Comedic motivational speaker Reggie Dabbs effectively connects to Central students, spreads message of self-acceptance

In a performance featuring songs, clapping and some saxophone playing, motivational speaker Reggie Dabbs brought Naperville Central a fun-filled, yet serious message about growing up and the daily struggles teens face, using his own experiences to connect with his audience.

Dabbs, who speaks to over 1.5 million teenagers ever year, spoke to all freshman, sophomores and juniors at Central on April 23.

Senior Susan Ortiz had seen Dabbs at a convention in Atlanta before and felt all Central students should hear his message. She contacted Principal Bill Wiesbrook with her idea and he arranged for Dabbs to come to Central and speak.

“I have a friend whose brother committed suicide and you know there’s been a lot of suicide in Naperville,” Ortiz said. “A lot of people struggle with depression and Reggie was a huge change in my life and I thought he would [do the same] for other people’s lives. He’s a really fun guy. I think he really inspires people to not only keep going through life but also have fun.”

During his speech, Dabbs discussed issues such as suicidal thoughts, depression and self-esteem —  all things he had suffered from.

Throughout his high school and college life, Dabbs was plagued by suicidal struggles. And despite his seemingly perfect life playing football at the University of Tennessee, he was devastatingly unhappy.

“I wanted to die,” Dabbs said. “Even with the stadium lights shining into my dorm room, I wanted to die.”

Dabbs says that his life changed one day in his communications class after getting a standing ovation for his speech.

“My professor pulled me to the side and said my words could change lives,” Dabbs said. “Football is just a game, [motivational speaking] is a calling.”

This advice, which Dabbs took to heart, has led to 33 years of speaking, inspiring and motivating the next generation. Despite coming from a humble beginning, Dabbs is grateful for his life and centers his message around hope.

“In my mind, [speaking] was what I was made to do,” Dabbs said. “Every kid needs hope.”

At Central, his speech was met with praise from students who heard it both for his message and comedic engagement with the audience.

“He was different than most inspirational speakers because he actually wanted to get your attention before going into his message which I liked,” junior Lena Schellski said.  

Jake Clampitt, one of Dabbs’ planners, mentioned that his comedy is one of his strong suits.

“He’s so good at being hilarious and dead serious back to back.” Clampitt said.

The serious side of Dabb’s speech was significant and revealed his true message which was the purpose of his speech.

“I think his message is good for everybody,” Wiesbrook said. “I know science, math, English, and PE are all important and they are but it’s also important because all of us are human beings with emotions and everyone faces challenges in life and his message of ‘keep doing your best’ and ‘you’re important’ is good to hear.”

Clampitt agrees, pointing out what makes Dabbs stand out amongst other speakers.

“I think somebody like [Reggie] gives people the permission to feel something and not be ashamed of it,” Clampitt said.

Dabbs aims to leave each student with a simple message.

“If it’s broken down into one word, it’s hope,” Dabbs said. “Even in your darkest night, hope.”