Education Crusader Tells Students Knowledge Can Move Mountains

Williams Combines Humor, Serious Message

February 27, 1991|By Margaret Friedrich | Margaret Friedrich,Contributing writer

Three teen-agers approached the 33-year-old man, saying they wanted to buy drugs. He asked if they had money; they did. And then he pulled out a gun, shot the youths and rifled their pockets for the cash.

The scene was faked: It took place on a stage at Howard Community College, where anti-drug and pro-education crusader Montel Williams was demonstrating to a crowd of about 100 the dangers of drugs.

"It's about time we give this garbage up," the nationally known dynamic speaker told his audience Saturday morning.

Williams, a highly decorated naval officer who left the military to tour with his inspirational message, came to the Columbia school as part of the Howard County Community College Talent Search Program. The program promotes finishing high school and pursuing a career.

"The next time somebody tells you you can't do something because you're black, white, Hispanic, Asian American . . . don't get up in their face and get mad at them -- you look up and tell them, 'Mountain, get out of my way,' "Williams boomed. "With that knowledge and education, nobody can stopyou."

Williams told the rapt audience that knowledge is vital to success. He brought a girl and a boy to the stage and gave each $10 when they named the last six U.S. presidents. He brought a business owner up to the stage who said that he pays bonuses for people who findanswers to business problems.

In contrast, Williams said, the reward for not having an education is taking orders at a fast-food restaurant.

He poked fun at students' fad hairstyles, telling them thatthe knowledge inside their heads is what makes them "bad." He imitated -- as they laughed -- the way many walk, talk and behave, drillinghome the points that getting a good education, speaking well and behaving properly are what will help them get ahead.

Williams said the three houses, sports car and diamond ring he has cannot be taken away from him because he earned them through hard work. However, money made through drug dealing, he said, eventually will be confiscated bythe police.

He told his audience that each parent should follow his "three R's" -- taking the responsibility to show children how to use restraint and delay gratification, to assume responsibility for the future of the community and to show self-respect and respect for others.

Williams bounced from one end of the auditorium to the other, saying that although no one person can fix society's problems, eachperson can build a little "ark" -- like Noah -- to plant the seeds for improvement in children.

Those who heard Williams' message saidthey felt inspired.

"He made me want to work more for an education," said Owen Brown Middle School sixth-grader Jeff Dawson, 11, who said he wants to be a lawyer.

"I didn't have something to inspire me," said Liris Crosse, who came with her Girl Scout troop from Baltimore. "He really inspired me to work harder. He was easy to relate to."

Another Scout from her troop applauded Williams' humor. "He was funny, but he was real serious," said Apryl Killette.

Williams setthe standards for the audience. After graduating from Andover High School in Linthicum, Anne Arundel County, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he was promoted twice in the first six months. That openedthe door for him to become the first black Marine selected to attendthe Naval Academy Prep School. Of the Class of 1940, he was one of four to graduate.

He became a world-traveling intelligence officer,fluent in Russian and Chinese.

While in the service in 1988, Williams was asked by a friend to speak to several groups of students, totell them if they get an education and stay away from drugs, they can move mountains. When the youths listened, Williams became hooked onhelping them. He resigned his commission in February 1989 and has averaged 25 days a month on the road.

Williams founded REACH The American Dream, a non-profit organization based in Denver, Colo., to support his work. He recently started his own production company and is negotiating to be host for a national talk show.

One problem, he said later, is that many blacks have traditionally viewed the educational system as white. To succeed, he said, black students must realizethat education is education, and that with an emphasis on learning, they will help themselves do better in life.

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