As a fourth-grader, Justin Matott was the new kid in school with temporary physical challenges that gave him a limp and required an eye patch. That made him an easy target for bullies at his school.
Matott, a Highlands Ranch resident, turned those bad experiences around, and now tries to pass the lessons he learned on to other kids.
“I was very fortunate to have a dad who understood how you look into somebody and find those talents,” he said. “He was one who taught me how to make the kids at school laugh. I started using my storytelling talent and took back my power basically.”
The author and speaker spoke at Castle Rock’s Soaring Elementary April 19, one of many visits he’s made to the school.
With 15 children’s books to his name, Matott speaks at 35 to 50 schools each year, encouraging kids to write, read and treat one another with kindness.
“I try to be impactful,” he said. “And it seems to be working.”
His talks often focus on the main character in his six-book series, Gabriel Peters, who overcomes physical drawbacks and pursues a life of adventure. The fourth book in the series will be released in May.
After a school visit last week, a seventh-grade teacher told the author that one of her students had left the assembly in tears because he’d recognized himself in one of Matott’s tales.
“His reputation had been a bully for a long time,” Matott said. “He all of a sudden saw the faces of the kids he was treating so badly. He told (his counselor) he didn’t want to be that person anymore and wanted to find a different way to deal with his anger issues.”
Knowing he’s made a difference for some kids is a sweet reward.
“I can’t think of anything, other than seeing my sons becoming the men I was raising them to be, that would please me more,” Matott said. “I don’t have a huge enough ego to think I’m changing a kid’s life permanently, but I know I’m changing a portion of a kid’s life.”
The 51-year-old author has pursued his writing and speaking passions full time since 1997, when he left his corporate sales job with a publishing contract in hand.
That first book, “My Garden Visits,” was a tribute to his mother that Matott self-published three weeks before Mother’s Day. In three weeks, 4,700 of the 5,000 copies sold, and Random House offered to publish the book.
“It was like a Cinderella thing,” Matott said. “It was awesome to be able to walk into my boss’s office and say, ‘You’ve got one more month of my life and I’m done with this.’”