SANFORD — All work and no play is a common prescription for success.
But the Triangle South Workforce Development Board at Central Carolina Community College went in another direction June 17, injecting play into the mix — literally.
Christopher “Play” Martin, one half of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s rap duo Kid ‘N Play, spoke to dozens of young people from Lee, Chatham, Harnett and Sampson counties at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center as part of the Triangle South Workforce Development Board’s Summer Youth Rally, titled “On the Brink of Greatness.”
Martin, who first achieved fame in the in the early ‘90s on the back of three critically acclaimed albums, a series of movies and ventures, which included the hip-hop duo appearing in comic books and a cartoon series, left the music business in 1995 after becoming a born-again Christian. He’s since worked in academia (including a post at North Carolina Central University), founded a pre- and post-production multimedia company, and accepted speaking engagements to motivate young people to make positive choices.
Martin noted that despite his success, he made many of the wrong choices in his youth — including, at times, decisions to operate outside the law and take actions that would get him ejected from five high schools.
“I came up in a world where my role models were the thugs in the street, the stickup kid, the playboy, the armed robber, the drug dealer,” he told the youth at the rally. “It seemed to me like that would be my destiny and that the only way for me to be a success would be to become a criminal.”
Martin said that getting into music offered an escape from that world but also noted that years later, with a failing marriage and a declining career, he felt a sense of shame.
“I did all the things I’d done growing up, and the fame and the money was how I got rewarded?” he said. “I didn’t know who I was.”
Martin said the young people in the audience should cherish their time in school because of the opportunity they have to cultivate relationships and where those relationships might lead in the future.
“If you look to your left and to your right, that person you see might be your future husband or wife, that person might be the president of the bank you need to approve a loan for you one day,” he said, explaining that he got his break in the music world from a friend whom he’d picked on many years earlier. “There might never have been a Kid ‘N Play because that kid I made fun of had every right to hate me. So school is a very important place for you to be because it’s about relationships.”
Martin explained that he wasn’t in Sanford to provide a blueprint for success but rather to share his own mistakes.
“I’m not here to say ‘if you do all of these things, you’ll be just like me,’” he said. “The best thing I can do is tell you about my mistakes so that when you have the opportunity to do some of those things you’ll know better. It’s not easy out there, but I’m here to tell you — disregard the shortcuts.”
Also speaking was Kwain Bryant, the founder of the Charlotte-based training organization Empowerment Exchange and a graduate of NCCU. Bryant’s motivational speech focused on the idea that young people should identify their values and then strive to live up to them.
“If you don’t know your values, you will get used by someone who knows theirs,” he said.
After hearing the speeches from Martin and Bryant, the participants split into “breakout groups” — the young men went into a session with William K. Johnson, a teen advocate with the Boys and Girls Club of Lee County, and the young women heard from Racquel Williams, the president of Can I Live, a North Carolina-based nonprofit devoted to providing training to those struggling with poverty.
The Triangle South Workforce Development Board is funded by the federal government and administered by Central Carolina Community College in Lee County for Lee, Chatham, Harnett, and Sampson counties. It provides an array of services to youth and dislocated workers, most aimed at opportunities to gain new skills through college courses and other means.