The world's greatest female athlete had a golden message for youngsters at summer camp: Know how to love, forgive and respect one another.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee said no child is too young for that message. She used her star power as the most-decorated female Olympic track and field athlete to garner the attention of youngsters this week at the JJK/YMCA summer camp in East St. Louis and tell them about loving their bodies and who they are.
"Love everything about you from your eyes to your nose to your face, legs and feet. Love you," she said as she did jumping jacks with the children.
Then she told them they have to learn to love others.
"You have to learn to love each other and even those who are not in your families or who are not your friends, who don't look like you or live where you live. You have to be able to forgive those who do things to you that you do not like or consider not to be good. And you must respect yourselves and others, too."
She told them education is very important and not to get upset with their teachers.
"When you go back to school and your teacher tries to talk to you, don't get angry with him or her. The teacher is trying to help you. They know your potential and are trying to work with you to make you successful," Joyner-Kersee said.
Joyner-Kersee is promoting a campaign called "Love and 4giveness" as a way to give back first to the children in her hometown of East St. Louis, and then to young people around the country. She spoke of the many children killed every day and said it is directly related to individuals not loving themselves and not being able to forgive.
She told her young audience members, ranging from age 6 to teenagers, that holding onto anger about a particular person or thing is not good.
"I have love in my heart no matter where I am, even when I travel and hear people say negative things about the community I come from," he said. "I can't forget where I come from. I look beyond this and do not fill myself with anger. I forgive them for the things they say about East St. Louis," Joyner-Kersee said.
She said regardless of whether the relationship is with a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a family member, the concept is the same: love, forgiveness and respect.
She then asked students to explain what each word meant to them.
Amir Dorris, 10, said, "Love is a connection." Others said love is what they get from their family. For forgiveness, Dorris said, "It is when you let go of your anger for a person."
Kersee asked why it is easier for girls to show love than boys.
Todd Stewart, 14, said, "It's easier for girls to show emotions because boys are supposed to keep their emotions inside because they are supposed to be strong."
Kersee told him that that is the way many men feel. But she said she doesn't agree with that because boys and men are human beings, too. And, they like anyone else, have emotions that should be let out.
"We're bitter and angry at all levels and at all ages. We have to change this," she said.
Then she asked the group "How do you make yourself happy and peaceful.
Diamond Enlow, 13, said, "I listen to music. It's calming and peaceful to me." Someone else said they like to read and lock themselves in a quiet room and think about what they are really feeling.
Richard Wilson, a camp counselor, said he was angry at the jury in the Trayvon Martin case, but later let go of his anger.
"I had to forgive the six jurors in Florida. I had anger in my heart for what they did. I prayed for them. I didn't know them, and I asked myself why should I stay upset with them and not have happiness and peace in my life," Wilson said.
Wilson also said he was raised in public housing and use to steal and get into other trouble until 2000, when the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center established a program in the Orr-Weathers public housing project. Things started to change for him.
"I forgave my family for not being there for me. I became focused on school and now you can't keep me out of school," Wilson said, drawing loud and long applause from the crowd.
He is in college studying pre-law and political science, he said.
Joyner-Kersee told campers that when she had rough times, she always found something good to latch onto.
She stressed that the youngsters must choose their friends carefully and be wary of who they trust with their secrets. She said some children pretend to be friends only to create confusion and tension between them and others.
"A friend is consistent in the conversation. A pretender is someone who goes different ways and keeps up commotion," Joyner-Kersee said.
She ended by issuing a 24-day challenge to the students. She asked them to go onto Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and search for jjklove4giveness. Then she asked that they post pictures that promote positive things and happiness. Joyner-Kersee said she can be followed on Twitter @jjoynerkersee.