Nigel Spears is embarking on a mission to peel as many unfavorable labels off people as he possible can in the coming years.
A 23-year-old Northside High School graduate who now lives in North Little Rock, Spears has vowed to serve as a mentor to students in an ongoing, pay-it-forward way. Spears' plans are an effort to serve as a positive role model for others and, hopefully, fill an emotional and physical void for those who lack a strong, uplifting male influence in life.
"I understand that feeling like you have no male to live up to is hard, especially for African-American men," Spears said. "There are a lot of things you can miss out on, so if I can be that one that an African-American male wants to model themselves after, if I am able to influence them in any positive way, then I want to be that person."
Spears admitted he himself was in some "rough" places a few years ago. He said he loves his parents, Kenneth and Tammie Spears of Fort Smith, but he felt he "didn't have a great relationship" with his father. Spears' father was in the U.S. Army for years, so quality hours spent between father and son were few, according to Nigel Spears.
"I originally was born at Fort Story, Ga., and we moved around a lot because of my father being in the army," he said. "The last place he was stationed was at Fort Chaffee, so I went to school at Cavanaugh (Elementary School), then to Ramsey Junior High School and then to Northside High School. I graduated Northside in 2013."
Nigel Spears recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in applied communication from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. He initially entered college hoping to study business finance, but after enrolling in Dr. Gerald Driskill's Human Communications Concepts class at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, Spears said he found his world vastly altered in a "great" way.
"He saved my life," Spears said of Driskill. "I was going through some really tough times in my life when I took his class. I didn't necessarily have a firm foundation, but in Dr. Driskill's class, we did a lot of reflecting.
"We reflected on things we could do to move forward," he added. "Dr. Driskill's class gave me some skills that I took with me, and I guess that started a fresh new chapter in my life."
Along with positive affirmation from Driskill came support from someone who Spears calls his "school mom," Dr. Kristen McIntyre, an associate professor at UALR; Dr. April Chatham-Carpenter, chairperson for UALR's department of applied communication; and applied communication professor Melissa Johnson. Spears' girlfriend, Marqueashia Thompson, and Spears' fraternity brothers from Alpha Phi Alpha also added to Spears' support system.
This genuine support from these individuals and others helped inspire Spears to create his Self, Expand, Language, Forgiveness, Invest, Strategy and Hone (SELFISH) video series, which was the culmination of what Spears learned in Driskill's class. The video series won UALR's making a difference award in 2017.
"There are seven videos in the series, and it can be seen on my YouTube channel," said Spears, who also is a petty officer third class in the U.S. Navy Reserve. "I wanted to teach people how to do what I did, so they can move on with their lives.
"If you dismiss your trials and tribulations, you are dismissing some of yourself," he added. "You should embrace anything that you have gone through to help you build a stronger future for yourself so you can live a better life."
When Spears won the award, he was surprised.
"I didn't necessarily develop the series with that award in mind; I developed the video series because I believed it was necessary," said the fan of poetry and rhythm and blues and gospel music. "God was telling me that I needed to do the videos at that time."
One who holds experience mentoring young individuals in the African American Male Initiative and the Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy at UALR, Spears hopes to become a motivational speaker, trainer and consultant for mediation conflict, social media, conflict management and customer service. He now is seeking a partnership so he can launch his new mentoring program, Don't Define Me, which will incorporate the SELFISH video series and other materials to help instill confidence and focus in high school students.
"I want to give back to those who are in the same situation as me, because we are told, 'You're not good enough. You're not pretty enough. You're not smart enough,'" Spears said. "Society puts labels on people, so I named my new program Don't Define Me. The program will show the person that they can do whatever they want to do — anything they put their mind to it, if they are dedicated and persistent enough."
Chatham-Carpenter was among the many who were impressed with Spears' SELFISH video series, which she said reflects Spears' passion.
"Nigel has embraced opportunities to be able to make a difference in other people's lives," she said. "Nigel has used his own experiences to actually grow and serve as an example to others.
"I would always see him looking for opportunities to learn," Chatham-Carpenter added. "Nigel had mentors in his life that would speak into his life, and because Nigel was mentored, he serves as a mentor to others."
Spears also wants to attend seminary school, although he isn't sure yet if he will seek a master or doctorate degree in seminary.
"Just like I believe you have to get your credentials in the secular world, I want to do the same for what I believe," he said. "Not only do I have credentials to go into any business and help, but I will have credentials to go to churches and conduct training and consultations.
"Plus, I will get to learn more and go more in-depth about my religion and the God I believe in," Spears added. "I will be able to help more people."