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Lessons from Connecticut

LAST MONTH, I traveled to New Haven, Conn., to deliver speeches to two groups of young people. There were 300 middle school students in the first group, so I took a risk. I discarded my prepared notes and decided to speak from the heart.

I did so because I go into schools to speak to young people quite often. In auditoriums, or gymnasiums or classrooms bathed in flat fluorescent light, I see students whose eyes glaze over as they anticipate the bell.

In such places, I don’t have the luxury of building up to some profound point. I have to grab them right away.

If I don’t gain their attention within the first 30 seconds, I’ve lost them before I even begin.

And so I tell them about the hustler, a poem I wrote some years ago about the issues that so often plague urban communities from Philadelphia to New Haven.

When I say these words, students — no matter where they’re from — immediately recognize their truth:

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