The stage lights are coming back up as Jon walks out to the centre of the stage. Flashing a smile, he puts the microphone close and begins: “Me da mucho gusto estar aqui con ustedes, ojala te diviertas y te esta gustando la presentaciÃÂ³n! My name is Jon and I am a drummer for the band Hundredfold. It’s really great to be here today with all of you.” Seeing his confidence and hearing it in his voice, you would never guess the story that lies beneath it all.Racism. It’s ugly, it’s offensive, and as a Canadian, I want to believe it doesn’t happen in my country. But to our shame it does happen and often in the place where a generation should be safe to be free from it: it happens in the schoolyard, in the hallways and even in the classroom.Jon was born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Mexican parents. When his family returned to Mexico City, he quickly adjusted to his new life by playing soccer. Within a very short period of time he and his brother were discovered for an elite team that was famous around the country. Traveling to compete all over Central America, becoming a young celebrity in the world of soccer, he even began to do TV commercials for products, enjoying public admiration. His future in the world of soccer looked extremely bright. He was young, he was promising and he was loved. But when Jon was 10 years old, his family decided to move to Winnipeg, Manitoba to start a new life – and everything changed. Their parents needed to find better employment opportunities for the future of their family and John and his brother had to come to terms with leaving behind their dreams of a bright future of professional sports.As he entered junior high in the public school system in Winnipeg, Jon went through extreme culture shock. Not only were the city, the weather, and the language all foreign to him, but he quickly realized that there was something he had never considered: that “Mexican” was a dirty word. Each day became a routine of torturous racism and bullying as Jon was victimized in the schoolyard, in the hallways and in the classroom. Jon recalled moments of being held down, kicked, spat upon and being viciously verbally assaulted – all because he was different. In the midst of all the shock and pain, he began to withdraw, turning inward and entertaining dark thoughts.In their vulnerability, many students like Jon search desperately to silence the pain – and he was no exception. Fueled by pain and self-hatred, he began to spiral down into a haze of drug abuse, depression and suicidal obsessions. Dreaming of escaping the pain seemed so much more comforting than crawling back up. After a failed suicide attempt, Jon had a reality shot. He needed help. His brother recognized that Jon needed an outlet to express himself and talked his parents into buying Jon a drum kit. A drum kit may seem like a random thought, but it turned out to be just what Jon needed to let out his frustration and discover something he was really gifted in. As he began to realize his abilities and passion for music, Jon also began to trust again. Shortly after he received his drum kit, Jon met Gord, a middle aged man who ran the local youth centre. Gord began to give Jon opportunities to be a part of something he could feel excited about and something that helped him find his way out of the pain of rejection and school violence. Through his kindness and encouragement, Gord gave Jon the ability to believe in himself and to believe that he could do something significant despite his history.Today, Jon is touring with Hundredfold, a band from Winnipeg, Manitoba that tours in high schools with our LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) road teams. Jon has the opportunity to stand in front of students every day, sharing his story and his heart. Through his courage to be honest with students about racism, pain, and rejection, he is able to give them an even greater gift to hold on to: the gift of hope.Because Gord took the time to believe in Jon, thousands of Canadian high school students have been given the chance to hear about hope. There are many youth like Jon in our schools and communities, but there are also many “Gords” – the adults who are willing to take some time out of their own lives to believe that they can make a difference. I may never meet you, Gord, but I want to say thanks for all the long hours and love you put into that youth centre. Many lives are changed because of your willingness to see the potential in someone else. You are a hero.LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) has the privilege to meet thousands of students across the nation each year, and each of them is unique and full of incredible potential. Many of them are like Jon and many of them just need to know that someone believes in them and they are going to get through the pain that they are feeling right now in the middle of their circumstances. You can be a part of what we do! Check out www.livedifferent.com to see how you can get involved.