Josh Shipp hopes his hard knocks life as a youth will speak life into at least one troubled Red Deer student.
Over a span of a couple of days, the 30-year-old Californian was expected to speak to about 7,200 middle and high school students about what it’s like to live a tough time and yet come through it all as a better person.
While talking to a crowd of students assembled from several schools at Memorial Centre on Wednesday, Shipp encouraged them to smile at a fellow student because one never knows what they may be going through. They can’t expect to change the world, but they can somebody’s world for the better.
He threw out other words of wisdom: Don’t be average. Don’t let anyone define who you are, that’s your job. None of us are perfect.
Shipp was in Red Deer on Wednesday and again on Friday after Eastview Middle School teacher Monique Stennes-Koot and her son Jacob Stennes, 14, raised money to bring him here in the wake of six suicides reported in the last year.
Shipp, author of The Teen’s Guide to World Domination and host of television’s Teen Trouble, was in and out of foster homes and suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse while growing up in Oklahoma.
“Whether it’s worse than my situation or better than when I was a kid, I really feel I can share my story and lend my courage to kids — that they can face their own struggles, their own battles.”
Shipp said it’s so important that youth know they aren’t alone, that they aren’t messed up. They should find a caring adult to talk to. Shipp had a Big Brother to talk to through the youth mentor organization.
Shipp said the question used to be for parents: Is my kid at risk? But now, every single child lives in an at-risk culture, so that whether they live in the most ideal situation, they can still head down that road to regret, he said.
“The social pressures of schools used to be confined from 8 to 3 and now it follows you home to Facebook, Twitter,” said Shipp. “So I think the bar is a little bit higher, but it doesn’t mean doom and gloom, that kids don’t have a shot at this. My whole point is that kids need to have adults who know what they are up to, that kids will open up to them about these things.”
He’s met a number of youth across North America who feel their lives won’t get any better and so they think that suicide is the right solution. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem, Shipp said. A caring adult has perspective and remembers those incidents in school where they felt it was the end of their world, but they found that things got better.
“At the end of this (Wednesday afternoon) presentation, I had several kids come up and say, they had been in and out of hospital and had been struggling with these kinds of thoughts,” Shipp said. “They were encouraged that things can get better for them.”
Shipp had a rough upbringing, but during that time he decided he wanted something different. His foster parents left him in jail overnight, instead of bailing him out. It was a rock-bottom moment for him.
“I’ve been doing this for more than a dozen years and this is one of the more remarkable stories I have seen,” said Shipp, regarding Stennes-Koot and her son. “They saw a situation in their own community and said, ‘we have to do something.’ If one student feels like their life is worth it, then this was worth it.”
City schools will get anti-suicide resources from Shipp, thanks to a $5,000 donation by the Red Deer Firefighters Children’s Charity.
Shipp will attend schools in the Smoky Lake area today before returning to Red Deer to speak on Friday. An anti-bullying bullying picket rally will be held in front of Eastview Middle School from 8:15 am to 9:00 am. All students will wear pink to show their support for victims of bullying, and to stand up against bullying.