Martin first heard Stanley Leone speak at a RESA event and decided immediately he wanted the entire faculty and student body to hear his powerful message of how one teacher believing in a kid can in fact change the world.
“We are all born with a story, but we don’t all develop our message,” Stanley said. Stanley has spent the last 23 years sharing his message of how one consistent teacher enabled him to overcome his fate of being just another inner city kid. “I started speaking when I was 17-years old…and haven’t stopped.”
At age 13, Stanley Leone was a hardcore gun-wielding veteran of violence, drugs, and incarcerations in Houston, Texas. By high school, he was a fearless gang leader, drug dealer, and street thug charged with felony assault. Stanley said, “I remember the police came to my school, handcuffed me, and took me to jail. Beneath my bad-boy talk, I was hurting. I was insecure and scared.”
Sadly, for kids like Stanley the future was almost guaranteed to be filled with addiction, jail, and most likely an early death from gang-related violence.
Until, that is, he met a teacher who saw his potential and engaged Stanley in an amazingly transformational way. In his senior year, he met Monda Simmons and everything changed. Stanley shares, “She was a small lady. I tried to dog her. But she wasn’t having it. She looked up at me and said, ‘Beneath your thuggish ways, Son, I see a champion.’ When she said that, I started crying like a baby. She saw what I’d been hiding all those years.”
“She had high energy and was the most consistent person I had ever met.”
Stanley’s message to teachers and administrators is, “You do make a difference in children’s lives.” He credits Simmons with helping him turn his life of tragedy and violence into a message of inspiration and hope.
“I can honestly say, if it were not for Monda Simmons, I would be in jail or dead.” Stanley says he asked Mrs. Simmons to give him a list of things he needed to do in order to have a life like hers. “She gave me a list of a few simple things I needed to do, come to class early, sit in the front row, ask three questions during every class, and go to tutoring,” were all simple things on her to do list. Stanley also took to the gridiron his senior year as a DB/CB, “I wasn’t big, but I was fast.”
Stanley not only completed high school with a 4.0 GPA, but went on to graduate magna cum laude from St. Xavier University in Chicago. He went on to earn his Master of Arts in educational leadership and administration, graduating summa cum laude from Concordia College and is currently working on his PhD in psychology.