Nathan Harmon and Student Panel Share Personal Stories on the Power of Belonging

A crowd of 300 sat captivated as Nathan Harmon made his way from one side of The Commons’ stage to the other during his emotional and inspirational story of self empowerment.

Nathan Harmon is an international speaker and the founder of Your Life Speaks. His message comes from a combination of a troubled past and a great desire to help others overcome many of his same struggles. In his younger years he battled divorced parents, suicidal thoughts, self harm, alcohol and drug addictions, bulimia and eventually jail. 

Prior to this evening, Nathan spent the entire week meeting with all 7th - 9th grade students at all school assemblies in Bartholomew County, where he sparked the conversation about ‘Power of Belonging’. Gymnasiums full of students were silent as he told his story, and students swarmed around him afterward to share their own experiences. 

We wanted his fans, the students, to have the opportunity to see him again and even bring their families to come and listen to someone who speaks and inspires youth nation wide.

Take off Your Mask

Nathan tailored his message to fit a diverse audience. Young people, parents, and youth professionals listened as he shared his story of overcoming and spoke to how others can learn from his journey.

He repeatedly called on adults in the room to “take off your mask” so that the young people could see true vulnerability and then hopefully, choose to reciprocate. 

Nathan shared how a lack of vulnerability throughout his childhood played a major role in his path to a downward spiral, and that things began to change for him when he learned to take off his own mask.

When Nathan was young, he didn’t feel like he belonged because people in his life weren’t showing him their authentic selves. This night, he encouraged everyone in the room to take off their masks so our young people can find that sense of belonging.

Youth in Action

Following Nathan’s presentation, our youth panel shared their perspective on what belonging looks like in Bartholomew County.

Our panelists were:

Maika Shibata: Maika is a senior at Columbus North High School. She was a part of the Exhibit Columbus high school design team and won Judge’s Distinction in the Architectural Design Competition. She is also the founder of the I Am movement.

Jaden McKay: Jaden is a junior at Columbus Signature Academy: New Tech Campus. Jaden is a member and the Creative Project Manager for Columbus East Show Choir. Jaden is also a school tour guide, Student Voice Representative, and the on-air news host. Outside of school activities, she is a children worship leader at her church and an employee at Orange Leaf.

Jaden Rivera: Jaden is a senior at Hauser Jr-Sr High School. He recently swore into the Army National Guard in infantry airborne. Jaden's mother passed away a couple of years ago and his dream is to make her proud. Jaden is continuing to do that by making a better and more positive environment for his school. He tries to make suicide prevention more known and put an end to suicide.

Pranav Venkataraman: Pranav is a senior at Columbus North High School. Within school, he is a part of the 25th St. Singers, the Mixed Show Choir group, the Cross Country team, Student Assembly, the drama department, and Thespian troupe. He is the dance captain for show choir and a secretary for the Thespian troupe. He has also been part of a Destination Imagination team.

The teens explained what belonging means to them, when they’ve felt a sense of belonging and when they haven’t, as well as what community members can do to encourage a sense of belonging.

"I loved being a panelist. I’ve always wanted to spread positivity and I had such an amazing opportunity to do so. It’s nice to know that my story could have influenced anyone in the crowd, even it was just one person.” - Jaden McKay

The theme and message of the entire summit was truly represented this evening as both young people and adults spoke from the stage to an audience of all ages. We were able to see the first spark of what can happen when community members from all walks of life, and all ages, come together.

Thank you to everyone who made the evening possible and to everyone who attended this important community conversation.