Updated: Nov 3
Even famous persons sometimes start life with the odds against them. Their lives stand as a
testament to what people can overcome and what their lives can become, serving as examples for those lost boys and girls searching for meaning and direction. They are heroes and role-models whose life-stories can inspire new perspective. Troubled kids should know about them.
Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong
Louis Armstrong was America’s ambassador of jazz. His broad smile, distinctive voice and
mellow cornet sounds captured a nation before, during and after World War II. He played his
music all over America and Europe, bridging the racial barriers of his time. Even today, his style influences modern jazz and other musical forms. The casual observer might think that his life, like his music, was upbeat, but this is far from true. The young Louis grew up on the streets of New Orleans. He was raised by a single mother and dropped out of school at an early age to support the family. At the age of 12, he was sentenced by the juvenile court to the Colored
Waifs’ Home for Boys because he discharged a firearm in public. It was at the Colored Waif’s
Home that the young Louis straightened out his life so he would be allowed to play the coronet
in the school’s brass band. From delinquent youth to internationally renowned musician, Louis
“Satchmo” Armstrong’s life is an inspiration to those doubters who believe a troubled start in life has to lead to a bad ending.
George “Babe” Ruth
Growing up over a saloon on the docks of Baltimore, Maryland, George Herman Ruth was raised by a sickly mothers and busy father who provided him little love or guidance. George’s early experiences were in his family’s bar and on the docks, where he modeled the rough behaviors of the sailors and dock hands and ran the streets and back alleys getting into trouble. One day, he stole a dollar bill from the cash register in his father’s bar to buy ice cream. His father caught George taking the money and beat him. Resenting his father’s violent beating, George stole money from the cash register again. This was the last straw for his father and mother, who felt they could no longer care for George. At age seven George was abandoned by his parents to the care of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a juvenile institution, where he spent the rest of his youth, much of it getting into trouble. That is, until Brother Matthias, a gentle giant of a man standing six feet six inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, took an interest in George and taught him how to play baseball.
Despite being labeled a “troublemaker” by the priests, his reputation as a slugger and fast ball
pitcher grew throughout St Mary’s and beyond. The team that is now the Baltimore Orioles
signed nineteen-year-old George to a professional baseball contract. His teammates named
George “The Babe” because of his childish behaviors, a name that stuck with him the rest of his baseball career, including his time spent with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all times, the Babe might never have learned the game of baseball or turned his life around, were it not for the mentoring of Brother Matthias and other priests at St. Mary’s.
Born into poverty and surviving on the mean streets of the Fifth Ward in Houston, Texas, George Foreman seemed destined for a life of failure and imprisonment. A habitual truant, George dropped out of school and turned to a life of crime. Spending much of his idle time on the streets, George and his crew began mugging people, taking their money and other valuables. George and his gang used the stolen money to buy cigarettes and liquor and, because George had a short temper and powerful build, he was constantly involved in street fights. He felt it was the only way to get people to show him respect.
Then George joined the Job Corps. Job Corps was George’s “second chance.” Teachers gave him the extra attention he needed for hard subjects like math and Latin. This time, though, suddenly turned on to the power of knowledge, George became a student like never before. He read as much as he could. Reading became a joy, instead of a chore. And with the mentoring of a patient coach, he learned the techniques and strategies of the “sweet science” of boxing. After many years of inner struggle, “Big George” won the 1968 Olympic Gold Medal as a Heavyweight and went on to win the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship at age 23 and then again at 45.
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Born to a Portuguese immigrant mother and Native American father, Ben Nighthorse Campbell
spent much of his childhood under extreme stress. His mother had tuberculosis (a serious illness
that mainly affects the lungs) and spent much of her life in and out of a sanitarium (a medical
facility for long-term illness). When his father was at home, his alcoholism forced the family
members to suffer bouts of domestic violence. The combination of his mother’s illness and his
father’s drunkenness and aggression created an unstable environment that offered Ben little
direction or discipline. At an early age, Ben was placed in an orphanage and later spent time in a juvenile detention facility. His senior year of high school, Ben dropped out and joined the United States Air Force. He practiced judo in the military, learning the philosophy of self-discipline from his judo masters. He took what he learned from his military mentors and judo masters and applied it to passing his high school equivalency test during his Air Force days, then college and graduate school after his service, all of which led him to politics and becoming a United States Senator.
Some of us are able to master our childhood problems and mature into happy, healthy,
contributing members of society. Some others of us are not so fortunate.*
*If you are interested in learning more about these and other heroes, please visit our library of