ST. JOSEPH — Helping people happens when no one’s paying attention.
That was a piece of advice Mike Smith was told as a senior in high school, which he has taken in stride since hearing it.
As a self-proclaimed C-student and troublemaker in high school, Smith has since become a motivational speaker, touring different schools and organizations giving life advice and encouraging a needed change in culture.
He was in Southwest Michigan on Monday, where he gave lectures at Upton Middle School and St. Joseph High School.
Smith, who runs two nonprofits in Nebraska, promotes positive communities and opportunities for youth development using a combination of stories about skateboarding, music and art.
In addition to helping others, Smith said it is also important to help yourself by keeping the right company.
“People in your life are gonna do one of four things to you – gonna add, subtract, multiply or divide,” Smith said as he counted them out on his fingers. “Take the people out that subtract and divide and surround yourself with people that add and multiply.”
Smith discussed how he began to turn things around toward the tail end of his high school years, when he learned his father had been diagnosed with cancer.
After asking himself whether his father would be proud of the man he had become, Smith chose a path of betterment.
From becoming a teacher’s aide to attending band concerts on the merit of forming a bond with his basketball team, Smith created an indoor skate park that was geared toward being a safe haven for children who were struggling to adjust.
Smith told his audience the many difficulties he ran into, including how his nonprofit ran out of money within the first two weeks.
He chose to undertake unusual forms of fundraising.
For example, Smith slept under a bridge in frigid temperatures for a month, and would later skateboard 430 miles across Nebraska in a campaign to raise money and awareness for his cause.
He started a grassroots effort called Skate For Change, which encourages skaters to hand out socks to those who are less fortunate. Soon, Smith said he plans to open his own high school that would involve taking classes online.
During his speech, Smith conducted an experiment by asking everyone – teachers included – to take out their phones. Upon inspecting their battery usage, Smith had students conduct math based on the number of hours they spent looking at their phone.
After they added up how much time was spent on their phone in a day, Smith had them multiply that total by 365, to reveal how much time was spent in a year.
When some came close to the 10,000-hour mark, Smith smiled and shook his head.
“It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something,” Smith said. “Imagine if everyone put that amount of energy into something that helps you get to where you want to go. If you do that, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
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