From Prison Yard to Harvard Yard (an interview with the Ambassador of Hope, Andre Norman)

Raised in poverty and surrounded by dysfunction, Andre Norman gravitated towards his neighborhood gang and eventually found himself facing over 100 years in a maximum security prison. Andre had an epiphany in prison, chose to seek success through education and achieved what everyone thought was impossible.

[2:00] As the Ambassador of Hope, Andre was instrumental in ending the protests in Ferguson, MO and is now a highly sought after motivational speaker and consultant.

[3:10] Mentors were the one thing that changed the direction of Andre’s life. Andre found a mentor in prison who challenged him to be a better person which put him on a different path. He took that challenge and redesigned his life in a way to work towards making himself and other people better instead of fighting.

[5:55] Being told what to do can sometimes lead to resistance. It all depends on who’s bringing you the message. It’s not what’s being said, it’s who is saying it. Andre didn’t see his mentors as competition so he was much more receptive to what they were trying to tell him.

[7:50] When you have people that you revere and respect and they speak to you, you hear what they have to say differently. It took time for Andre to change, but he stuck to it for eight years while in prison and put in the work.

[9:45] The underlying issue for people suffering from addiction is that they are being told what to do without the necessary connection. When Andre is helping people deal with addiction, he wants to know what they are running from because there is always a pain that is driving the addictive behavior.

[12:20] Oftentimes the addict is not being heard, they’re being treated, and what they need is to connect with another person who cares.

[13:25] It’s not always a traumatic experience that causes issues for people. Andre tells the story of how something simple led to his son feeling slighted and how without a conversation about the problem, it could have led to years of disconnection.

[17:15] It doesn’t always have to be catastrophic, it just has to feel that way to them. Check in periodically with the people you care about, especially if you feel tension in the relationship. Something simple, like making a promise and not delivering on it, can be the beginning of the end if you don’t address it.

[19:15] What you want from the world is what you should give to the world. You reap what you sow. Be a vessel and pass on what you know can help other people. The question is “Are you willing to pass your knowledge on?”

[25:15] Anyone can connect with Andre by sending him an email. Even if Andre can’t help someone directly, he’s usually willing and able to talk and point people in the right direction. For people suffering from addiction, he focuses on finding out what the problem is, not what people think the problem is. It’s common for parents to see the symptom of the problem and want to fix that, but if you fix the ‘why’ the problem will correct itself.

[28:10] As a child, Andre had negative influences in his life that taught him exactly how not to act. His father taught him it’s okay to quit, because he walked out on his family, and it’s okay to hit people, because he was violent towards Andre’s mother. He had a number of great people in his life but the negativity overwhelmed the positivity and put him on a bad life path.

[31:00] Through the lessons that Andre has lived, you can draw the line to your own life. Those lessons are applicable beyond the world of addiction and trauma. Think about what he is saying and look for areas in your life to which you can apply Andre’s experience.

[34:05] The biggest hurdles for people making a positive change in their lives are denial and courage. Nothing will change until the unspoken is said. Until you can admit that you have an issue, your life will remain the same. Andre started off by taking an inventory of who he was and began addressing each of those things one at a time.

[35:45] Write down who and what you are. Make it external because the reason that you are not succeeding right now are the things on that list. Andre went down his list and as he checked them off, the burden he felt became lighter and he could see life with a greater clarity. Write down what you want to grow into and then put in the work to make that happen.

[38:20] Are you walking around with cement shoes on? The world is passing you by and you won’t be able to participate because you’re unwilling to do the work to remove your burden.

[39:35] The truth is that you can make a positive impact on the world. Get educated, build a company as big as possible, and help as many people as possible. The more you go out of your way to help others, the more that will come back to you in a way that you couldn’t imagine was possible.

[41:25] Make friends with people for no reason other than to be connected. The goal of the world is to make it a better place. When you’re at a funeral the things we should be doing in our lives becomes clear, do those things. Don’t be the person who dies with regrets.

[44:20] Covid-19 has forced people to stand still. Technology has changed the world in recent years but one positive result of the pandemic is forcing people to slow down and live life more consciously. The small things have taken on a greater significance.


Mentioned in this episode:

Ambassador of Hope: Turning Poverty and Prison into a Purpose-Driven Life