Former pro ball player introduces program to kids

Will Njoku now a motivational speaker

Set your feet. Aim high. Follow through. Every day.

This is the SAFE action program, developed by former professional basketball player, 1994 NBA draftee and almost Olympian Will Njoku. The current motivational speaker inspired Chester Area Middle School (CAMS) students on March 26.

Emily Payne, a 14-year-old Grade-8 student at CAMS, learned “to aim high and just always know that you can do it and nothing is ever impossible.” She wants to become a better all-around athlete and to continue to improve by setting goals for herself every year.

“The SAFE action plan is what it’s all about. It’s the action plan I used to get myself where I am today. It’s the action plan I used to get myself through my dark days even though I didn’t know I was having them officially,” said Mr. Njoku, who came up with this basketball analogy as a way of explaining how to live a successful life.

Mr. Njoku was diagnosed with depression at the age of 29, when he was leading what many would consider a successful life. After psychotherapy he realized he had felt this way and dealt with anxiety since he was six years old. He moved from Ghana to Canada at the age of four and aside from adjusting to a new culture, he faced a lot of adversity growing up along with challenges such as chronic illness in his siblings, strict parenting and the death of family members while he was still a young man.

He currently carries this message of action as part of his motivational speaking company WILL2WIN. “I want my message to create some momentum to create a SAFE action plan so others take action,” he said, asking kids to ask themselves four questions whenever they make a decision: Who are you willing to be? Where are you willing to go? What are you willing to accept? and What are you willing to do today?

Mr. Njoku has been delivering this program for 15 years. “I was actually teaching kids basketball, and the philosophies I used in teaching kids basketball were impressed on the parents, and in that group was a teacher who asked me to come to the school and talk to her kids,” he said. The rest is history and he’s continued to travel and tell people not to judge one another, to have discipline, to become organized, to develop a positive perspective, to have an open mind, to practice and to follow through with their actions after understanding all the details involved.

Mr. Njoku only added the mental-wellness component to his presentation in the past two years after encouragement. “I was only giving half of my story, and my presentation is a plea for the kids who are possibly feeling this way to go seek help.”

Although he was talking to a middle school audience, his program is designed for everyone.

“It was fun to watch because he’s really funny, and it just kind of taught you to aim for your goals and never give up, which is pretty awesome,” said Emily, who agreed there were probably students suffering from mental-health and self-esteem issues in her school. “Probably because they’re scared to talk about it and think people might make fun of them for it, or they don’t really feel confident in themselves.” She thought making it a subject students were more aware of in the school would be a good start to help those individuals. “I think you should keep your head up and if you’re feeling bad talk to someone about it,” said James Marchand, a 13-year-old Grade-7 student who planned on using the SAFE program when he studied for his taekwondo test the following weekend. “There’s a school counsellor they can talk to about that kind of stuff.”

More than anything, Mr. Njoku’s program is about an individual’s approach to life, having the ability to tune in to positive energy and establish a good mindset upon waking up in the morning.

“I think the idea that the kids have control of their destiny or their future if they ask themselves what they’re willing to do about it, that message, is important,” said Mr. Njoku.

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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