Archive for the ‘About Me’ Category

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#CDF40 and Skidmore YouTube Feature

September 30, 2013


Back in March, Skidmore College, where I graduated from, profiled me. Tonight is the Children’s Defense fund’s 40th Anniversary event. Leading up to it, CDF profiled 40 young people that has been involved with the organization. I was one of the people profiled. Skidmore and CDF has played huge roles in my life. I thank God for where I am today.

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Flatiron Hot! News Article

August 23, 2013
The book cover

The book cover

Flatiron Hot News Article

Check out this article featuring my mentee and I talking about our life experiences and book.

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“The Point of Life”

June 26, 2013


Today, I gave the Keynote Speech at George Westinghouse High School’s graduation. Above is the video. Below is the full text as prepared. I graduated from the school in 2005. This is my most important, greatest and shortest speech I’ve given so far. I’m so thankful and honored for the opportunity. Eight years ago, I never thought I would be where I am today. I’m so glad that I got to see my former guidance counselor and favorite teacher. This speech was two months in the making. With the mindset of what would I like to know in high school that I know now, I wrote the first draft the night that I heard I was selected. I revised and practiced it since then. Now, the full text:

Beating the odds may seem like a strange concept at first. But, it is indeed a phrase with a powerful meaning. It means to overcome a challenge or struggle. Believe it or not, all of us have odds we must overcome.

I grew up in a home where my parents fought each other very often. I grew up in a home where my parents were more focused on their packs of beer than my education and doings. I grew up in a home where I didn’t let myself be full, so my siblings can be full. Since my parents weren’t invested in my siblings, I had to be there for them too. While going to Westinghouse, I realized that the life of being on Public Assistance and living in the projects in East New York isn’t a good life at all. Being in Pace University’s Upward Bound Program in the tenth grade made me realize that education was my only way out.

Upon graduating Westinghouse, where I saw half of my class disappear since the ninth grade, I got into Skidmore College’s Higher Education Opportunity Program. At Skidmore, I’ve seen how things were better on the other side. I developed leadership skills in creating a Hip Hop Culture club called Hip Hop Alliance, where we talked about racism, sexism, and homophobia and successfully pushed for a Hip Hop Culture class. I learned more about myself, new heroes and poverty in my major American Studies. I met two mentors in college who pushed me to give back even more.

Listening to them, I became a mentor to two middle school students who were Hispanic. After I graduated from college, without loans, I became a mentor to a Black high school student. In being a mentor to these boys, I shared my life story and knowledge of the world with them. From there, I started teaching activism classes in the same Upward Bound Program I was in. I also became the co-chair of the Youth Ministry at my church in East New York.

In doing all of this, I started speaking to young people like you about progressing in the world and the evils of poverty at various events. At the same time, I came out with a book with my recent mentee promoting mentoring and giving advice to young people called Different Families, Still Brothers. Now, I help students like you get into colleges like Skidmore for Pace University’s Liberty Partnerships Program at the High School of Economics and Finance.

Want to know the crazy part of my story? When I went to Westinghouse, I couldn’t speak at all. I stuttered a lot. Barely anyone understood me. I was shy. This struggle made me cry at night. I started to come out of my shyness when I volunteered in various things like Open School Night and founded a Video Game Club where I put on tournaments. I fully came out of my shell in college with the encouragement of my best friend Mike Thomas. I was never able to express my story verbally into I took acting classes and hosted a radio show in college. Now, the boy who was scared to talk to people is helping people get to the next level. Now, the boy who thought he didn’t have a voice is showing you how golden his voice is.

All of you graduates have beaten a set of odds, but I’m here to tell you all that this is just the beginning. You are going to be beating the odds all your life, from college to graduate school to career to raising a family. The toughest obstacle to overcome is your own self. There will be times where you will ask yourself: “why me?” There will be times where you ask yourself: “what’s the point?” There will be times where you feel like giving up. But, you must remember these words President Obama once said, “Being defeated is a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”

We are our worst enemy. We must fight ourselves. It can be done. If you have a dream, believe in yourself, work hard towards making that dream a reality, you will achieve it. Muhammad Ali once said, “Even the greatest have to suffer sometime.” All of you are great, indeed. Don’t let your suffering ever stop you. Let it push you to new heights!

And when you reach those heights, don’t forget when you came from. Don’t forget that there are brothers and sisters who suffer the same things you have suffered. The point of life is not to become rich. Becoming rich creates a sense of selfishness for most people. You can’t take it all with you when you pass away. It won’t bring you happiness.

The point of life is to overcome the odds and build others up to do the same. This is what will bring you happiness. This will bring a sense of fulfillment in your life.

You never know, one day you can be up here speaking to your alma mater too. If there is anything I can help you with, feel free to reach out to me via email, Facebook or Twitter. I wish you all the best in whatever you do. Stay strong. Keep it pushing. Peace be on to you all, brothers and sisters. God bless!

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Letter to My Father

June 16, 2013

What It Means.

This letter was produced around when my mom left my dad. I had gathered their documents related to my sister’s ACS situation to organize. My father pressured me to give back his documents. He thought I was trying to mess things up for him. I wanted to help. His tone got me upset. That feeling got me to write this letter. I gave this letter along with his documents, that I organized by dare and summarized on sticky notes, in a folder. I don’t know if he even read it.

July 27, 2011

Dear Father, Daniel Tejada Sr.,

I’m writing you this letter because you never let me talk, never listen to me, never hear me out. I don’t know where that comes from, but I hope it stops for the betterment of yourself and the people who love you. If there is one thing I learned in my lifetime, it is that with written words, no one can shut me up. If you don’t read this letter, it’s your lost, not mine.

First, let me say that I’m not siding with anyone when it comes to my mother leaving you. But I will say she has chosen the wrong time to do something like this. I’m highly disappointed! Why? Because I’m feeling as your daughter isn’t being placed first. I could care less about what you and my mother are dealing with personally right now because my sister’s #1 to me in all of this, just as she should be #1 for you.

She’s been feeling hurt by all of this. She feels like you guys don’t care, like you guys don’t love her. I know this is true because she tells me this. I’m the only one she truly expresses herself to. She might seem fine on the surface, but she’s not okay deep down. I can relate to that because I used to do the same thing when I was her age.

Let me say that, I’m proud of how far you have come. It brings tears of joy to my eyes. It warms my heart to hear you talk about your program, how you enjoy it and how it impacts you. I feel this way because I don’t even ask you about it first. I smile when I see how much you’ve gain weight and how much life you have in you.

You fighting your demons is so inspiring and empowering to me. One thing I’ve always feared was you passing away before you get to see and hold my first child, and even before I get married. I feel like God is granting me a great wish. I feel like God is working for you. He’s with you! If there’s one thing I learned in church and know is true, it is what one of my inspirations Martin Luther King said in a sermon entitled “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” “[God] does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.”

Don’t close the door on Him. Reach out to Him. Don’t close the door on me. I’m with you. I’m here to help you anyway I can. All I ask is that you treat me with the same respect you want from me. I’m not a child anymore. I’m an adult who has a job, his own place, paying his own bills and can feed himself. I don’t deserve to be talked down to or have someone talk and talk without trying to hear me out. Don’t call me if you’re not trying to talk to me like I’m a human being.

I know you’re hurting. I know what you’re feeling. I’ve been there before. Things do get better. I have faith! Stay strong. Keep it pushing. Peace be on to you. God bless!

Your namesake,
Daniel Tejada Jr.

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A Word on Independence

December 31, 2012

Oh how sweet!

The internet is the greatest invention ever. Who would’ve thought there would be something that connects people across the globe in the matter of seconds? When I video chatted with a friend overseas back in college, I was in awe how it was possible. When I was doing a radio show in college, I couldn’t believe that the podcast downloads and listens mostly came from overseas. It was more than the amount of people who listened locally on the FM dial. And I didn’t really do that much promotion. When I started doing mixtapes, I was amazed with the numbers I were getting. Just getting 100 listens was awesome to me.

With the internet, pretty much everything is possible. Anyone came put out music via iTunes or Amazon and not need a label behind them. How amazing is that? When I was playing with the idea of putting out a book, I was worried about not having a publisher put it out. That worry stopped me from even writing a book. When I heard Activist Kevin Powell put out his latest book on Lulu.com, I knew it was possible to get my voice out there without being at the mercy of a publisher whom might not even care about what I have to say. The only thing that worried me was putting the money together to self-publish. That worry froze me because I didn’t have it like that.

Then I met the woman of my dreams who told me about self-publishing on Amazon and Fivver.com. I told to myself, “wow, I could put out a book for next to nothing real soon.” The internet amazed me again. There was nothing stopping me now. I talked to my mentee about publishing our emails because they were so rich with content. Content people needed to read! It wasn’t right to keep it just to ourselves. I took a month to edit it, hit up a Fivver user (two, really because the first guy messed up and disappeared) to format for Kindle and then linked with an old friend to do the cover for a reasonable price.

My whole idea of the book was just to get it out there. I’m not trying to make money off it. In fact, I’m nowhere near breaking even. I mean the price is set the lowest I could put it on Amazon while still getting a good share. I had the idea of eventually putting the book out on Lulu.com, but then I came across a wonderful machine in the Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. I tell you the internet keeps amazing me! I took some time to get everything right for a final print, including going back to my designer friend to do a back cover.

So now, I’m happy to announce that my book with my mentee Different Families, Still Brothers is now available worldwide in paperback! If you can’t find your location, you can find it here or even have the book shipped to you. Spread the word! Thank you for the support! Remember, you don’t need to be at the mercy of someone to fulfill your dreams. May God reveal Himself to, bless, bring peace to, and install righteousness in you in the New Year.

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The Article The Huff Post Rejected

November 9, 2012

My Mentee and I

A couple of weeks ago, I linked up with the brother Robert Kyle Hoggard, whom I met at the Children’s Defense Fund’s National Conference this past Summer, to interview for The Huffington Post in support of my book with my mentee called Different Families, Still Brothers. After Huff Post rejected it without a given reason, he posted it on another site he blogs for called HBCU Buzz. I think it was a great article. It is such a shame that the Huff Post didn’t publish it. It provided a unique look into poverty. Do check it out and feel free to hit up Huff Post with your disappointment in them. As a bonus to the article, I’m posting the unedited interview. In it, I talk about how poverty was address in the 1960’s, what can be done to address it today, what poverty looks like today, how I address poverty, how I overcame it, what inspired me to put out the book with my mentee and how my faith backs my willingness to help others. Check it out below!

1. What solutions do you have to cripple poverty?
Back in 2009, I published my first article on poverty on my Hip Hop blog. In it, I talked about how poverty decreased dramatically in the 1960’s and stayed the same well into the 2000’s. That had a lot to do with President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. With these programs, he extended the life span of those in poverty and put them in a place where they suffered less. He created Medicaid which provided health care to the poor. He created Medicare which provided health care to one of our most vulnerable, our seniors. He created Job Corps and Neighborhood Youth Corps to help the youth get into the work force. He expanded Social Security benefits and the Food Stamp program. He created Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) which paid people to help the poor in various opportunity and school programs. He created Upward Bound which helped poor high school students get into college. He created the Community Action Program which helped the poor help themselves.

All of these things and many more programs he and congress initiated helped lift people out of poverty. These things provided opportunities to the poor, kept them alive, got them to help themselves and got other people to help them. More could have been done, but the Vietnam War picked up. The war killed any hope of poverty being eliminated.

Towards the end of the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were on the verge of diminishing poverty even further. Dr. King started the Poor People’s Campaign just before he was killed in 1968. The campaign was to unite all poor people and demand more action from the government. During his 1968 Presidential run, Senator Kennedy focused on poverty in a major way. He was killed just as he was a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. These two men along with President Johnson were getting to the root of the real problem in America, poverty. Since they were doing this, they became targets. Dr. King and Senator Kennedy paid the price of death. President Johnson didn’t get a chance at a second elected term.

To cripple poverty today, we need another “Great Society” initiative. We need another Poor People’s Campaign. We need another Presidential candidate who cares. In the article I mentioned earlier, I said, “The combined efforts of the government, non-poor people and poor people helping their own selves can cause the number of people in poverty to drop. The percentage has the potential to drop even more than it did in the sixties.” In the years since I put out that article, that thought as expanded to include people who used to be poor helping those who are poor. That can happen in a VISTA program or even joining a mentoring program. The book I’m putting out with my mentee Gaetan Lamy, Different Families, Still Brothers, showcases how it is possible to assist those in poverty on a seemly small level. It shows that people who used to be poor can be a great ally to those who are poor. But this is not limited to them. Everyone can provide the tools and education poor people need. Those who don’t know what it is like to be poor need to do research on poverty or talk to a person who used to be poor like me to be able to better assist those who are poor.

2. What is poverty? How is one classified as someone affected by poverty?

Poverty has many faces, but it knows no color. The Federal guideline isn’t a definition of poverty. It doesn’t reflect rising food prices, rising housing costs and transportation. I have a lecture called “Poverty: Bigger than the Block” where I talk about the issues poor people face. Poverty is going to bed hungry. It is cereal for dinner. If lucky, it is white rice and eggs for dinner. It is deciding between paying the light bill or buying food for the family. It is living in a hotel room with your whole family because you lost your home. It is having to work sick because you could lose your job if you don’t. It is having to take a day off from work without pay, risking losing your job, to make sure your benefits stay intact. It is filling out job application after job application at the library. It is going to job fair after job fair. It is isolating yourself because you don’t have the money to do anything. It is having failing grades in college because public school didn’t prepare you. It is using a credit card to pay for groceries and bills to be able to live another day. It is going bankrupt due to health care bills or credit card bills. I could go on and on about the many faces of poverty. It is the greatest tragedy in American history.

3. How will your dreams play into empowering person’s affected by poverty?

Since I won the Children’s Defense Fund’s Beat the Odds Scholarship in 2004, I made it my mission to help my fellow brothers and sisters. I always wanted to help people. In winning that scholarship, I was inspired, empowered and motivated to act on my emotions. My approach now is to help young people in poverty get out one by one. I do that by sharing my life story, providing words of encouragement and advice, providing education on the college admission process and applying to jobs, inspiring them to stand up against the injustices they endure and see, and telling them how faith in God sustains them. These are things I do in my own time, not as my main job where I help people get public health insurance. I do hope to have a main job where I buttress all my efforts. I’ve been applying to jobs and going to interviews for about a year. Nothing has popped up for me yet.

4. How have you overcome poverty?

If it wasn’t for President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I benefited from Medicaid and Food Stamps. These programs kept me alive to be able to succeed. Pace University’s Upward Bound Program gave me the hope that I could escape my living situation. I wasn’t just dealing with going hungry and in risk of losing my home. I was dealing with parents who weren’t involved in my doings. I was also dealing with a father who was abusive. I didn’t have a constant positive role model. The Pace Upward Bound program helped me see education as my way out. I see education as the great equalizer.

5. What inspired you to write this book?

What inspired me to put out Different Families, Still Brothers with my mentee Gaetan Lamy was how many of my brothers and sisters who grew up in poverty weren’t interested in “going back” to help those who are poor now. What also inspired me was how those who do help end up doing more harm than good because they don’t know what it is like to be poor. I hope this book changes people’s mind about helping the poor in an effective way and bring hope to the youth in poverty.

6. Why did you end the book with Ephesians 4:26-29?

I’m glad you caught that. As my mentee and I were wrapping up the book, I came across these verses in my daily reading of the Bible. So this wasn’t in the original cut. My mentee and I talked a lot about our shared Christian faith in the book. We talked about how it got us to where we are and how it sustains us. I’ve become more faithful over the course of our mentoring relationship. But for me, my faith is much more than a selfish thing. It’s about being my brother’s and sister’s keeper. When I read these verses, they spoke to me because of what I’m about. We all endure the devil trying to get ahead of us in our daily lives, but we shouldn’t let him stop us. We shouldn’t let him stop us from helping others. We all have the duty to help others. We all have something to offer. These verses are at the end of the book because it is exactly the message I’m trying to get across with the book. I wanted to leave the readers with something memorable.

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My First Book is Out Now!

October 31, 2012


Today is my 25th Birthday. Coming from where I came from, living to see 25 is rare. I thank God for granting me a new year to live His Word. Today also happens to be the official release of my book with my mentee called Different Families, Still Brothers. You can see a preview of it and buy it now for $2.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for any of your devices or even read the book in your browser. Above is an interview my mentee and I did with journalist David Whitely about the iMentor program based in New York City, our mentoring relationship and why mentoring is important. Please share!!! Stay strong. Keep it pushing. Peace be on to you, brothers and sisters! God bless!