Hayward Jean of Orangeburg hadn’t always planned a career working with youth, but having grown up as a child without his own father, the principal of Mellichamp Elementary School found what he calls his life's purpose as a protector of God’s greatest gifts -- children.

Jean shared his inspiring story of perseverance on “The 700 Club” with Pat Robertson in July. "The 700 Club" is a television talk show featuring guests, news and spiritual stories from a Christian perspective.

On the program, Jean talked about his journey of growing up in a single-parent household that was below the poverty line to enjoying success as an educator, minister, father and motivational speaker.

"It centered around forgiveness and also how to turn my challenges into triumphs for children -- meaning growing up fatherless and learning how to overcome that through forgiveness and a powerful support system,” he said.

The principal said his support system was initiated by his mother and included his grandfather, uncles, a tennis coach and several other “big cousins and family members who just rallied around me in supporting my mother.”

Jean, who has a twin brother, Howard, and a younger sister, Rosa, said he had to learn how much he was actually loved by his heavenly father in order to deal with the experience of not having a biological father around. It was that heavenly love, he said, that helped him avoid developing a heart of bitterness.

“What I had to realize is although I didn't have my natural father on the earth, my heavenly father was always there. I just needed to be made more aware of him and my role as a son of God. And so in learning that, it empowered me to forgive my dad because I started to almost be more sensitive to his needs as I learned and became closer to my heavenly father,” Jean said.

Being able to forgive those who have hurt or disappointed you is key to self-empowerment, he said.

"What it does is release me. Forgiveness releases me to fulfill my purpose on the earth, and it causes all my challenges to be used to help somebody else. Now I serve as a father figure for those who grew up fatherless just like me. That was really the theme of the whole talk -- becoming a father to the fatherless,” Jean said.

He and his wife, Starlette, are the parents of three children: Hayward, 8, Malachi, 6 and Imani, 3. Of his wife, Jean said, “She truly is a helpmate and one of my greatest support systems. My wife is a powerful leader in her own right and encourages and inspires me every day.”

Jean, who is also assistant pastor at Feast of the Lord Church in Orangeburg, also works as a motivational speaker who has created his own “movement” with Speak Life Enterprises.

He said his own challenges growing up have made his job as a principal somewhat easier.

“It makes me relevant. It makes me relevant to my children, and it allows me to empathize rather than sympathize. A lot of times people feel sorry for the young people, and that can only get them so far. Feeling sorry for people can only get them to a point where they are entitled to your sorrow,” Jean said. “But if you empathize with them, you're able to empower them to come out of their impoverished situation, their place of depression, or whatever the place is that causes them not to see the value inside of them.”

He added, “That's what I do. I'm able to empathize in such a way that I can say, 'Well, I know it's bad or (you're) hurting right now, but you can get out of this and I can tell you how because I got out of it.' So what I had to look back on is to see God's love in my life through so many people."

"I didn't realize that God was loving me through my grandfather, through my uncles, through my Mom, through all these support systems. And so that's what I feel we need to do for our young people, and that is to love them because what we're doing is actually serving as conduits for God's love to the children," Jean said.

Giving love to his students is what he says he does every day.

“My purpose as an educator, pastor, community leader, father, husband and motivational speaker is truly to express God's love on everyone that he has given me contact with,” Jean said, noting that his faith has helped sustain him through life’s challenges.

“That's why I always say parents should be serving as God figures for children until they learn God for themselves. I always believe in this, too, and that's while it's good for children to have their fathers in their lives, it's more important for children to have good father figures, or positive father figures,” he said.

Jean added, “My dad is not at this time a positive male figure for me to follow even at this time. My dad has about 20 children. ... Not saying that he is a bad person because of that, but he does not serve as a positive figure for me. So I don't know what my life would have been like if he was involved like I thought I would have wanted.

“And so that's why God always knows how to replace the space. He always knows how to fill in the gaps. That's what he does, and he does that so well. And so I always think it's important for godly role models to be in children's lives.”

Jean said his faith was a major source of hope for him. His mother’s constant words of encouragement as she showed him the importance of developing who he was going to be in life gave him hope, too, he said. 

“My mom was such a God figure. She would always speak life to me growing up, which is probably why the name of my motivational speaking vehicle is called Speak Life Enterprises," Jean said. "She always spoke positive words into me so I could realize who I was. She has always told me to know my self-worth. and it provided me hope. And that's what faith provided for me."

Jean majored in elementary education at Claflin University, but didn’t always know that he would work with children as a career. He said his introduction to Claflin’s Call Me Mister program, the mission of which is to recruit, train and help certify and place African-American males in elementary classrooms in South Carolina, changed everything.

“When the program was introduced to us, I never wanted to be a teacher. But the way that it was introduced, it showed me that I was more than a teacher, but a role model, a father figure. ... It spoke to my purpose, and so that’s why I’m a teacher," Jean said.

"I always say that I’m an undercover agent disguised as a teacher. My real assignment is to help people live out their purpose, and I use the role of teaching and education and all my talents to do that,” he said.

Jean worked as a teacher for approximately eight years before becoming a principal.

“I loved teaching. Oh, my goodness. People would always ask me, ‘How did you become a principal?’ I always tell them, ‘Be a very good teacher,’ because a principal truly serves as a teacher of teachers. A lot of times teachers don’t really know if you can relate to them if you’ve not been where they are," he said.

“And so I really spent a lot of times trying to perfect my craft as a teacher until it was recognized by leadership. Dr. Cynthia Wilson and Dr. Sharon Quinn noticed that there was something in me that I didn’t notice myself in terms of being a principal."

His appearance on “The 700 Club” was a “great platform” through which he could offer encouragement to others who face life's challenges in one way or another, Jean said.

“It’s allowed the story that I have to reach millions. I’ve been hearing from people all over the nation and world. I received a couple of pieces of information from Africa, and I’ve been getting messages from all over America on a regular basis about how it’s impacted them," he said.

“Some of them said that the story caused them to forgive their dad and gave them a peace that they never had before. And so I’m getting countless testimonies from people all over the world about the message that I delivered on that day,” Jean said.

It is a message he wants to continue sharing, he said.

“My appearance really highlighted the issue and how we can remedy fatherlessness in our society. Our children deserve our protection physically, mentally and spiritually. So my role as a father figure is to do what fathers have been designed to do, and that’s to instruct and protect," Jean said.

“I just believe that children are gifts and they should be protected as much as possible, especially their identity. And that’s my role. My role is to protect the gifts in our community, which are our children."

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter @DionneTandD.

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Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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