By Charles Hallman
Singer-songwriter Ledisi, nationally syndicated radio talk host Warren BallentineWarren Ballentine, and actress Kim Coles were panelists at the half-day United Negro College Fund “Empower Me Tour” stop in Minneapolis October 13 at Dunwoody College of Technology. Each told a packed auditorium of Twin Cities middle- and high-school students how they overcame personal struggles until they eventually achieved success.
Ledisi Anibade Young — her first name is Nigerian and means “to come forth” — was born in New Orleans and left home at age 18, later forming a group named after her middle name in 1995. However, she said initially she wasn’t able to convince record execs, who often told her, “You sound good, but we don’t know what to do with you.”
After opening for Chaka Khan, Ledisi was signed by Verve in 2000, and the twice-Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter said she now has four albums to her credit. “I am living my parents’ dream,” she said proudly. Her mother sang in a Louisiana R&B band, her biological father is a soul singer, and her deceased stepfather was a drummer.
“My darkest time [came] when I left all my comfort zones — I wasn’t singing or doing what I was called to [do],” said Ledisi. “I was sleeping on the floor of my friend’s [apartment in New York]. I had all the wrong people in my circle.”
Chicago native Warren Ballentine got arrested after joyriding with friends and lost a football scholarship to Iowa. He later attended an HBCU, graduated from law school, and was a prosecutor for a time.
A friend later asked him to give legal advice on his radio show. There a Radio One executive discovered him and offered him his own daily show, which is heard today in at least 20 markets around the country and on Sirius/XM satellite radio.
“Coming from where I came, it’s the impossible story,” admitted Ballentine, who spent time in jail on a false gun possession charge that was eventually dropped. “I’m very thankful to God. If I can do this, anyone can do this.”
“I dropped in and out of college four times,” said Kim Coles, who has starred on numerous television shows, including five seasons on Living Single, and has co-hosted game shows and reality shows. “I’ve done a lot of things. I figured out early on that you can’t do just one thing.”
Coles said she once spent her money unwisely, and got hung up on fashion labels and material possessions, and bill collectors were after her “for the money I didn’t have.”
All three individuals stressed the importance of education. Coles told the youngsters that she has “a love of learning something new.”
“Education is not just in school but outside of school as well,” noted Ledisi.
Ballentine advised them to look into starting their own business even if they don’t go to college. “You want to be your own boss,” he said.
The panelists concluded by offering the youth simple pieces of advice. Stay humble, said Ballentine: “I don’t want to be right but to be righteous.”
“Even the impossible is possible,” said Ledisi.
Coles told them, “Your self-worth is not in what you have but who you are.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.