'Tootie' delivers convocation at Livingstone

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
During a motivational speech rife with advice, encouragement and Biblical references, actress Kim Fields captivated Livingstone College students Friday during the institution’s annual Fall Convocation in Varick Auditorium.
Fields pulled no punches during her 30-minute speech, even asking one student to nudge another who was asleep, a move that drew heavy applause.
“God put it on my heart to talk to you today about being game changers,” said Fields, famous for playing Tootie on ABC’s hit sitcom “The Facts of Life,” which aired from 1979 to 1988. “His plan is for you to change the game. We are in some interesting days. Some might call them dark days. Some might call them horrible days. But we are in some interesting days nonetheless.”
Fields is also well known for playing Regine Hunter on Fox’s “Living Single,” which aired from 1993 to 1998.
When Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. referenced Regine in his introduction of Fields, shouts and applause permeated Varick.
Presently, Fields is the lead director on hit filmmaker Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns,” which air on TBS. And she received high marks for her directing and producing of the documentary “Discovering Monk, Trane: One Night @ Carnegie Hall.”
But Friday it was clear Fields wasn’t at Livingstone to go over her illustrious career; instead, she wanted to inspire the students she affectionately called babies.
“Freshmen, good for you for trying to get your ‘learn on’, and seniors, good for you for sticking it out through all that has gone on in your personal life, at this institution and in this world,” Fields said. “Keep plugged in to the power that God has given you.”
Referencing Isaiah 40:31, Fields said, “Game changers understand they can’t grow weary and faint.” She also said game changers know they must have a point and stick to it, and thoughts, words and deeds are vitally important to them.
“Do you have control over your mind?” Fields asked. “What do you think first and foremost about yourself? Do you have a high opinion of yourself? Not a high and mighty opinion but a high opinion. Do you have confidence and self esteem that comes from knowing you are a child of God and knowing that you are here at this moment because God has something for you to do?”
Fields, who travels the country giving motivational speeches, told the students it’s OK if they aren’t yet aware of their purpose.
“That means you’re on a path or a journey to find that out,” she said. “Ask God what you’re supposed to be doing. Ask God to pour something into you so you can pour something into someone else.”
Fields challenged the students not to spend too much time watching TV shows that serve no educational purpose or listening to negative music.
“The Apostle Paul said ‘be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,’ ” Fields said. “Ask God to help you focus in class and not to get distracted. Everybody is not going to support you, so be careful who you tell your dream to. Ask God for discernment.”
Fields also encouraged students to be game changers with their attire and language.
“Ladies … I’m not saying you’ve got to wear turtlenecks everyday … but if your girlfriend has on something and you know she shouldn’t go out of the house with that on, be her friend and tell her,” Fields said. “We’ve got to help each other out.”
Pointing to her mouth, Fields said, “with this right here we can tear each other down or build each other up. Which one are you going to do? David encouraged himself. Sometimes you’ve got to just talk to yourself and say ‘I can do this.’ If you don’t understand math go to a faculty member for extra help. Talk to yourself and say ‘I can do this’ and ‘I can retain what I’m learning.’ Ask God to help you.”
Fields ended her engaging speech by asking those who considered themselves to be game changers to stand.
“You are a game changer,” Fields said. “Get your game right. Walk in your purpose. God bless you. God bless you and keep you.”
After her speech, Jenkins asked Bishop George W.C. Walker Sr., chairman of the Livingstone College board of trustees and senior bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Bishop George E. Battle Jr., board vice president, and Bishop Warren M. Brown, board secretary, to join him in giving Fields a Presidential Award.
Also Friday, a special candlelight ceremony was held for the freshman class. The rites of passage event featured 14 freshmen who proclaimed they would speak for their class and discussed the significance of wisdom, love, compassion, tenacity, truth, justice, art, beauty, character, equality, knowledge, faith, hope and scholarship.
After the convocation, though she had to hurry to Charlotte to catch her return flight, Fields graciously posed for photos and shook the hands of excited students — and adults — who clamored to meet her.
In an interview, she said she asked God for guidance on what to say at Livingstone — as she does before every speaking engagement.
“Livingstone College is like fertile soil and I needed to plant some seeds,” Fields said while walking on campus. “I don’t take that lightly.”
She said she had no problem giving it to the students straight.
“I think sometimes adults get discouraged with the way what they say to young adults is received,” Fields said. “I also think as adults we have a tendency to pontificate and make teachable moments ‘preach-able moments’ with an undertone of judgment. It wasn’t about me today. It was about the students and what God has for them and how they can tap into that.”