Article: General Johnnie Wilson Middle School's Annual Empowerment Day Uplifts Students

General Johnnie Wilson Middle School's Annual Empowerment Day Uplifts Students

Gym full of kids listening to a man with a microphone

MARCH 27, 2024 | 
General Johnnie Wilson Middle School hosted its annual Day of Empowerment on Wednesday. Students were drawn away from their usual classroom routines to engage in a day of guest speakers and workshops focused on stress relief, mental health, relationship building, self-esteem, and success.
The event kicked off in the gymnasium with over 400 students listening to guest speaker Wesley Fluellen. Fluellen, a former NBA basketball player for the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic who grew up in foster and group homes, shared his story of resilience and overcoming incredible odds on his journey to success.
"Before I had all of the successes that I have and continue to have, there was a story that came long before that," Fluellen shared. "Everyone has a story, and my story is a very sad one. It's a very tough one, but it's also a very victorious one. If you are willing to listen to me today, I believe my story will help somebody here today, if not everyone."
Fluellen started with a short parable about a king who placed a large boulder on a pathway to see who in his kingdom would be strong and considerate enough to move the heavy boulder to help those behind him. Fluellen said the person who did was a poor man with nothing to give but the desire to see the path behind him made better for others. The king rewarded him with a bag of gold in this parable Fluellen shared.
"In life, we're going to all have boulders, not just you as kids, but we as adults, we're going to have boulders," Fluellen said. "But if we just do like that poor man and keep pushing our boulder – maybe you say I don't have a father. I don't have a mother. I got cut from a team. I can't get math class. My community is horrible – all boulders.
"But if you just keep pushing and pushing, eventually that boulder will move, and there will be a reward at the end of it. Also, the poor man didn't do that for himself, remember? He did that for everyone else. He decided to move that boulder for somebody else. And that's what I'm doing here today. I'm that poor man pushing the boulder for you today."
Fluellen was brought to Lorain Schools by Gail Reese, a community partner who helped Lorain Schools organize its Adopt-A-School program, which brings churches into the schools to mentor and support students. Reese runs the flagship Adopt-A-School program in Cleveland.
GJW Principal Nikole Davis implored students to use the day to learn at least one new thing or meet one new person.
"Today is about our young ladies being their best Barbie. Barbie has taught us all that you can be anything you want to be," Ms. Davis said. "I want my young men to transition from boys to men by being real. At GJW, that means being responsible, resilient, respectful, engaged in our community, academically accountable, and a lifelong learner."
Following Fluellen's passionate speech, students spent the day in small breakout sessions with community partners, volunteers, and business owners. They learned everything from personal hygiene tips for changing adolescent bodies, how to tie a tie, what it means to give back to their community, and public speaking.
Marta's N More Bakery Store owner Marta DeLeon, who runs a successful bakery at 763 Broadway Ave., spoke to groups of students about small business ownership and how her passion for serving up the best delectable treats keeps her going each day. The day felt like a career day for her because she loves talking about her career, something she didn't know would be a career when, at a young age, she made her first batch of oatmeal cookies that turned out disastrous. She learned what she needed to do to make her cookies great.
In speaking to students about lifelong learning, DeLeon recounted how she returned from France, where she studied with pastry chefs for three weeks.
"I enjoy what I do, so I enjoy taking classes to improve," she said. "When you are passionate about something, you will want to be the best at it. And I want to be the best bakery I can be for Lorain County."
Eighth-grade student Caleb Stewart, 14, said the day was meaningful for him. His morning sessions included learning about having a growth mindset, personal hygiene, and tying a tie.
"A lot of this is what you would call common sense, but if they don't teach us, we might not learn it. Today, they are teaching us things we need to learn in school, but they are doing it in a fun and energetic way, so we want to be here and listen."
Caleb said he felt a sense of belonging with the day's event, which grew from 2023 when Davis hosted an empowerment event for young girls. Making it an all-day, all-school event made students like Caleb feel more included.
Even the community partners who hosted sessions walked away feeling a sense of connection and pride.
"As a Lorain City Schools graduate, being able to participate in this day of empowerment means the world to me," said Aliah Kimbro, a writer and community advocate.
Kimbro, a 2016 Lorain High School graduate, said, "I love the opportunity to connect with students and help them realize their potential. I hope more than anything they realize they can grow and bloom right here in Lorain."

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