Our team ran into award-winning Youth Worker and Motivational Speaker Francis Atta at the If I Ruled Toronto event held in October at the Sheraton Centre. His book, The Flip, provides candid advice to both parents and youth on how to transform their lives from negative to positive.
We got an opportunity to speak with him about what drives him, and how he is using his own life experiences to help youth in Ontario. During the interview, I could feel the passion and confidence of this young man over the phone.
What do you currently do for a living?
I work at Covenant House Toronto shelter for youth, as a Child & Youth Worker, and also with the Toronto Catholic School Board. I also do motivational speaking in schools across Ontario.
When did you realize you had to make a change in your life?
There a lot of times in my life that I came to that conclusion. Some of the things that made me realize I needed to change was that was my friends were dying, I could not get a job, I was living in a homeless shelter and I basically had nothing going on for me.
I had to stop associating myself with negative people, cut them off entirely. Then I met some other friends who were positive. They lived in Pickering, and when I went to visit them and being from Jane and Finch, I felt like I was in another world. We played games and had a good constructive conversation. They started talking about the Church and how amazing God was.
And I felt out of place because I was not a church-going person. They encouraged me to come, and the following Sunday I attended service. From that point, and this may sound like a cliche, everything started going right for me, and I was able to maintain my anger problem.
Who has been your greatest inspiration in life?
My dad has been the most positive influence on me. Even when I was out of school and I wasn't doing anything and getting into trouble, he would tell me you are so smart and talented and encouraged me to go back to school.
My father has 13 kids and was able to provide for all of them, so I had no excuses. I had to do something with my life.
Do you have a mentor/s?
Starting from elementary school I always had someone in my life that was a positive influence. The first person was my elementary school principal. He was the first inspiration and taught me how to play basketball. If I did not spend so much time playing basketball, chances are I would have gotten into much more trouble.
One of my teachers, Mr. Dupuis, was always there for me and supporting me. Where other teachers didn’t care, he was encouraging me to go to class and stay positive.
There were also two ladies who significantly helped me. They are both workers at JVS Toronto; Miriam and Trina. When I went to JVS looking for a job, Miriam helped with my resume. I got introduced to Trina, and from the moment I met her, I knew she was different. She reviewed and revised my resume as if it were her own. The time and effort she put into it made me realize she really cared about me, and my chances of getting a job. They got me my first scholarship to go to college, and it sparked something in my heart that somebody believed in me. I got $1,000 to go towards tuition, and with that gratitude, I pushed myself to graduate top of the class with a 3.87GPA.
What motivates you to continue?
There are a lot of things that keep me going, but really it’s the Youth.
I came from a community where things are very negative, and I didn’t want to be another statistic. I feel that a lot of youth needs motivation as well.
The reason why I do the community work and motivational speaking is that I do not want to see the youth go through the same things that I endured. I’m trying to let them learn from my mistakes.
What has been your lowest point in life?
Living in the homeless shelter, being there on Christmas Day, with no family, and no Christmas tree.
How did you take yourself out of it?
I put my focus on where I wanted to be and made sacrifices to make it happen. I was going to school while living in the shelter and stopped playing basketball. I had no computer and had to stay at the school library until late hours to study and complete assignments.
In a way, being at the homeless shelter was a blessing, as it provides me with the stability to focus on school, and get things done.
Do you have any dreams that have not come true as yet?
I am making my dreams come true, which is to be a motivational speaker like Tony Robbins. I am very hard-headed and I won't stop until I achieve this. I am constantly going at it; 2 am, 3 am I’m up working on fulfilling my life’s purpose.
I don’t dream, I live my dreams.