Thrive Global asked how role models changed our lives. 

I realize the request was for adults. At 12, you may not think I have much to say. But I do. Today, as the world celebrates the lives of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, I think there’s no better time to say it. 

I’m a student of SpeakWell — a public speaking and leadership afterschool program. In October 2019, eight of my classmates and I became the first students in the country from a K-8 school to deliver TEDx talks. We shared ideas to create a better world. Our TEDx talks are here.

Given my love of sports, my talk was: “Put sports back in schools – we need them!” I talked about how basketball helped me, players I look up to, and how sports can unite people in tough times. 

We are fortunate to have successful adults we look up to as part of the program; people who talk to us about the skills we learn — confidence, hard work, belief in ourselves, supporting others, using our voice — and the role models they admire.

Role models, like Kobe. 

Kobe Bean Bryant was an 18-time all-star, NBA MVP, five-time champion, future Hall Of Famer, husband, and father of four girls. But he was more than a basketball player, or a writer, or a dad. He was an influence on the world. The helicopter crash that took the lives of nine people that Sunday morning left the world in shock. When I heard the news, I was on my way to play in an all-star basketball game. It was hard for me – and my teammates — to play that day. We were all very upset by the news. But we played our hearts out anyway. We thought that’s what Kobe would have wanted. 

While I never met him, the impact Kobe had on people like me is insane. Kids wanted to be like him. Younger players try to do what he did to get to his level. Older players spoke with respect of his commitment to the game. Even adults who didn’t have anything to do with basketball were in awe that such a force for good was so suddenly gone.

The truth is Kobe was an underdog at the beginning of his career. He was drafted in a 1996 stacked class — considered the best draft of all-time — with Allen Iverson, Shareef Abdur-RahimRay AllenStephon MarburyJermaine O’NealPeja Stojaković, Antoine Walker, John Wallace and Steve Nash. All of the players I just named were either all-stars or MVPs. In fact, we are fortunate to have John Wallace, who was in that same draft class, involved in our program. Mr. Wallace also delivered a TEDx talk the day we did, is a program advisor and a role model to all of us, for which we are extremely grateful. 

As I spoke about in my speech, it is these people — whether we know them or not — who help us believe in ourselves, shape how we think and what we do.  Kobe once said, “If you’re afraid to fail you’re probably going to fail.” I watched an old clip of him the other day and he said, “Don’t let people push you away from your dreams. Embrace the haters – because they’re always going to be there.”

At the first Laker game after the accident, LeBron James gave a moving speech about Kobe. He ignored his notecards and spoke from his heart, as the world cheered on his genuine response to a tragic situation. He spoke of Kobe’s skill, but mostly, his commitment to family, how in the last three years he’d become the best dad. He also spoke of his mamba mentality — Kobe’s relentless focus and approach. This approach has also become the mambacita mentality (for girls) — as it’s well-known Kobe put his daughter’s team through three-hour practices. They are now one of the best teams in the nation for that level of basketball.

In his October TEDx talk, John Wallace talked about those same things. I’ll never forget when he said to us, “Believing in yourself, hard work, a sense of accountability and committing to something bigger than yourself … all starts when you’re young.” We may be young. But we understand why Kobe Bryant, John Wallace — and so many professional athletes — are role models to me and my friends. 

Today the world memorializes Gianna and Kobe, the incredible inspiration they were to so many people. But you don’t have to be a professional athlete to inspire us. You just have to be someone who believes in a 12-year-old kid. Someone we trust. Someone who helps us work hard. And shows us how to do the same.

Rest In Peace Kobe Bryant; Gianna Bryant; John Altobelli; Keri Altobelli; Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Ara Zobayan; Sarah Chester; and Payton Chester

As Kobe once said, “Mamba out.” But in this case, I say, “Mamba always.” 

Author: Raymond Cremin is a 7th-grade student in NYC at St. Joseph’s School – Yorkville.  A TEDx speaker and basketball player, this is Ray’s first published article. 

Submit & edited by: Patty McDonough Kennedy is founder of the SpeakWell program that teaches students public speaking skills & provides opportunities to help share their voice. She is also the students’ public speaking coach.