Failed my English final, became a professional writer
Blog 3 of 8: School expulsion, failing grade ~ Why I chose the Harlem Renaissance for my Toastmasters speech
This post was originally published on January 30, 2019 on Chicago Now’s “Message from Montie” blog.
As a member and the (former) Vice President of Education of Unity Toastmasters (a community club in Toastmasters International), I chose one of eleven Pathways — “Presentations Mastery” — as a public speaking goal. This is the blog series of eight posts I wrote in one month to complete Level 4.*
An Upwork client asked me recently who was my biggest influencer. I didn’t miss a beat before I responded that Harriet Tubman and Langston Hughes will always be my two biggest influencers.
Anyone who knows me well remembers the 24 x 36 poster of Langston Hughes in the living room of my second apartment. As soon as you walked in, he greeted you from the door angle. If I could jushe any assignment in school, I’d include Harlem Renaissance writers.
Fighting for representation in the literary canon
But when I was pondering on a topic to discuss for the 2018 International Speaking Competition of Toastmasters, I wasn’t quite sure if others would want to hear why I love the Harlem Renaissance so much. The short story version is the Harlem Renaissance was the first topic I wrote about professionally and was published in a magazine (Citizens in America).
The longer version involved me being on academic probation (with a 3.2 GPA) — with the threat of expulsion — from my first undergraduate university, Northern Michigan University. While NMU had a questionable excuse for trying to expel me, the true reason was that I’d ruffled quite a few feathers in the English department. I also refused to back down from creating a diverse literary canon in an American Literature III course.
Choosing an edgier Toastmasters speech
Initially I took the safe route and made my competition speech (and my final speech to receive the Competent Communicator certificate) about innovation and ideas. I’d just finished an amazing book by Sam Harrison entitled “Idea Spotting: How to Find Your Next Great Idea.”