THORNBURY >> Retired professional boxer Bernard Hopkins knows all too well what it was like to grow up as a teenager with a rocky life.
The man who would devote almost 30 years as a record-breaking internationally-ranked boxer was a troubled young man who spent time at the Glen Mills Schools before doing a stint at Graterford State Prison. His own turmoil and troubles in life didn’t bar him from becoming one of the most revered boxers in the world.
He returned to Glen Mills on Tuesday afternoon as part of the school’s Character Leadership Development Program to speak to hundreds of students who are facing the same challenges as Hopkins did decades ago. A video snapshot of Hopkins’ historic career played before he gave a 20-minute speech to inspire the students to find their talent and to not let their time at Glen Mills define who they are when they leave.
“That was a testimony, which you have just seen, of never giving up,” he said of the video. “I see a lot of young men at every institution that I travel to. In any place I come right out of the gate and let them know … that he could possibly have not, or could not do, or been in a situation that we have been in here today.”
Hopkins made clear that even though he found great success in boxing, he did not want the students to go the same route he did by way of incarceration. He said that no young man in that room should ever have to be someone’s inmate.
“You should pay attention because paying attention, for me, came a little late, but better late than never,” he said. “I realized later that my value of myself wasn’t taken into account because I was in a mindset that didn’t let me look at myself as being somebody other than (my) name.
“You have the chance to change and make your destination, and what (people) think is wrong. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I did, but I had to want to do it first. I didn’t receive titles, belts in boxing because I’m Bernard Hopkins. I had to work, I had to be disciplined … I listened, but I had to act.”
He ultimately said his journey in life started at the Glenn Mills Schools.
“This was the school that I didn’t give a chance, and don’t be fooled by what I became that it didn’t matter: it does matter, it matters to you,” Hopkins said. “This is a program I didn’t complete, but boy when I was sitting at Graterford state penitentiary getting certification I wanted to come back here so bad.”
Students DerShaun McPherson and Corde Fitzhugh are students interested in music and various athletic programs at Glen Mills. They said Hopkins’ words were different, and more encouraging than the lessons they receive in the classroom.
Fitzhugh understood Hopkins’ message of never giving up on yourself and the struggle of having a rough upbringing.
“He took himself out of the negative community he was in and changed,” said Fitzhugh. “It puts that last bit of hope and belief that I need in myself. If he can do it and he came from a rougher upbringing than me, then I feel like I have a greater chance of doing what he did.”
With the Glen Mills connection to bond them, McPherson said he appreciated hearing from someone who had a similar start to life as he did.
“Seeing it from somebody’s perspective that was really here, and really in a situation that I’m in now, it helps me. I can get the message more from someone who was here instead of someone who has never been in trouble,” said McPherson.
Glen Mills officials have made Hopkins an honorary bull for life (hall of fame member) for his ability to strive, succeed and to be a decent human being. He left with a number of awards and Glen Mills Schools apparel as a parting gift.