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I want you to think back to a time early on in your life when you were a child or teenager. Think about an adult in your life who made an impact on you then, who spoke into your life and encouraged you. It could be a parent, coach, teacher, or guidance counselor. Who is an adult in your life that made a positive impact on you; the person you know helped make you who you are today? The reality is that there are children who grow up in our country and around the world who don’t have an adult who speaks into their life like that. My guest today had someone like that in his life, and his in now changing the lives of thousands of young people by paying it forward. Michael Arterberry is the executive director of Youth Voices Center, Inc. and the creator of The Power of Peace program. Michael began his tenure working with youth by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Iona College. In founding YVC in 2008, Michael drew heavily on his own understanding and empathy for the pressures and difficulties of the teenager years and his own experiences growing up in poverty. Michael has worked with thousands of teens in a range of settings over the past 24 years as a social worker and counselor. As a teenager, Michael himself was fortunate to receive guidance from positive adult role models who helped him over come adversities and set high expectations for his future. Michael recently released his book, “Be Encouraged!!!: 250 Days of Motivation and Encouragement and this time it’s FREE! He’s also launched his new course called “The Shake the Dirt Experience.” You can find the free book, along with the Shake the Dirt experience course information at shakethedirtexperience.com. I have to tell you: I loved my time with Michael. I was in awe of his story, his relatability, and his encouragement. You may want to listen to this one more than once. With no further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Michael!
To introduce people to his story, Michael often tells a story about a farmer and a donkey that correlates to who he is and what he does. The donkey is one of the farmer’s favorite farm animals because after working all day, he lets the donkey come back to the house to play with the farmer’s kids and then releases him back onto the farm for the night. This is the normal routine they have each night.
One night after the farmer brings releases the donkey back out onto the farm after playing with the kids, the donkey wanders around at night and falls into an empty water well. The donkey is stuck and cries for help. When the farmer calls for the donkey the next morning, but he never appears, the farmer starts looking for the donkey. He finally hears the donkey’s calls and finds him in the well.
The farmer brings 6 friends to help get the donkey out of the well. One of his friends suggests pulling the donkey out with a rope. They miss the donkey over and over until they throw the rope on the donkey’s hind legs and start pulling the donkey up the well. Halfway up, they realize the donkey is too heavy, so they lower him back to the bottom of the well.
The farmer has to make a grim decision because he can’t feed him the food his family eats, but he’s like a pet, so he certainly can’t starve him. One of the farmer’s hot-headed friends suggests the farmer shoot the donkey. Of course, the farmer can’t do that. A more reasonable friend says “You don’t want your kids to fall into the well, so we’re going to have to bury him.” The farmer realized he’d have to sacrifice the donkey to make sure his kids were safe.
The farmer and his friends all get shovels and start shoveling the dirt. Every time the dirt hit the donkey, the donkey would scream and cause the farmer distress. This continued: dirt was shoveled, the donkey would scream. Dirt was shoveled, the donkey would scream…until the screaming stopped. The next think you know, you can see half the donkey’s body, then you can see the entire donkey, then the donkey walks right out of the well.
Every time the dirt would hit the donkey’s back, the donkey would shake it off and step on it. He took every scoop of dirt that was meant to kill him to to save his life.
Michael is the donkey and he describes these things in his life as the “dirt”: He grew up in a home with a raging, alcoholic father. It created an environment where Michael never had a day of peace. Michael’s parents both worked full time, but his father’s money went to drinking, and his mother’s housekeeping salary went to taking care of her kids. There was a lot of love, but not much financial stability.
His home was dysfunctional, but so were most of the homes in his neighborhood. Michael describes his peers raising each other, but with false systems of dysfunction instead of trying to move forward and get out of it. On top of all, there was also a lot of crime in his community.
Michael was able to grow up in that environment, yet not allow any of those negative things to seep in. He refused to let it mold him into a profile of the kind of person expected to come from those experiences.
Michael wants to see people “shake their dirt” the way he was able to. God has given him an ability to make sense of the experiences of young people who are going through what Michael went through. He works on youth development with Power of Peace, his nonprofit, Youth Voices Center, and reaches adults through public speaking about his life.
The turning point for Michael, when he realized he wasn’t going to let the dirt bury him really didn’t happen until he started pursing his career. When he was young, Michael’s mom tried to offset chaos in their household was to introduce Michael to sports. At 8 years old, she started him in soccer then basketball, baseball, and football.
When Michael graduated from high school, he had opportunities to play any of those four sports but chose football because it was his favorite. He was able to live in the craziness happening in his home but create a traditional household from the resources he found outside of it. His coaches became father figures, his teammates like siblings, and the accolades that often come from parents came instead from the people who loved watching Michael play football.
The chaos in Michael’s home became normal to him and just didn’t affect him. Once he became a Christian, and started his work, Michael really started understanding how things happen for a reason, and that God can use his life’s experiences to make positive impacts.
Michael started Youth Voices Center in 2008. Michael went to college to study social work and mixed his academics with his life story and really started to have an impact in his career. However, he was given curriculums from agencies that wouldn’t work. He would get in trouble when the curriculums didn’t work out, so he decide to make his own curriculums.
While working for a nonprofit, Michael created a curriculum called Power of Peace designed from his own ideas and experiences and programs he had studied in the past two create a two-day program for high school students.
The nonprofit started paying him a salary for the program, but his boss showed him how much money was coming into the agency. It was nowhere near what little Michael was being paid. She took him to a lunch to meet a philanthropist to make a good impression to make more money.
When it was Michael’s turn to talk, he had notes under the table to speak on all the accolades the program had accumulated. Right before he spoke, he tore up his notes and threw them on the restaurant floor. Instead he told the philanthropist, “Don’t worry about your money, because the person I’m most accountable to is God.”
The body language reactions around the table ranged from anger to shock. The lawyer laughed hysterically. Michael just waited. Little did he know, he’d stepped out on faith in front of a devoted Christian with a lot of money. She would meet Michael for breakfast to fellowship. Each time, she’d bring well-known Christian with her as well.
Finally Michael got up the gumption to ask her for money for his program, not the agency. She gave him half to talk on the road, and said she’d leave half with the agency to they would not be displeased. Michael still wanted the full amount, so he kept meeting with her secretly. She did her own research and when she realized it was his program, he sold Michael he could have the full amount.
In 2008, Michael stepped out on his own and had the freedom to offer his programs to schools for FREE! FREE!!!!!!
Michael says the “special sauce” of his program is when he quiets his spirit and lets the Holy Spirit do the work. Sometimes he’ll be speaking and it’s almost like he’s having an out-of-body experience with the words that come out.
Michael calls any kids who go through his program his surrogate kids. He has two biological children, but all the children in the program are like his own as well.
One of the kids in his program came from a family where four generations never experienced a single high school graduate. Michael started working with her and became her accountability partner. There were times she wanted to give up, and it was a long road of hard work, but she became the first of four generations to earn her high school diploma. It’s what Michael wants for all his kids who come from that cycle.
Tune in at 24:49 to hear a serious and powerful story about one of Michael’s kids who grew up in the foster care system and broke the cycle, going on to earn his master’s in business administration after going through Michael’s program (as a warning, the first part of this story may be difficult for some to listen to).
Words are powerful. As the book of James tells us, there is life and death in the tongue. Words can build up, or they can break down. Mentors speaking positive words over someone absolutely changes lives. For Michael, it’s a mentality about creating a culture to raise oneself to a higher level to prevent circumstances from becoming our standard or our expectation.
Michael’s programs create community and culture between kids that might not typically have opportunities to interact. His program creates empathy and brings kids together so that they can hear each other and understand each other, and it’s so powerful.
All too often we can talk ourselves out of things that can change everything for us. For example, when attending a conference, you could strike up a new friendship on the way to the conference before you even get there, and it could change the entire course of your life. That’s why Michael says, “the change is in the show up.”
Join me as I learn some fun facts about Michael like what he would eat if he had to eat the same thing for dinner every night, who he’d choose to narrate his life, his favorite TV show to watch growing up, and a dream he’s yet to achieve. Be sure to listen to Michael’s answer to what it means to him to run a business with purpose.
13:02- “It was really an earthshattering moment when I was studying in the word and it talked about how the enemy peeks into your future and when he sees what you’re about to get from God, he can’t stop it, but he can get in your path. When I look back over my story, he peeked into my future and saw the impact I was going to have on the world, and tried to take me out.”
“I think survival and being resilient speaks to anybody in the world.”
19:23 “When she said she would give it (the money) to me, I was going to back out because I was afraid…the executive director looked at me and said, “What would your kids say if they ever knew that you had this opportunity and you passed it up?”
24:00 – “Poverty is not only financial, but people who grow up in poverty end up having a poverty mentality…always feeling like someone owes you something.”
25:52 – “It warmed my heart that I had spoke into this boy’s life and he felt like my words were powerful enough that he made sure he shared them with his peers.”
29:21 – “It created a culture in me of trying to raise myself to a higher level which prevented me from using my life and its situation as being a baseline.”
33:58 – “Sometimes the fear of not coming prevents them from being able to go over the hurdle. So just show up. Walk into the room.”
34:52 – “Fear is paralyzing, so if you allow fear to control your life, you never move. So move!”
41:13- “When you commune with him regularly as deep as I do, life is not easy, but I don’t have to do much to hear his voice. I’m being prompted as the day goes, so it’s not often that I get lost.”
About Michael Arterberry:
Michael Arterberry is the Executive Director of Youth Voices Center, Inc. and the creator of the Power of Peace Program.
Michael began his tenure working with youth by obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Iona College.
In founding YVC in 2008, Michael drew heavily on his understanding and empathy for the pressures and difficulties of the teenage years. In addition to his own experiences growing up in poverty, Michael has worked with thousands of teens in a range of settings over the past 24 years as a social worker and counselor. As a teenager, Michael was fortunate to receive guidance from positive adult role models who helped him to overcome adversities and set high expectations for his future.
Grateful for the role these mentors played in his own development, Michael decided to dedicate his professional life to helping teenagers navigate the difficult adolescent years.
Michael decided to form YVC while working on the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) in Green Haven Correctional Facility. Serving as a counselor in AVP, Michael was impressed by the progress of inmates who entered the program with plenty of hesitation and resistance and left the program raving about how much it transformed their perception of themselves and others. Realizing the power of this type of experiential program, Michael founded YVC and launched the Power of Peace program to transform the lives of youth.
In 2010, Michael was selected out of hundreds of nominees to receive a USA Network Characters Unite Award, given to individuals who demonstrate exceptional commitment to combating prejudice and discrimination while increasing tolerance and acceptance within their community.
In 2014, he was the recipient of the 100 Men of Color Award for leadership in education, government, mentorship, entrepreneurial success and community service.
And most recently, he was awarded the EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD from Y-COP, the Youth Community Outreach Program in Mt. Vernon at the First Annual Dinner Dance on September 29th, 2016.
To learn more about Michael and how he encourages others, please visit his Blog and Subscribe for updates.
Michael is also the subject of his wife’s first religion based, spirituality book, “God Was Holding My Hand,” in which Rachel Arterberry chronicles his journey of coming to know the Lord. Spanning from his tumultuous childhood, to a college football injury that turned into spinal cord surgery, Michael becomes self aware that God was holding his hand each step of the way. For more information on the book, please click here.