In many ways, it was happenstance.
A ‘suggestion’ from a stranger almost 15 years ago propelled Anthony McLean from actor and rapper to motivational speaker. Melding all of his talents, he has been tackling tough topics facing youth ever since. ‘Hot topics’ take him to schools and other venues across Canada, and which have never been more relevant or significant, than today.
“I was working as an actor, doing a performance at a school,” recalls McLean of that encounter in 2005. “I was rapping for students and telling fun stories and the kids were eating it up. Afterward, a guidance counsellor came up to me and said, ‘You've got a great connection with kids, our biggest problem is bullying, can you come back and do a bullying presentation?’"
The rest, is history.
McLean will be speaking to St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) students and parents this month.
The father of a 13- and 11-year-old, McLean’s message on bystander behaviour, inclusivity, character education, bullying, and other related topics is delivered from a host of keen perspectives.
“It wasn't until I started researching bullying that I realized, I've been a bully, I've been bullied, and I've been a bystander,” he says. “So I understand the issue from all three viewpoints. I know the pain victims go through, I know the fear that bystanders feel, and I understand the power that bullies thrive on.”
On his ‘connection’ to his audience, McLean says, “I think students find me relevant to popular youth culture. I guess I kind of speak their language. But I also understand the values that parents and educators want to instill in these youth. So I serve as a mediator between students and educators.”
Bridging that divide and using a medium that connects to his audience has helped McLean’s message resonate.
“What means the most to me is when students tell me I understand their world,” he says. “When I hear that, I know I can speak to their issues and help them navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence”.
“What struck me most when I last saw him was that all 300 students and teachers were hanging off his every word, all taking moments to be introspective,” says Liat Benzacar, M.S.W., RSW, Student Wellness Officer at SMCS. “Classroom teachers were able to draw on his messages for ongoing discussion on inclusive school climate, managing interpersonal conflicts, and inspiring movements of kindness. In addition to entertaining them with freestyle rapping and comedic routines, Anthony brings in current events and culture that students can use to make his message clear and relevant to them on an individual level.”
McLean says the crux of his message to students and parents is this: “Every single student plays a role in building a positive school culture. I want students to know that you don't have to be friends with everyone, but you have to be friendly with everyone. I want parents to learn how to help kids develop confidence and resilience,” he says.
And how can parents help build self-assured children? McLean offers his top-three tips:
- Hand over age appropriate responsibilities. (Stop doing laundry for your 15-year-old!)
- Let them experience the natural consequences of their bad decisions. (Stop bailing them out!)
- When they are struggling with something, instead of giving them advice, ask them this question: "What are you going to do?"
An Evening with Anthony McLean will take place on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 at 7 p.m. in the St. Michael’s College School Centre for the Arts.
Registration required: smcsevents.com