HOWLAND - Deciding who you are and learning to love yourself are the keys to success and happiness.
That's the message Stedman Graham delivered Thursday in an informal talk to about 100 invited guests at the home of Brian and Kim Ross.
Graham is a speaker, executive, educator and the author of 11 books, including two New York Times bestsellers. He also is well-known as the long-time beau of Oprah Winfrey.
Graham did a talk and book signing earlier Thursday at the East Cleveland Public Library before coming to Howland for the private reception and book signing.
Kim Ross said the opportunity came about after she and her husband were talking with David M. Reynolds, managing director for J.P. Morgan in Cleveland, at an Indians game. They mentioned their daughter was attending college at the University of San Diego, and he mentioned he had a friend who worked with a foundation there.
''I didn't ask who until he said he had written his 10th book,'' she said.
Special to the Tribune
Chronicle / Bob Jadloski
Stedman Graham signs a copy of his book for Robin Renee Walton on Thursday at the home of Brian and Kim Ross of Howland.
The Rosses expressed interest in attending a book signing the next time Graham was in northeast Ohio, and Reynolds contacted them about doing an event in Trumbull County in conjunction with the Cleveland appearance.
Thursday's crowd included some friends, educators and local officials, but Kim Ross said she wanted to involve Deryck Toles, founder of Inspiring Minds, a Warren organization devoted to helping students through after-school educational programs, college visits, financial workshops and other opportunities.
''They're both all about helping the children,'' Kim Ross said.
Toles said he rushed back into town to be a part of the event.
''We have the same philosophy - no matter what the problem is, the answer is education,'' Toles said. ''We talked back and forth about things we can put in place to give kids access to the information and programs he has.''
Graham believes in the importance of education, but he also thinks school curriculum is too focused on teaching kids to pass a particular test instead of teaching them how to gather knowledge on their own.
''We have to teach leadership and thinking skills so they have the ability to think for themselves,'' he said.
Graham's latest book is ''Identity: Your Passport to Success,'' which was inspired by his own journey to discover who he was after decades of letting himself be defined by his race, his relationships, his family and by other outside forces.
Part of that process was looking for the similar qualities that successful people possess.
''What the difference?'' he asked. ''The one percent are leaders, and the 99 percent are followers. The 99 percent they are consumers, the one percent are producers. The 99 percent are slaves, they have a slave mentality - I'm not talking about race - and the one percent are owners.
''The challenge is to transform your mind of a follower to a leader. Most people don't know how to do that. So I created the nine-step success process for myself that will transform my mind every single day.''
And the most important word in finding one's identity is ''love,'' both loving oneself and finding the thing in life that sparks love and passion.
''We don't have a gang problem,'' Graham said. ''We have a lack of love problem. We don't have an education problem. We have a love problem.''