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Students have a friend in motivational speaker Milo

Christopher Milo speaks with a group of juniors in the cafeteria. (Photo by Deanne Johnson)

SALINEVILLE — On first glance, Christopher Milo may not appear to be a teacher in the power of forgiveness, kindness and love helping students to conquer the tough problems they are facing.

But throughout this school year, Southern Local students are finding they have an extra special friend in Milo.

Appearing earlier in the school year at an assembly, Milo began introducing his 13 Messages from Milo, positive ideas, character traits, which can impact the students and their lives at school as well as in their futures. However, unlike other motivational speakers, Milo did not stop with one visit to the school.

Instead he has been seeking to connect with the students in smaller groups, returning to speak with students and giving them a chance to interact with him.

He attends games, including making the long journey from his home near Cleveland to Glouster when the Southern Local football team played the Trimble Tomcats in the first round of the playoffs this fall.

“They’re worth it,” Milo said of his decision to make the trip to support his friends, including the boys on the team, who had invited him. “This is about showing them what it is that I’m teaching them. If we’re not modeling to our young people what it is that we’re trying to teach them, then I’m no better than anyone else.”

With his tall Mohawk hairstyle, Milo fits right in on the Indians sideline and is recognized by students throughout the hallways at the school. They take the opportunities to walk over to greet him, offering a high five on the way by. He poses for selfies. He makes students smile.

But perhaps even more importantly, he becomes one more person they can ask about life’s tough questions.

Recently, school administrators from across the state have been emphasizing the importance of helping the mental health of students. From students claiming they are stressed to those admitting they have even considered suicide, the numbers of students reporting problems has been growing. An annual survey in Columbiana County schools through the Educational Service Center showed students are increasingly dealing with some tough issues, including suicide, eating disorders, depression, alcohol and drugs.

Besides the normal stress that goes along with growing up, Milo notes there are a lot of students who are in some way connected to the increases in drug use, opioid overdoses and crime in recent years. Grandparents, who may have struggled to provide their own children with the necessary tools to stay off drugs and out of trouble, in some cases may now trying to raise their grandchild.

Milo said he believes in working with everyone in the family — children, parents and grandparents.

“When we lead with love instead of fear, the results are much greater,” Milo said this week.

Milo has had a few things happen in his life, things that have led him to want to be a service to others and help them overcome their problems.

Milo considers himself a walking miracle now two decades after he overcame paralysis, from which doctors told him he would never walk again. Never having surgery, Milo credits Jesus for his recovery.

“I’m so blessed, so incredibly blessed,” Milo said. While he stresses his program is not a faith-based program in any way, teaching love and kindness in schools is still the basis, the building blocks for creating a community of better people.

A renowned concert pianist, Milo was at one point providing the entertainment on cruise ships, living the good life, but he came to realize he needed to help others.

“The increase of self-harm and suicide and the drug epidemic and the opioid epidemic and what not just kept increasing,” Milo said. “I just couldn’t justify being on my third free filet mignon knowing that that need was at home,” Milo said.

Another moment that brought him down his current path came when Milo said a woman in Youngstown saw him performing music on TV. She contacted him to say her son needed a special friend at school. The young man had been diagnosed with cancer and had gained a lot of weight due to the drugs he needed to take. He was being bullied and Milo decided he would go to the school and meet the young student. He attended a couple classes and ate lunch with him.

“Everywhere I went (in the school) I recognized him and I thanked him for inviting me and for being my special friend and it turned everything around,” Milo said. “And what happened that day was life changing, they said for him, but I think it was more life changing for me because 13 years later I’m still doing the same thing that I was doing that day.”

Milo said he first spends time with the school’s teachers and staff learning about what that school and community are about, where the problems lie and where are the strengths. Then he spends a day at the school doing what he calls the interruption visit, noting with his hairstyle and his story, he automatically gets noticed.

After that initial visit, he returns often and takes the time to talk to the students frankly about some of the issues they may be facing — bullying, suicide solutions, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, trafficking and rape crisis.

“Our young people are going through an identity crisis,” Milo said. “We’re trying to figure out who we are, and I do my best to lead them down the right path.”

To Milo, the most important part is following up with the students throughout the next few months and next school year.

During a short talk with the Southern Local juniors this week, Milo covered several topics urging them to seek support and support each other. He told the students no matter how tough things may become or seem to be in their life, they cannot let that define them. Each of them can make a positive change to improve their own lives and the community.

While high school students may begin to believe they know everything, Milo let the students know there will come a time when they realize they need some help and they should ask for it, because no one has all the answers. He offers to be available if they want to talk to him or urges them to speak with another trusted adult at the school.

Milo rounded out his message by talking to the students about their futures and letting them know nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, but what is important is what they learn from them. While apologizing may be difficult, it’s important to admit when you may have hurt someone, apologize and ask for forgiveness.

High school principal Jay Kiger said the most important thing Milo does is connect with the students, using his focus on them and his ability to reach them with personal experiences to be a positive influence.

“Teachers want to have ‘it’,” Kiger said of the ability to connect to students. “Whatever it is, he’s got it.”

Milo plans to be in the school building about once every other week and Southern Local is not the only place he spends time spreading the message that all people are valuable. He takes his message on the road throughout Ohio, meeting with people in businesses, schools and churches, anywhere people are seeking guidance to improve their lives and those around them in both small towns and large cities.

“People are people, and I’ve learned that the building blocks for success begins with great people, but the truth of the matter is, not all people are great,” Milo said. “I feel very fortunate that I get to do what I get to do.”

djohnson@mojonews.com

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