Change Starts Here: Leaning Into the Present


Facing adversity from a young age, Dr. John “Push” Gaines, a professional speaker and leadership consultant, was not sure where his life would end up – but he was sure of one thing: he would persevere. On this, Dr. Gaines speaks to host Dustin Odham about his experience in persevering and the importance of leaning into the present.

“Persevere until something happens,” said Dr. Gaines. Dr. Gaines grew up in the Hilltop community in Tacoma, WA, a community notorious, at the time, for the crime. Now a mentorship advocate, Dr. Gaines’ childhood was unfortunately filled with traumatizing experiences, including finding his deceased mother, who passed away from a crack-cocaine overdose.

Despite this, Dr. Gaines continued to push through the pain to persevere. Although born with drugs in his system, he found an educator who helped him change his life. Decorated with pictures of inspirational changemakers, his childhood classroom teacher asked the class to write out their dreams.

Seeing a picture of a man who looked like him, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Gaines knew two things: He wanted to be like the man he saw on the wall and a football player. He said, “I remember looking up on the wall and I saw a man that kind of looked like me that was doing something great…and I said ‘I want to be like him’…I want to change and inspire the world…” Dr. Gaines teacher told him that she believed in him. He reflected, “Her belief in me changed my life…that was the first time that I believed in myself.”

In addition to his goal to be like Dr. King, Dr. Gaines knew he also wanted to be what he never had: a present father. “I’m always thinking about my family. How am I elevating my family? How am I representing my family? How am I leaving a legacy for my family? So, who I am drives what I do,” said Dr. Gaines. As a husband and a father, everything else secondary, he said.

“Right now, I am in a season of perseverance until something happens and I believe that that is the core and the foundation of ‘push’ because I believe that perseverance is developed through pain,” reflected Dr. Gaines. While opportunities to continue or quit will come along, how you respond and who can support you in this response is key.

Every young person is one “I believe” away from changing their life, said Dr. Gaines.

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