When the summer heat is in full swing we fully expect people to be pool or beachside soaking up Steve Mariotti's groundbreaking book "Goodbye Homeboy: How My Students Drove Me Crazy and Inspired a Movement." There is no doubt it will be the breakout read of the summer, when is released on August 6, 2019, because Mariotti weaves a dramatic and heart warming tale that starts with Mariotti being plagued by nightmares after some teens roughed him up on the streets of NYC in the '80s. While in counsoling his therapist suggests that he face his fears, so in typically Mariotti fashion, he decided to close his small import-export business start teaching at the city's most notorious public school-Boys and Girls High in Bed-Stuy.
This move ended his nightmares but he had another problem on his hands his students were out-of-control, and he was at his wit's end. On one particularly bad day, Mariotti stepped out of the classroom so his students wouldn't see him cry. In a desperate move to save his job, he took off his watch and marched back in to confront them with an impromptu sales pitch for it - and his students were mesmerized and yes, inspired. This moment in time set the stage for a movement designed to help young people become entrepreneurs and change their lives forever.
If you want to know more about how this story unfolds, you will have to get his new book. We are so excited that Mariotti had some time to chat with us about his new book, his life and why he is so passionate about helping young people.
Q: Your book is very much about hope and growth in the face of intense and maybe hopeless circumstances. Who or what was your muse while writing this book?
A: I have had so many muses and heroes over the course of my career-especially the thousands of teachers who I have personally known and been inspired by. Besides them, I continue to feel inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Carl Oglesby. The former exposed communism for the tyrannical system it was and won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1970. Carl was one of the most important youth leaders in history, working in the 1960s to resist the USA's military draft and the Vietnam War, while defending Democracy and Capitalism.
As a teacher, I also had several muses and heroes that helped shape my career and prepare me for the classroom. One of them was Jaime Escalante, the focus of Stand and Deliver, who made extraordinary, strides with his low-income students in L.A. Back in 1986, I was a 32-year-old teacher in the South Bronx when I found out about Jaime. One day, I found his telephone number and called him up at Garfield High. I couldn't get through but later that night, I got a call at home. Through a thick accent I heard, 'Is this Mr. Mariotti?' I almost fainted. This teaching legend was calling me! I told him about my work and how much I admired his, and then made my request, 'I'm going to in L.A. to accept an award and wanted to visit your classroom.'
Two weeks later, I was waiting in the lobby of Garfield High when Jaime walked up and gave me a hug. He gave me a tour of his classroom. It was incredible: a big lecture hall with rows and rows of seats so every student could see the teacher. Next, he showed me his office and the big filing cabinets he used to stay organized. Every class and lesson was in a separate folder so he could pull one out and be prepared for a class. Later, I got to play student in Jaime's class. He was brilliant. Using the overhead projector, he presented first the objective of that day's class, next a sample problem, and lastly, a more difficult problem. On the last slide, with his Vis-A-Vis pen he made notes to help students solve the problem. I still write with those pens, and every time I look at one, I think of Jaime! Afterwards, he broke the class up into groups and two of these groups would come up to present to the rest of the class. Jaime would give them a short quiz that the students had to grade in under a minute. This was his routine every day that I was there, and many of my own classroom techniques were eventually based on watching this great educator.
Q: You wrote Goodbye Homeboy with Debra Devi. What was that process like?
A: It has been a pure joy. Debra and I have worked together for almost eight years. We've worked on so many books and projects together that we can almost communicate subconsciously. It is a gift to have a professional soul mate. Debra is also a well-known musician in New York and I am so proud of her successes.
Q: Writing an autobiographical work like Goodbye Homeboy not only makes an author take a close look at their past, it also lets the world in on their life. Was the process easy or did you face any unexpected challenges?
A: Writing is a therapeutic process. In fact, there were several incidents in the book that I hadn't been able to talk about before. For the past twenty years I have been practicing this exact therapy. Whenever I am worried about a past, present or future event, I write about it and the angst goes away. I recommend writing to anyone who is having any type of mental or physical pain.
Q: When it's time to unwind, which are some of your favorite authors?
A: I truly love reading. I make it part of my everyday life and I read two books a week. There are eight books that I reread every year as well. One of my favorites and one that probably very few have read is John Boyd by Coram. The story of a navy fighter pilot who studied the results from airplane dogfights and developed insights into why conflicts are won or lost. His life's work culminated with a major intellectual and strategic breakthrough: the OODA loop. It stands for: Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act and when performed as a continuous loop, it allows anyone to make better and faster decisions. His insight changed how the military worked and soldiers still use it as a guide. And, the OODA Loop is incredibly useful to other fields, especially business.
I also spend about 20 minutes a day reading the Old and the New Testaments. I find great joy and inspiration from that.
The Biography of Max Perkins by A. Scott Berg is another favorite. Berg was a senior at Princeton when he wrote the first draft as his thesis. The book is a biography of Max Perkins, perhaps the greatest editor of all time. Perkins spent his career at Scribner and found and developed the talents of Hemingway, Wolfe and other classic writers. The man was devoted to the literary genius and developed so many wonderful talents. I always remember reading the letter that Hemingway wrote his family upon Perkins's death, 'I am too sad to write a longer letter.'
I also love to study math and science in my spare time. I am lucky to live in Princeton where so many great thinkers spend their careers. I enjoy attending events at the Institute For Advanced Studies where Einstein, Teller, and Oppenheimer all had offices. Quantum Physics, in particular, fascinates me: Einstein, Pauli, Bohrn, Born and my favorite John Bell, the discover of entanglement theory, are true heroes fearlessly looking for truth in an extremely difficult and time-consuming field. The best book on this topic is Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality, by Manjit Kumar. It covers the field's development over 100 years and is brilliantly written. Clear sentences, simple explanations of vastly complex ideas and a wonderful narrative structured all tell the life stories of these scientists.
Despite the controversy surrounding it, Watson's book The Double Helix is an invaluable read and in reality, it's a page-turner even after 20 readings!
Another favorite of mine is "The FountainHead" by Ayn Rand. I think it's really inspiring--no matter your intellectual take--when you are feeling scared of saying or doing something that you know is right. I was introduced to Ayn Rand and her work by my grandfather, who was her lawyer, and she inspired so much of my work. I wrote an essay about my brief time with her a few years ago (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/remembering-ayn-rand_b_851966).
I have also read almost every book the Joyce Carol Oates has written. She was my mother's favorite writer and is actually a close friend and neighbour here in Princeton. My absolute favorite book of her's is A Widow's Story: A Memoir. It captures grief like no other book has and in many ways, it helped me work through my own.
Finally, a personal favorite and a book that everyone--and I mean everyone--should read is Positioning. It's my favorite business book about creating, launching and marketing a product. If it were more widely read, I truly believe that fewer businesses would fail based on this book's wisdom.
Q: Let's change the pace a bit. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
A: I would trade anything for the ability to teach anybody anything. My mother always said, 'A great teacher affects eternity' and it is true. What could be a greater gift than that?
The greatest joy of my professional life was watching the one-millionth student graduate from the NFTE this past year. My deepest hope is that, by helping low-income people escape poverty through entrepreneurship, we will also begin to dismantle the prison industrial complex. This enormous institution is currently holding 2.2 million people, many for non-violent crimes, and employs another 700,000 Americans. Every year, it costs more than $50 billion plus the unknown opportunity cost that comes with so many criminal records.
Goodbye, Homeboy will be released on August 6, but it is available for pre-order now wherever books are sold. More information at: https://amzn.to/2JpTcdd
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