Former gangster plants seeds of hope

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 26, 1999

A crowd of about 800 students from Natchez Middle School roared with laughter and then fell respectfully silent when Michael Chatman told his story.

A former gang member from Miami, Chatman overcame an abusive home environment to become a motivational speaker who has addressed more than 1 million young people in his seven-year career.

&uot;My presentation is all about life choices,&uot; Chatman said before his speech to Natchez Middle School.

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&uot;I tell them that they’re not alone when they make these decisions,&uot; he said.

Tuesday marked Chatman’s second visit to Natchez. Last year, he addressed Natchez High School.

Having grown up in what Chatman calls a &uot;typical inner-city neighborhood,&uot; he endured an abusive father and the near-death of his mother at his father’s hands.

He received an athletic and academic scholarship to Missouri State University where he majored in speech, drama and debate. At the encouragement of a teacher there, Chatman began motivational speaking.

&uot;In the beginning, I wanted to save the world,&uot; he said. &uot;But now I’m happy to simply plant the seeds of hope in their minds.&uot;

Chatman’s style is to make his message fun and meaningful, noting that he has to pitch his talk to as many different personalities as possible to meet the needs of the audience.

&uot;Kids are all different,&uot; he said.

But today, children face more sophisticated challenges. &uot;They are really adults in teenage bodies,&uot; he said.

In his talk to students Tuesday morning, Chatman told the seventh and eighth graders that they were born with the three things they need most in life: a back bone, a funny bone and a wish bone.

&uot;You need the back bone to face your fears head on,&uot; he said. &uot;Move through your fear.&uot;

Chatman’s talk was part of Red Ribbon Week which is to promote drug-free lifestyles.

It was sponsored by Southwest Distributors, the local Anheuser-Bush wholesaler as part of the company’s community-based program to stop underage drinking.