WEB EXCLUSIVE: Siegman recomends community service

Greg Forbes Siegman used a dirty milkshake glass to illustrate how simply “taking a walk” can lead to success in a speech to about 30 students Thursday evening.

The “Milkshake Man,” who claims to have sold a $5,000 milkshake to the owner of Nordstrom, spoke about his life story that has won him a National Jefferson Award for service and nationwide acclaim. The Office of Community Service and the Neighbors Project sponsored the lecture.

Siegman also brought his brunchbunch.com club to the D.C. restaurant scene over the weekend. He began the group in 1997 while teaching in Chicago, taking 10 to 12 of his students out to brunch with other adults each week in an effort to bring different races and ages together and breech stereotypes.

Siegman said the club began when he took two of his black students into a restaurant and when they sat down, a woman moved her purse to the opposite side of her. He vowed then to return the next week with 10 kids, and has done so every week since.

He encouraged students to avoid putting labels on people because they can be destructive.

“You have an absolute choice at that point in time, my choice was to make the best of it,” Siegman said about the day in the restaurant and overcoming adversity. Siegman told students that community service has been his path to success.

Brunchbunch.com operates under the 11-10-02 foundation, named after Siegman’s 30th birthday next year, a group founded to demonstrate the ability of young people to achieve their goals. The foundation has provided scholarships to young students involved with community service, like GW freshman Duane Jackson.

Jackson, who introduced Siegman, held a grant-writing internship at the foundation this summer in D.C. Jackson has begun volunteering at a local elementary school and on Sunday, Jackson will bring his students to a restaurant in the city like Siegman did in Chicago.

Siegman said he constantly reminds himself why he started his organization, and tries not to lose his focus.

“If you have an idea and believe in it, then go for a walk, people may follow,” he said.

After studying at Tulane University for two years, Siegman said he walked into the Northwestern University dean’s office requesting admission and began classes there the same day.

In high school, Siegman said he realized he would need to work hard at his studies to succeed.

“I was dumb, but still smart enough to know I was dumb,” Siegman said.

The Chicago native said he wanted to attend an Ivy League school. When Siegman asked his high school math teacher for a recommendation, the teacher wrote a scathing letter that caused Siegman to be rejected from all the schools he applied to.

Siegman, who said he was named after wealthy executive Steve Forbes, then began classes at Tulane hoping to satisfy his parents’ loft goals.

“I got an A in every course at Tulane, I was chairman of community service at the university, I was in a fraternity, and I was well-liked,” he said.

After graduating valedictorian from Northwestern in June 1996, Siegman began substitute teaching in a mostly black school in the Chicago area.

Siegman’s story begins more than 10 years ago at football camp in Illinois. It was at that camp that he met a black friend named Omari. Siegman said despite their apparent differences, they soon had found many commonalties between them.

Later that year, Siegman went on a Christmas vacation with his family to Hawaii and when he returned, he was told that Omari had been shot and killed while driving to the grocery store. Siegman said the news changed his life forever, and he vowed to turn the negative into a positive.

“His story was inspiring. Often times young people feel like it is hard to make a positive impact on their community,” freshman Gerald Croteau said. “But as in Siegman’s case, after you begin your efforts, (it) can cause a greater impact than you anticipated.”

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