When motivational speaker Dwayne Bryant was stopped for speeding on his way to a school engagement, instead of driving away with a ticket, he left with a whole new message—how to handle encounters with the police.
His account of dealing with the situation calmly and being let go without getting booked went viral on social media. It spawned The Stop, a book and curriculum that has been used to help thousands of students navigate potentially volatile circumstances and improve police-community relations.
The lesson is a core part of Bryant’s mission to help young people succeed by making the most of their school years. His Inner Vision pro- grams focus on improving attendance and test scores through character and leadership development, with sessions for parents and teachers too.
The results have been impressive. In one school district, test scores went up 35% over a five-year period. During that same time, suspensions went down 70% and expulsions were eliminated. In another district, parental involvement—a crucial factor in kids doing well in school— increased fourfold. Bryant’s efforts have earned him an FBI Community Leadership Award.
It’s been quite a journey for the disaffected kid who used to get into fights in school because he thought his absent father might have to show up as a result (he never did). But with his mom’s loving, firm hand and the help of some mentors, he turned around and now wants to help others avoid going down the wrong track.
“I know what the trajectory for that boy could be who’s angry, who’s fighting, who’s getting put out of school,” he says. “I got kicked out of an elementary school because of my behavior. I figure if I can save some lives, then that’s what’s better for me to do than to be making money.”
Though he had been involved in community mentoring programs since high school, when he graduated from Florida International University with a degree in international finance and business, Bryant pursued a sales career with Johnson & Johnson. He was doing well when he took on a streetwise student for one-on-one mentoring.
Over time, the young man went from selling drugs and a 1.5 GPA to graduation from university, studying at Oxford in England and becoming a successful regional manager for a restaurant chain. “When I saw what was possible with one life, with the right person, with the right words consistently, I knew I could create that model and expand it with other students,” Bryant says. “I might have made more money staying in the corporate world, but I figured if I can save some lives, my life will be better used in that capacity than it would be in a corporate capacity, and I have no regrets.”
The change Bryant has helped bring about has been driven by a practical, actionable curriculum. “One-time motivating someone doesn’t keep their attention because they go home, where they get reprogrammed every single day,” he says. “The content has to be consistent enough that they want to do better long-term and transform their life, meaning they have to walk away from this stuff over here.”
Bryant doesn’t talk down the poor choices students may be making; he focuses on talking up the other opportunities they have. “I’ve never condemned a dirty glass,” he says. “Just put a clean glass beside the dirty glass and the people will decide which one to drink from. We’re going to give you options, but we can’t make you drink. You have to decide which glass you drink from.”
What advice does Bryant have for adults who want to positively influence young people’s lives—whether as a parent, a teacher or a neighbor?
First, identify your own pain, he says, because that’s likely to clarify your sense of purpose in helping other people avoid or come through similar experiences. Having suffered the absence of a father, he decided. “I will be the man who will show up, who will keep his word and honor you and show you the right path, versus the many men who never show up, who don’t keep their words, who will not show you anything.”
It’s been a costly commitment: once, when a school backed out of a school trip he’d planned with a group of students, he picked up the tab for all the flights—$12,000—to ensure the kids weren’t let down.
Second, Bryant says, determine what really matters to you, making a difference or making money. “Treasure is different than a paycheck… it’s wealth and it’s abundance, but it’s where your heart is.” He tells of one student who always ran out of the class- room to greet him: “That was an infusion. A $10,000 bonus didn’t give me the same feeling that did.”
Finally, be real because young people can spot phonies. “Don’t be the chameleon that changes with the environment: be who you are and show up authentically every single time, and people will choose you.” He tells of gang leaders “who wanted to take me out” because of the impact he was having, but by his remaining consistent, they came around. “They’d be like, ‘I got you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep coming in my hood.’”
Don’t be the chameleon that changes with the environment: be who you are and show up authentically every single time, and people will choose you.DWAYNE BRYANT
While he is pleased with the impact The Stop has made, in the years since his experience, there have been ugly incidents of aggressive policing in Black communities, and Bryant is working on a follow-up that “is not going to be as pleasant.” Having seen and heard the “smirks, smears and smart comments” from some officers in police departments he has worked with, he believes there needs to be better recruiting, training and accountability to weed out the bad apples (“There’s no such thing as a few… it’s orchards”).
Bryant points to the high costs of bad policing in two ways. Police violence—which he calls a public health crisis—reduces young people’s openness to learning, he says. “Your chance of graduating high school is almost 60% less if you had that police encounter.” Then he references the $660 million spent on police misconduct in Chicago between 2004 and 2014: “Can you imagine what [else] the city could do with that money?”
DWAYNE BRYANT: MY WAYMAKERS
My mom [Martha Bryant] raised six kids as a single- parent mom. She didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink (but she beat the hell out of us!). She was sure that she was going to raise positive, productive children. She was the first one [to instill] a work ethic: never quit.
In ninth grade, I had a teacher named Barbara Bey; with her, I went from frowning and being angry to smiling. I went from a 2.something to a 3.7 GPA. She taught world history from an Afrocentric perspective… that created a self-esteem in me, and when I learned who I was, the confidence that I had and the appreciation for who I am and how I show up shot sky high.
John Warford, the admissions director at Florida International University, was the first man who ever loved me. He took this raw boy and helped to groom him into a polished man just by his example. [For instance], he taught me how to dress, that men wear their belts and shoes matched. Who knew?
Also in college was Mrs. Ozzie Ritchey, who was like my spiritual mom. There were times I would go to her and say, “I don’t think I can do it. It’s too hard,” and she would pray with me. One day, I told her I wished I had a father who would come and see me like some of the other kids. She said, “My Dwayne, I am so happy you don’t have a father because if you did, you wouldn’t be exactly how you are right now. And I love my Dwayne exactly the way he is.” It was like someone took weights and threw them off my shoulders and said, “You’re good enough as you are.”