Manatee’s Amer-I-Can grads celebrate with NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown

MANATEE — With 18 referrals for bad behavior last semester and a self-described tendency to mouth off to her elders, Lincoln Middle School student Taijah Jackson felt as though she was going nowhere.

But then she became part of Amer-I-Can, a program focused on boosting the self-esteem of teens who come from difficult circumstances. Taijah’s attitude, outlook and way of communicating began to change. This semester, the Palmetto resident has only six referrals.

“Amer-I-Can has really helped me with my habits,” Taijah says. “It’s really helped me improve my relationships. It’s helped me improve how I treat others.”

Self-improvement and better relationships were the theme Tuesday during a graduation ceremony for almost 200 Manatee students who have completed the Amer-I-Can program, which provides students daily guidance on how to improve their decision-making abilities and take control of their own futures.

“Take the excuses out of your life,” said NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the program’s nationwide founder and the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s ceremony, held for the first time at Manatee High’s Davis Building. “They’re useless. They mean nothing. They produce nothing and can hurt everything.”

Brown used a golf analogy to drive home his message of working hard and making smart decisions. He described how he’s able to win most golf games not by trying to keep up with much younger and more powerful “long-game” hitters, but by focusing on the “short game, the putts all over the green, the nine-irons close to the pin.”

“Very seldom do I lose too many golf games,” he told the audience of restless middle schoolers. “I’m not bragging; that’s my way of saying that you must not allow someone to outwork you or out-think you.”

Several other students echoed Taijah Jackson’s testimonial, describing how Amer-I-Can had improved their attitudes. Cole McDonald, a student at Sugg Middle School, shared how before Amer-I-Can he “had a lack of know-how” and “felt like the world was against me.”

“I walked out of Amer-I-Can a better person,” he said.

Gabriel Rodriguez, who attends Lincoln Middle, talked after the ceremony about how he had learned “not to only think of myself, but of others.”

“This program works with the whole child,” said Sugg Middle principal Sharon Scarbrough. “It takes the components of emotions and feelings and helps students work through their struggles so they can be more successful.”

The Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change, Inc. was founded in 1988 by Jim Brown with the belief that self-esteem is the key to improving one’s decision-making process and achieving success through self-determination. The Amer-I-Can Life Skills Training program has been successfully implemented in prisons, jails, juvenile probation camps, middle schools, high schools, colleges, universities, businesses and communities. Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Or follow her at Twitter @chawesreports.