if you don’t have the answers, tell your children. I don’t have the answers, but together we can learn.

[00:38:02.860] – Speaker 2
I really love that. Just as we’re coming to the end of our conversation, it’s been so rich, Jeff, already. I wanted to talk a little bit just about leadership. And we’re a big leadership development organization. We know how important fostering leadership skills are in young people for their own development and so that they can learn how they can affect change in their own lives and in the larger community as a whole. I love that in your character building curriculum for kids, you talk about being a leader where you are, even without the fancy title. And it’s important for kids and all of us actually to know that we can be leaders in even smaller ways at first. And smaller is maybe not even the right word in ways that on the surface don’t seem like the big flashy leader that we would talk about out there. What are some ways young people, parents can even encourage young people or celebrate leadership roles or take on leadership in communities in their neighborhoods? Can you explain the concept of leading from behind?

[00:39:08.660] – Speaker 1
I believe that we have to start with redefining the term leadership because as a society, not as a dictionary definition, but as a society, we have deemed leadership to be CEO, president of a company. We deem leadership to be that singer or that athlete or that actor. We deem leadership to be Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Not to say all of those things don’t have leadership within them, but we have to recognize that we have leadership within ourselves as well. Even if we don’t lead a country or have a hit song on the radio. Some time ago, again, going back to the situation that took place in the United States and the unrest in regards to race relations. There’s somebody that I knew, an accountant who said, Man, I think the US needs a new Martin Luther King. I said, What do you mean? He said, Yeah, they need a leader right now who can step up and take control. I said to him, What about you? His eyes got big and said, Me? No, no, no. What are you talking about? W e’re so quick to say we need another Martin Luther King.

[00:40:18.360] – Speaker 1
We need another Nelson Mandela, things of that nature. But we have it within ourselves to be that leader. I’m not saying you have to lead a nation like Martin Luther King did. But what I’m saying is, if you have issues within, for example, your school, you have what it takes to go talk to that principal, to talk to those kids, to potentially get everyone together and have a meeting about the problem that’s taking place. If there’s an issue in your neighborhood with police officers, you have what it takes to go to that front desk at that police service and say, Listen, I’d love to have a community meeting with the police in this certain group and see how we can solve our problem. It’s not looking at the leadership role as this big, huge role. It’s recognizing that we all have what it takes. It’s not not about the position or how much money you have. It’s about your heart and your desire and your willingness to serve. It’s not having your name in the light. It’s about wanting to do the right thing. The last thing I’ll say about that, Chris, is that we know that superstar singer Rihanna.

[00:41:14.190] – Speaker 1
I’ve heard Rihanna talk about her grandmother, and she says, If it wasn’t for my grandmother, you, as the world, would not know the Rihanna that you know today. She has poured into me so much. Now, Chris, do you know Rihanna’s grandmother’s name?

[00:41:28.940] – Speaker 2

[00:41:29.740] – Speaker 1
Neither do I? I don’t know her name. I don’t know what she looks like. I’m sure if you Google, you could probably find some of these things because Rihanna herself is a big star. However, this is a woman who poured into Rihanna, and Rihanna pours into the world with her music. Nobody knows, or for the most part, we don’t know Rihanna’s grandmother’s name. But guess what? She was a leader. And so, again, it’s not about having her name in lights. It’s not about being that big celebrity. It’s being the leader with the people who are are around you, your family, your friends, your community, your school group, your church group, being that leader within that group. And again, not because you have a position, not because you are the president of your school or the CEO of your business. It’s about your heart and your desire and your willingness to want to serve other people.

[00:42:20.500] – Speaker 2
That’s so good for us as parents or youth workers or just adults who care about kids to think about as well. But great to instill in our young people as well so that they can step into the places that they’re being called to shape their worlds. Our vision statement of Mishka Woods is about inspiring youth to shape their world, not the world specifically. If they do, that’s great. But it starts with their own world, their friend group, their neighborhood, their soccer team, their band, whatever that is. I think that’s a great message. Look, we’re coming up on the end of time. Jeff, this has been a great conversation. Maybe I have to do it again because you and I could keep going forever. But can you offer some final thoughts or words of encouragement for parents right now who are really facing tough stuff with their kids? Maybe give them a bit of hope or inspiration, just a little tip or advice or just some final thoughts for you for the parents who are like, This is all nice, but maybe you don’t know my situation. It’s really tough for me to help my kids today.

[00:43:22.880] – Speaker 2
Maybe you can speak a little life into them today.

[00:43:25.510] – Speaker 1
Absolutely, Chris. And thank you again for this opportunity to really speak to your amazing audience. We spoke about it earlier. Most things are caught not taught. And so when we see our kids and they’re acting up when they’re not listening, things of that nature, sometimes, and I’m not saying always, but sometimes we have to look at the things that we model, what we model. Some time ago, I was doing some work with a basketball team, and the general manager of that basketball team has played years and years of basketball. He’s well into his late 40s. And when he walks, he walks extremely crooked. His knees are shot, his thigh s are shot, his hips, everything is shot. He walks extremely crooked based on the wear and tear of his body based on his basketball career. His son, seven years old, and if you see his son walk behind his father, you would think this seven year old has played 40 years of basketball. You would think this seven year old’s knees are shot, hips are shot, thighs are shot because of the way he walks. But why does he walk that way? He walks that way because he’s modeling his father.

[00:44:34.500] – Speaker 1
Our children are seeing more than we think. We believe that we’re hiding the negativity from our kids. We believe that they’re not seeing the things that we might be facing. But your children are seeing and understanding more than you realize. And so it’s really important for us to recognize that when we are bringing up our kids, we have to prepare them not for today, but prepare them for the future that they’re going to be. To face. We live in a society where we want the best for our kids. And of course, we all want the best. I have three sons. I want the best for my kids. And some of us will push and shove to get them into French immersion or to get them into whatever it is because we want them to Excel. But we’re preparing them for a world for today. But in five years, 10 years, 20 years, when your child becomes an adult, your child will potentially be applying for jobs and positions that don’t exist today. For example, right now, children or people are applying for positions that have to do with social media. When I was growing up, social media didn’t exist.

[00:45:36.520] – Speaker 1
Children today or young adults today are applying for jobs and situations that didn’t exist five years ago. Children who are growing up today, us as parents who are raising these children, will be applying for jobs and positions for the future that don’t exist today. It’s important for us to recognize that as we go forward, and yes, some of us will struggle, some of us have issues based on just life and what we go through, recognizing that we are modeling something that our children need to see. If we start to open their minds up to see the possibilities of where the world can be, then we start to give them an opportunity to go row with the world. I just want to encourage you as parents, the last thing I’ll share is this. I talk about Superman versus Clark Kent. As a dad, my children, my three sons, they see me as Superman. They see dad as Superman. I can’t do anything wrong. That’s what we as children… That’s what children often do. They see their parent as this superhero, Superman and superwoman. But I also ensure that my children see the other side of me, the Clark Kent, because Clark Kent was vulnerable.

[00:46:45.320] – Speaker 1
Clark Kent was shy. Clark Kent had the crush on Lewis Lane, but couldn’t approach her. He was the one that was vulnerable. I think it’s important for us as parents, as we’re modeling, as we’re showing our children what life is about, show them your vulnerability as well. Be open with them. I tell my children as they get older, every year, my oldest is 13 now, when he turned 13, I said to him, I’ve never parented a 13 year old, so I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to struggle. There’s times that Daddy comes home and he’s had a tough day and I may take it out on you. And it’s not right. It’s not your fault. And if I do, please call me out on it because it’s not right. But sometimes that might happen. I think it’s important for us as parents to be open, to be vulnerable. They’re already going to see us by default as Superman or superwoman, but I think we have to be conscious about showing them that Clark can’t. The vulnerable side, the open side, the side that can be sometimes fearful in life. Show them all sides of you.

[00:47:41.710] – Speaker 1
And that’s going to help in your modeling as you raise your children.

[00:47:46.830] – Speaker 2
Man, that was really inspiring. And I’m sure if your half is inspiring in your talks to students, I’m sure you’re making a huge impact on young people, Jeff. So really really appreciate you. Parents, if you’re listening or teachers or whatever, from our bio intro, you can find more about Jeff. Maybe get him if you’re an Ontario listener, get him to come to speak to your school because I know even just from our short conversation today, you can see a bit of his heart and what he longs for for this next generation. And so really appreciate you, Jeff. Loved what you’ve had to share with us today. Thank you so much for being a part of our conversation.

[00:48:26.400] – Speaker 1
Thank you, Chris. Again, I’m grateful to speak to you, to have your listeners listen in. Thank you for this opportunity. I’m extremely grateful. God bless to you and all your listeners.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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