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INSPIRATION ALERT: Introducing Mona Dixon, Motivational speaker


Mona Dixon
Motivational speaker
Arizona State University
Supply Chain Management major

She used to be homeless, and now she sits on the board of the shelter she once lived in and travels the country encouraging kids to pursue an education.  

GLAMOUR: Let’s hear about your life at and outside of Arizona State – especially the work you’re doing to encourage others to go to college.
Mona Dixon:
I work at the Boys & Girls Club, and I’m an outreach ambassador for ASU, so I recruit kids to go to pursue higher education. I usually do about three different events a week – tours, college workshops, presentations on scholarships. Lots of talking to younger students about what college is like and what it takes to become a successful student.

GLAMOUR: How’d you find out what it takes to be successful yourself, and how has your path to ASU factored into the type of activities you’re passionate about?
I was homeless up until I was 13. I always tell the story of how I remember going behind dumpsters and pulling out cardboard boxes as my bed for the night. I would pull out my Ziploc baggies full of books, and when I read them I imagined myself as a character because it kind of made me feel safe.

GLAMOUR: What was the toughest part of growing up without a stable home? 
Going to school there were times when my sister and I would trolley-hop because we didn’t have money to buy tickets. I remember the teacher would ask questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I gave my answer, I heard doubt, like “How can you possibly want to be something like that when you don’t even have a place to stay?” Figuring out the path to college then was incredibly tough. I didn’t have many people who believed in me.

GLAMOUR: Was there a specific turning point? How’d you transition from knowing you wanted to go to college to feeling like you actually could?
I knew my mom couldn’t pay for school, and if I didn’t pay for it, or volunteer, or get the grades that would get me money for scholarships, I’d probably end up in the same situation that my mom was in with us. I was always pretty shy and didn’t let anyone know my background. I didn’t even want to go the local Boys & Girls Club at first. When I showed up there and the lady told me it would cost $20 to come in, I turned away. But then the woman at the desk, a total stranger, took out $20 and paid for me. Because of what she did for me, my life pretty much did a big 180.

GLAMOUR: What motivates you to speak about your upbringing to others?
One day on the bus, my Boys & Girls Club mentor said, “Tell me a story.” So I told him about where I slept at night, and we sat there and cried. He told me, “So many people have a background similar to yours. If you share it, think of how many kids will feel like they can have opportunities and a future like yours.” I learned from that. I may not be able to help someone financially, but I might be able to inspire kids to work hard so they can become successful later on. Some of my favorite events are talking to troubled kids and letting them know that where they come from doesn’t have to limit where they can go.

GLAMOUR: You’ve also had the chance to share your story with some pretty big celebs. Who has been the most fun to meet?
The Boys & Girls PSA I was part of starred a few dozen celebrities: Martin Sheen, Denzel Washington, JLo … So, I’m at this event with all these famous people, all these legends, and Denzel walks into the room and says, “Mona!” All these people, and he calls me out! There was another event where LeBron James really surprised me. He’s my favorite basketball player, and he got up and did this whole speech about how I inspire him to be a better father and player. Just to hear that from him, oh God, I was crying. He gave me his signed shoe!

GLAMOUR: And you’ve also visited Obama?
Yeah, that was after I was named Boys & Girls Club National Youth of the Year. Denzel Washington and I went to go see Obama in the White House. When I walked through the door to the Oval Office, he shook my hand and introduced himself, and he knew my whole story already. He told me that I inspire people, that I’m a great inspiration who helps people believe in themselves. I couldn’t believe I was hearing that from him.

GLAMOUR: When you hear about concerning school dropout rates, what’s your reaction?
It hurts. It’s extremely bad. I recently did an education special on PBS during a trip to New York. I try to get out there as much as I can and share my story and let kids know it’s incredibly important to graduate from high school. I wish that I could get to all these kids and schools. I try to speak to adults too, hoping they can also go out and talk to people and have that domino effect.

GLAMOUR: We can already read about your life on your Facebook page. Are we going to read about you in a book one day?
Yes, I definitely want to write one when I get my bachelors degree. At a lot of events people want to hug me or get an autograph, which is crazy. If the same people who walked right past me when I asked them for spare change because I was hungry were to be asked to write a book about my life, they’d probably say I’d end up a pregnant teenager, or drop out of high school and be back where I was on the streets. It’s all very surreal for me to be where I am, and I want to keep sharing my experience. 

Katie most enjoys friends, non-fiction, and dessert. She graduated from University of Pennsylvania and is a contributing editor at Glamour magazine.
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