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Hasan Davis"At the end of the day, the ability to read is power. It is a chance to make sure you do not accept anything less than what you are going for. It is the first really big step." - Hasan Davis

Hasan Davis is a youth and arts advocate, performer, and lawyer. As founder of Empowerment Solutions, he helps young people and adults find their voice, sense of personal power, self-respect, and dignity. As he works with young people, he often asks them to write a bio poem—an 11-line poem about who they are in relation to others, their fears, their dreams, and three things they would like the world to say about them that would really be true. Meet Hasan Davis.

Name: Ghei Steadwell
Address: Hartford, CT
Question: Dear Mr. Davis,
Your story is very inspiring both to students and teachers alike. I know several people who have dyslexia in one form or another. Please tell me what you had to do to overcome the learning difficulties caused by dyslexia.
Answer: I am glad that others have been able to find inspiration in my story. I am blessed to be able to share it. As far as my dyslexia, I went through a wide range of experiments to get a handle on the challenge and I will write of some of those in a minute. But I must confess, my greatest challenge was to learn to be ok with being different. I was always so frustrated that what I saw didn't match with what others were reading or what I read was never what other were seeing. Sometimes I was embarrassed because even into my college days I still had to practice with those 3rd grade penmanship pads (you know, solid line, dotted line, solid line). But then I realized that I had other gifts. I was more willing to take risk, able to be more creative in the way I interacted, less afraid to be wrong because I had been wrong before and the world didn't end I realized that I could take chances.

I was fearlessly in pursuit of those magic words that all of my plain seeing classmates feared coming from a teacher's mouth, "I need a volunteer" This was how I kept myself in the minds of those who might have just as easily dismissed me. Because I was free of the fear of failure I could TRY things and my effort, I am sure, made it easier for many of those who encountered me to want me to succeed in spite of the extra energy it might cost them.

My philosophy on this has always been simple: "Make it personal." Sometimes I could have just checked out because I knew the world would just go on spinning. I had a ready excuse that everyone would honor. "Oh, he is special," they could say, "Just let him sit there in the corner." But I just refused to walk away. I figured that if they knew how much I wanted it they could not help but want to help me get it. Everyone roots for the underdog if she or he can give them a reason to, because if they can pull it off, then it confirms the possibility of others, maybe themselves, against whatever impossibility they are facing in their own life.

OK, I apologize for having left topic; I haven't gotten new detour signs for my ADHD yet. Which brings me to another important part of this. Laughter!!! I always tell the audiences I work with young and old, challenged or not, "Laughter is a must for surviving."

What I see through my special eyes are sometimes the funniest things in the world and most people don't get the opportunity to experience them with me. My brothers used to give me the hardest time but always from a distance. But one day we all went out to the mall like teens are known to do. I was the first to approach the outer door and as I reached to pull the door open I realized that it was locked. No problem-sometimes they want to have people use just a few entrances-but as I made my way down the row of doors I learned that they were all locked. My brothers all watched with solemn faces as I worked myself into a fit at the fact that we had been locked out of the mall in the middle of the day. I could see people just looking at me from the other side, taunting me. Then my younger brother finally got up the courage to speak or maybe he finally calmed his sub-vocal giggling. "Hasan," he said, in a dead serious tone. "The door does say 'Pull,' but it's written on the other side." About then the others could not physically hold in the laugh that had been building. And right there, I lost it; I laughed so hard that I almost started crying, or maybe I did start crying because finally I knew that the people I loved most in the world would not go away. In fact they would not let my story go away. After that they would go out of their way to ask me to LLUP a chair up to the table or LLUP the car over at the store so they could get something to eat. I am almost in tears as I write this.

Now, back to the question. Reading and writing are both a challenge for me. When I was younger my mother use to do things like cut note cards so that I could only see one line of text on a page at a time. The most useful method for reading personally, is still reading out-loud or listening to others read out-loud. I find that if I can hear the story I am much less likely to insert or change words because I have my ears telling me what should make sense where my eyes can't make that distinction. When I was in law school I began preparing for final exams by reading the outline and definitions and case law onto an audiocassette. I bought a continuous play cassette player and would just listen to the tape for two or three days straight (in the car, while I slept, in the bathroom-everywhere).

The biggest help with my writing challenge came with the computer age. I realized that I was failing lots of assignments because there were such a large number of errors in the parts that were legible that the professor could not in good conscious give me a grade on the ideas of the paper. When I was petitioning to get back into college the third time I took the risk of making a request of those who held all the cards. "If you decide to allow me back, could the college loan me the money to purchase a computer with grammar and spell checking software?" I wanted to give them a possibility. I had nothing to lose by asking, and everything to gain by getting. It seemed a pretty simple thing but even I didn't realize just how much I was being challenged by my learning challenges. The first semester with a computer landed me on the Dean's List for the first time in my life!! As I became more comfortable with the computer checking for mistakes, I noticed that I had also become more aware. I might not be able to look at the screen and see that there was a misspelled word but I began to feel when I started typing the wrong things and over the years have even learned to back track and correct without consulting the spell check. Although I still have some difficulty, if I take my time I find that I do pretty good.

I hope that I actually answered a question in all of this.
Thanks.

Name: Crystal Mundy Clowers
Address: Axton, VA
Question: How long did it take you to get your GED?
What have you learned now that you wish you would have learned back when you were younger?
Answer: I was expelled from alternative school in the second semester of my senior year. After I got over the shock and anger I set my new sites. My brother Derrick was expelled from public school soon after, and we decided that we would show the whole world that we were not just two ______ (fill in the blank here). We planned and prepped for a couple of months and we charged in like we were going to war, really. After the test was done a man stopped us on the street and told us that they were casting for a Chuck Norris movie downtown and we look more convincing than any of the actors down there.

I have learned to be patient with myself. And once I could allow myself to a little room for error it was easier to give it to others. There is an old saying that goes something like, “The race does not go to the swift, but to the steady!”

Name: Nicole Anderson
Address: Clarkston, WA
Question: Hello Hasan,
I would like to know, even though this question is slightly weird. How did you get past or get through the life obstacles that were brought towards you in order for you to become who you are today?
Answer: Attitude. A big piece of this puzzle is solved with the right attitude. Everyday I got up searching for the new way the world was going to mistreat me was a day that I was not in control. When I started with "I wonder who is going to kick me today," I always seemed to find someone to kick me. When I started to ask questions like "I wonder who I can find to help me with this problem," know what? People started popping up all over the place.

I have learned that most people want to find a way to help others, but there has to be an opening, an invitation to do so. First I had to come to a very sobering realization. I can't do anything to make sure what other people do or how they treat me. All I could do is decide what I was willing to do, and more importantly, not do in reaction to the world.

I started a serious series of self-talk; looking in the mirror and saying things like, "You are one good looking dude," "Man, you the smartest man in this whole room," "Hasan, you just like a webble, they wobble but they don't fall down!" Self-talk is creating a goal that might not be reached today but gives me something to walk toward.

But the greatest thing that helped me move to this new place is when I began to dream again. When I could see myself a few days ahead, a few weeks ahead, a few months ahead, I could start to make a plan. I call it long vision-so many of us who have faced challenges at an early lose our long vision, our ability to see ourselves great at some future date.

Name: Pamela Kernstock
Address: Austin, TX
Question: Hasan,
While you were in your angry phase, did you feel like you were different from your peers and were not capable of getting an education? DId you wonder how could other people do it and you could not? If so, what event helped you realize that you could finish school? Did you have an "AHA" moment? Please tell me about it.
Answer: Well I think that most of this comes back to what I have written above, but maybe I can expand on it. I did question at times my ABILITY as compared to the ones who always seemed to have it together in the classroom. As long as I was competing with them I knew that I would most likely always be the loser with a capital "L," so I stopped competing with them. I stopped competing with everyone except myself. The idea of personal best is one that has driven most of my personal success. As I got comfortable with not being the honor student I could figure out ways to tweak my own learning to get the next step.

I also got comfortable with "I don't know," and "I think I can." "I don't know" is what I tell people instead of trying to come up with a convenient and plausible unlikely possibility-a lie. Accepting that I didn't know things made it possible for me to actually be in the right frame of mind to learn. Denial is a natural obstacle to success. I also found ways to let my other talents even the playing field. While other minds might study a topic and read a report on it, I would develop a dramatic monologue or write a poem. Where my law school classmates understood the case law, I would make it come alive in the courtroom. "I think I can" is the statement of intent for me.

The attitude to step in and give it your best always provides you with better results than not stepping in at all. I try to walk 100 miles; I might only make it 20. If I don't try because I know I can't walk 100, I will not even make it 20. When I was expelled from alternative school everyone asked, "What now?" Who would even believe they could be successful in college with a 1.67 GPA and a GED and a learning disability and ADHD? And I said, "I think I can." Then they said, "Who would ever believe that they could go to a college get expelled twice, finally graduate with an Oral Communication degree and, even though they suffer from a learning disability that makes it VERY difficult to read and write, they could go to law school where you have to read thousands of pages and each exam is a four hour test at the end of the semester?" And I said, "I think I can."

I do believe that in the end most of what I have talked about is persistence. When I showed up at the very college that had expelled me, looking to return, lots of eyebrows were raised. The questions were understandable. How can he dare to show his face around here after being expelled? Isn't he embarrassed? And, of course, less than a year later I left again under questionable circumstances.

And still I showed back up. I demanded the opportunity to finish what I started where I started, and reasoned that no one would ever fault an institution for giving someone like me three chances to change his whole world. Whether I succeed or fail, the college would be seen, as it should be, a place of endless possibility. So I showed up, on four probations, and I let (more like demanded) everyone who saw me fall down watch me as I took my feet again.

The "AHA". When I reflect on my crazy life there are some moments that just jump off the screen at me. When my mother and father took me away to small town Kentucky from big time Atlanta I was completely out of my element and fearful that I might not make it here. As my parents left, my mother put the last dollars from her purse into my hands. She said, "This is it, Hasan. This is where YOU prove everybody right, or this is where YOU prove everybody wrong. But you have to do it." That was the moment. No more talk about what I could do if somebody just gave me the chance, no more self-talk in the mirror, no more dress rehearsal. The stage was set. All I had to do now was be brave enough to step into the spotlight, to live.

Where I come from dying was easy, all you have to do is just stop. But to live-with all the pain and ugliness the whole world might be just about to drop on your head-that is the kind of fearlessness that changes lives, and not just yours. Look at all the people that are waiting for you to succeed. WHEN you do, whether you are 16 or 61, the message to them will be clear. I CAN!!


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