Hometown Hero: Motivational speaker and coach pushes others to seize the day

Josias Jean-Pierre is The Mirror’s June Hometown Hero.

Josias Jean-Pierre is a local motivational speaker, spoken-word artist and five-time author recently honored as a distinguished alumnus of Highline College.

But before all of that, he was a young man striving to build a life that others said he wasn’t capable of leading.

For sharing his story of perseverance to the community through speaking engagements and authorship, Josias Jean-Pierre is The Mirror’s June Hometown Hero.

Born in Haiti, 29-year-old Jean-Pierre came to the U.S. as a baby and grew up in Sea-Tac. (He now lives in Federal Way.) He was diagnosed with epilepsy as a baby, learned English as a second language and spoke with a stutter.

“I stuttered a lot,” Jean-Pierre said. “I was in speech classes from K to 12.”

His childhood instilled in him a sense of hard work and the importance to “keep running the race,” even when it got hard, or when his peers or authority figures told him that because of his disability, he’d never achieve his dreams of being a speaker and author.

When people asked him how he overcame those obstacles and the negativity of the naysayers in his life, he responded: “The power of your words.” That motto became the name of his first book, “The Power of Your Words,” published in 2016.

In May, Jean-Pierre was named the 2023 Distinguished Alumnus at Highline College, which honors graduates of the Des Moines campus who make a positive impact in their chosen field and community.

A 2013 graduate of Highline College, Jean-Pierre has been involved with Highline since he was a high school freshman, participating in evening spoken-word performances at the school. Jean-Pierre enrolled there after graduating high school in 2011, and was an early attender of the Black and Brown Male Summit, an annual event highlighting the achievements of young men of color and sharing advice and wisdom for succeeding in their education and beyond.

“It’s a place for Black and brown students to have a voice, to feel heard and represented, to know they are more than where they’re at right now,” Jean-Pierre said. “We have diverse student body populations in schools, but you look at the staff … it doesn’t really represent the students. … So (the) Summit is a place for boys to see representation, to feel honored and valued, given tools from other men who look like them.”

That summit “was a turning point” for himself, Jean-Pierre said, as someone who hadn’t seen teachers or staff who looked like him early on in his education. There’s nothing wrong with learning from leaders who aren’t people of color — but when it comes to connecting and understanding shared experiences, “there’s something powerful when a person looks like you,” he said.

“For a long time I thought it was illegal for black and brown folks to become teachers,” Jean-Pierre said. “I’d never seen it.”

One of Jean-Pierre’s early mentors was Rashad Norris, the former director of community engagement at Highline and founder of Relevant Engagement LLC. They connected when Jean-Pierre was in the seventh grade

Norris, who was a father figure for Jean-Pierre, was “a game-changer” who gave Jean-Pierre a shoulder to cry on and an example of “how to be an authentic Black man.”

“I remember I was acting a fool in the back of the class, and he called me out,” Jean-Pierre said, recounting how Norris gently but firmly corrected him and told him they’d talk after class. “From the moment he did that, I sat in the front of the class, and I gave him undivided attention. I’d never had a correction like that; I was always told, ‘Get out of the class, because you’re interrupting.’ But for someone to say, ‘Hey. I want to connect to you.’ That brought a whole different level.”

At last year’s Black and Brown Male Summit, Jean-Pierre led a workshop titled “What IS Your Why?” — similarly named to his 2020 book “What is Your Why?: Behind The Drive”

That book tasked readers with identifying the thing in their life they can’t give up — so they could stand tall when life gets tough. The next year, he published “Our Cry for Justice,” a book of poetry motivated by the Summer 2020 racial justice protests in Seattle.

As a student ambassador at the college, he travelled around the Puget Sound, sharing his story and his experience at Highline. He also takes his messages to regional and statewide conferences for youth professional development. He’s also been nominated for the Forbes “30 Under 30” Seattle edition list, Jean-Pierre shared.

Connecting with and mentoring youth who are still figuring it out — or “going back down the elevator,” as Jean-Pierre puts it — has been a rewarding and humbling process. Looking forward, he hopes to build a full-time career out of speaking and working in schools.

“I want all the kids to know and understand there’s still hope,” he said. “Now I am seeing how God is using my mess, and turning it into a message; my test into a testimony; and the miseries of life into a ministry.”