‘Zero to hero’: Upstate motivational speaker takes intentionality message to schools and colleges

Donovan Tolbert calls his principles of success an interdisciplinary process based in social emotional learning (SEL) that can change the minds of students, teachers and other professions.
FOX Carolina's Arthur Mondale has the story.
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 8:41 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - It’s National Mentoring Month, a time to recognize the positive effects of mentorship for both children and adults. Research shows kids with a mentor are almost 60% more likely to earn higher grades, and almost seven out of 10 adults with a mentor are more productive in their jobs.

You can say family dinner for Donovan Tolbert was never about just the food.

“You’ve never seen a cloud sit on a home for three years, so everything shall pass,” Tolbert said. “What you’re going through is not going to be for forever and I think it’s important for adults to be able to reinforce that into children.”

A lesson he heard daily: The dinner table consisted of a plate of food, a pen and a notebook.

“So, if I said that I wanted to be a Division 1 athlete, my mother would make me write down the feeling of what it feels like to be a D1 athlete,” he said.

And it worked, he attended Kent State University and rose to be the number nine triple jumper in the nation. Fast forward less than a decade – and after a stint in corporate America, he now shares what he calls the Zero to Hero plan internationally at schools and colleges.

“When it comes to life, whatever it is that you want, I tell students that you actually have to do the unnecessary work to get the necessary outcome,” he said.

Tolbert hammers three steps to be successful using social emotional learning components: First, write down your goals, next, speak your goals into existence and third, utilize intentional action.

“If you are faithful over the few then from there you can be made ruler over the many when that time comes,” he said.

He calls his steps an interdisciplinary process that can change the minds of students, teachers and other professions.

“I really love speaking to teachers and allowing them to be able to get this thing inside of them so they can be motivated to get back in the classroom and do the work that they were called to do,” he said.

It’s needed at a time where states like South Carolina are experiencing double-digit percentage vacancies and one in seven teachers are leaving their districts according to The South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement.

“You are more than just your academics or your circumstances – you can overcome those things with affirmation, belief in yourself and surrounding yourself with great people,” said Dr. Carlos Grant, Wade Hampton High School principal. “He talks about that. Get him in front of you.”

“I think I can actually use his three (principles) and talk about it each day on our announcements, and also use it next year – let’s write it, let’s speak it and let’s do it,” added Caroline Bohnenberger, Bryson Middle School principal.

Back inside the auditorium of Bryson Middle School, students feel more intentional about next week’s Benchmark Testing, and committed to action moving forward. Another moment captured by Chris Butler, CBCinematics owner and CEO who has recently partnered with Tolbert.

“All their decisions now matter,” said Butler. “If you’re looking for inspiration, regardless of environment, Donovan’s message is for you.”

Tolbert’s message is spreading far and wide. He’s recently returned from Africa, and his goal for 2023 is to do eight speeches a month. If you need motivation in your school, university or college, visit https://donovantolbert.com/home