Over the years, Stedman Graham has found himself defined by his relationship with Oprah Winfrey, his disabled brothers and his race.
But Graham, an author and the CEO of a management and marketing consulting firm, said he has learned the importance of finding his own identity in order to be successful.
"I'm going to tell myself you don't define me, you don't tell me who I am," Graham said. "Because whoever defines you, if you let them define you, will always define you as less than them."
Graham recently spoke about the importance of identity and leadership with area middle and high school students during an African-American History Month event at Metea Valley High School in Aurora.
He told students too many people go through life without thinking.
"All you do is the same thing over and over every single day because you're not engaged in the world you live in, you're not engaged within yourself," he said. "You have no meaning in life. You don't know who you are, where you're going or how you're going to get there."
He recalled being about 13 years old when a man he considered a mentor told him he was too dumb to go to college. He became determined to prove the man wrong and went on to not only earn a bachelor's degree but a master's degree as well.
Everyone has 24 hours each day, Graham said, and it's up to each person to determine how to use that time.
"The challenge is to change the way you think so you can become a leader, so you can create whatever you want in your life and never have to worry about somebody telling you can't do it," he said.
He talked about his nine steps for success, which include having a vision, creating a plan, overcoming fears and building a "dream team."
Graham also told students love is "the most powerful word in the world" and another key component for success.
"Love makes you stand up straight, love makes you care for yourself, love makes you realize you can have anything with love," he said.
The city of Aurora picked up the $12,000 tab for Graham's visit and Metea Assistant Principal Joy Ross said afterward she was grateful to Alderman Scheketa Hart-Burns for organizing.
"Kids really have a road map and can conceptualize success," Ross said.
Waubonsie Valley High School senior Crystal Perry, 17, agreed.
"I thought it was very powerful and meaningful and … and I can take what he taught us and put it to use," she said.