Meet the Man Who Had No Last Name Until the Fourth Grade

Reggie Dabbs

Photo Courtesy of Reggie Dabbs/reggiedabbsonline.com

For more than 20 years, Reggie Dabbs has been one of the most popular inspirational speakers in the United States. He plays the saxophone and talks to students about the struggles of his life so that they can try to relate his story to their circumstances.

“You can never change your past, but you can change your future,” says Dobbs. It’s the lead quote on his website. [1]

“My family and I have committed our lives to make a positive difference in the lives of young people,” said Dabbs. “I believe, as I’m sure you do, that your community’s greatest assets are not in its buildings, but in the students themselves.”

Dabbs believes that love, compassion, and songs make the world better. That’s what he hopes to deliver each time he’s asked to speak.

Reggie Has Always Had to Beat the Odds

Dabbs will tell you that he feels fortunate to be alive today. His mother was an unwed teen in Tennessee. She ended up having to live in a chicken coop. Her courage to reach out to a teacher who had offered to help students if they ever needed it was a decision that likely changed his life.

The teacher took his mother into their home, caring for her until he was born. He’d be in the foster system until that same teacher, Mrs. Dabbs, decided to adopt Reggie officially to become part of their family.

Dabbs recalls that he found out he was in foster care when he was six years old. It’s been over 50 years since that moment, but he says it is still a devastating memory when it comes up.

“I grew up in foster care my entire life,” he recently told students in Michigan during an assembly. “I didn’t have a last name until I was 12 years old. My mom literally kept my brother, and my two sisters, but she said I was a mistake and gave me away.” [2]

Even though your circumstances might not be perfect, Dabbs quickly points out that what someone does with their situation is up to them. “My foster care mom was an English teacher, and my foster care dad was the school janitor – and that is why I am here.”

His Words Dig Deep to the Heart

During another school assembly in Georgia two weeks before speaking in Michigan, Dabbs was bringing high schoolers to tears with his words. Scott Chamberlain, a computer science at mathematics teacher at Johnstown Junior and Senior High School, said he was making a mental checklist of all the kids who were visibly affected by the message. [3]

“It makes you realize that these kids carry so much more with them than what we know,” Chamberlain said, comforting a student who had a strong reaction to Dabbs’ message. “Knowing there are a lot of students I haven’t taught and that I don’t know, and I can just imagine how that is multiplied across the whole audience.”

“I don’t know their situations, but it is probably just as heartbreaking.”

Dabbs pulls no punches with his words. He talks about the time when he was 13 and woke up early in the morning. A voice in his head told him that nobody cared about him. His adopted father heard him and came into his room, allowing Reggie to rediscover that people loved him.

“Life is a rollercoaster,” Dabbs said. “Never give up on the ride.

Reggie says that his family life helped to instill strong moral values. “In every situation, you have a choice,” he’ll often say. What he did with those choices was up to him, just as it is for everyone else throughout the day.

In the sixth grade, he started learning how to play the saxophone. He hated it. When you hear him play during a speaking engagement, you’d never believe that he wanted to do anything else but create music and help others succeed.

He was a problem to a teen mom, had no last name until the fourth grade, and now encourages people to make their own positive choices. He tells kids that he never did drugs, drank alcohol, or smoked cigarettes despite his circumstances because he chose not to include those things in his life.

Dabbs lives with his family in Ft. Myers, Florida. “Maybe in my story, with young people, no matter what they go through, they can get past it to become great.”

Everyone has a story to tell, and that tale is their individual truth. We don’t have to pretend that we’re perfect. It’s okay to say that you’re struggling and to ask for help if it is needed.


[1] http://reggiedabbsonline.com; [2] https://www.uppermichiganssource.com/2022/04/07/reggie-dabbs-shares-motivational-story-with-west-iron-county-students/; [3]https://dailygazette.com/2022/03/24/speaker-brings-johnstown-students-message-of-hope-they-didnt-see-coming/

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