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​“Follow Your Heart, Follow Your Dreams”
Jon Smith

“Follow Your Heart, Follow Your Dreams”

Black History Speakers Inspire

Story by RED AND BLUE STAFF

Photos By WILL BOEHM and TERESA WOERTHER

Red and Blue Chief Photographers

Students caught T-shirts, snapped selfies and got up close and personal with carved fruits and vegetables during the Black History Month assembly at Alliance High.

Cortaise Rogers introduced the combined choirs singing “Let My People Go” and the Choralaires, who sang a rendition of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”

Fatima Magana Meza introduced Mark Black, coordinator of secondary education for Akron Public Schools, as the winner of the first Pathfinder award given to successful AHS graduates. Superintendent Jeffery Talbert accepted the award in Black’s absence.

Vanessa West introduced the second Pathfinder winner, Maurice Hatcher, a 2007 graduate. Hatcher, who is worship director for Alliance Friends Church, told students to “follow your heart, follow your dreams. You can do just about anything.”

Charles Hardy introduced Lester Sanders, a youth motivational speaker. Mentioning inspirational African Americans and their accomplishments, he challenged students to decide “What are you going to do? How are you going to be an inspiration?”

Sanders told students to “connect to the past accomplishments and heroes” and to “develop a strategy for success.”

Zoe Friend introduced keynote speaker Stephan Baity, director of AVI Food Systems at the University of Mount Union, and a fruit and vegetable sculptor who has a side business, Graffiti Carving, that takes him to competitions all over the world. Baity said he chose that for the company’s label because “graffiti was the first form of art I saw in my neighborhood. You take a canvas, you own it, you tag it, you let everyone know you’ve been there.”

Baity said he grew up on the southwest side of Canton with parents who were drug addicts. He talked about coming home with his friends at age 16 to find his parents “passed out, a crack cocaine pipe between them.” Baity said he “had to make a decision: Do I want to become a product of my environment?”

He said the inspiration for his career was Rebecca Labowitz, Culinary Arts teacher at McKinley High School, who “saw something in me I didn’t see in myself and encouraged me” to go on to culinary school.

Baity said it took him until age 25 to “defeat that old monster, self esteem.” He said people called him Steve Urkel, the nerd in the “Family Matters” TV series of the Nineties.

“It took me till age 25 to realize God doesn’t make mistakes. You are chiseled to be who you are,” he said.

He demonstrated the food-carving talent that took him to the Food Network’s “Cake Wars: Christmas” in November and December of 2015. His three-person team won the competition and split a $50,000 first prize.

He said the show was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This was the first time I’d worked with these two partners, and we were on national TV. That’s pressure.”

But he had prepared for that pressure by practicing.

“You have to practice every day like it’s showtime,” Baity said. “I carve every chance I get, and in between I research, I study.”

On stage, he carved roses into a watermelon, adding that he had done this for his wife on Valentine’s day.

“That’s a G move,” he said. “You guys need to learn to carve roses in watermelons.”

After the talk and demonstration, he invited students to come onstage and get autographs and pose for selfies.

“It was really cool to see people with so many accomplishments at our school and it was inspiring for me and other students,” said junior Tyler Johns.

“I had a nice time taking pictures,” said junior Haley Simmons. “Steve is a cool guy!”

Junior Javareus Thomas summed it up: “I think the assembly was really fun.”

  • Zaviona Fountain contributed to this story