Pivot Points Feature: The Remarkable Story of Ryan Speedo Green

Sometimes something catastrophic can occur in a split second that changes a person's life forever; other times one minor incident can lead to another and then another and another, eventually setting off just as big a change in a body's life.

Jeannette Walls, Author

I started this blog last year to share the life experiences of myself and others—more specifically the events that cause pivots in the trajectories of our lives. A few months ago, I had my tv on for a bit of background noise while I cleaned and prepped for the week when a 60 minutes segment came on featuring a story about an opera singer named Ryan Speedo Green.

By all accounts, nothing in his past was indicative of the successful future that lay ahead of him. Speedo and his brother were raised by a single mother in the trailer parks and low income housing of Virginia. According to the feature, she was abusive (they don’t provide details on the type or extent of the abuse) and Speedo exhibited very violent behavior at home and school;  he was so violent that he was placed in a class for delinquents. After a particularly severe episode at home, Speedo was sent to a juvenile lockup detention center 3.5 to 4 hours away from home where he stayed in solitary confinement. He was locked up in solitary confinement for two  months which motivated him to never be in that situation again.

This is where his story gets interesting. While in lockup, his 4th grade teacher reached out to him. She saw past the destructive behavior and saw a young man that was obviously losing his struggle with his internal demons. She let him know that she was there for him, that the moment didn’t have to define him and that he could “do better and be better”. Instead of discarding him as another wasted youth, she along with his case worker and psychiatrist circled around this young man and provided him with the support to find a way out. Non-related adults took a genuine interest in his future.

When he was released, Speedo’s family moved to another neighborhood where he joined a new school with new influences. His environment changed. From there he joined clubs including the Latin Club, chorus, and football. One day, his class went on a field trip to the New York Metro Opera where he and his class watched Carmen, played by Denyce Graves, the famous opera singer.  He was exposed to greatness. Greatness that looked like him.


From there, the seed was planted. He buckled down even more in school and consulted with a teacher to understand what it would take to be on that stage. He studied, went to college and after a lot of hard work and determination, he entered and won the Metro Opera Competition for Young Singers, beating over 1,000 candidates. Fast forward to today, Ryan Speedo Green is now a member of the Vienna State Opera and performs in several languages including German, French, English, and Italian. This was, by no means, a trivial accomplishment.

This story made me think of the people and events in our lives that serve as guard rails—the people that keep and have kept us from making irrevocable bad decisions and mistakes. At any point in our lives, we were and are all just a few bad decisions away from a very different trajectory. There are many paths that Speedo’s life could have taken, including becoming another chapter in the sad and overplayed narrative of young men in America, but it didn’t.  

Those women that provided him with the structure and support that his family couldn’t are thankless heroes in my opinion. They made such a significant impact on Speedo Green, changing the generational legacy of his family, his place in his community and the lives of young people that can now look at his life and see that where you start does not have to be where you end up in life.

If you would like to watch the full story, click here. The video starts at the 29:40 mark. There will be some ads but I promise, the watch is worthwhile.


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Aji OliyideComment