‘A simple lesson’: Schools get inspirational message from author

Damon West, a former addict, preaches the power of positive thinking

Two Burlington County school districts heard author Damon West explain the lesson of the coffee bean on Jan. 14. The message is that, like the author, we can improve our environments with positive thinking.

A personal but hopeful message about addiction was communicated to county residents on Jan. 14 by Damon West, speaker and author of “The Coffee Bean: A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change.” 

The virtual event was a collaboration between the Burlington County Institute of Technology and the county’s Special Services School District, an effort cited by Superintendent Dr. Christopher Nagy. He read the book by West and Jon Gordon, author of 18 books, soon after its release in 2019 and met West in person.

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COVID prevented an in person talk, a situation that prompted Nagy to bring the message of positive thinking from West – and the coffee bean lesson based on his personal challenges – to students and staff at the schools.

District staffers were asked to read West’s book before the presentation. The author then addressed BCIT students and staff in one talk, gave another to  special-services students and staff, and then held a Q&A session with more than 80 employees in the two school systems.

The coffee bean message begins with West as a Division 1 starting quarterback at the University of North Texas. But when he suffered an injury that ended his athletic career, West turned to hard drugs to cope. 

After graduation, West worked in Congress and was a national political fundraiser. He eventually trained to be a stockbroker in the United States of Switzerland, where he was introduced to methamphetamines and became hooked. After a prison stint, West said he experienced a spiritual awakening with a fellow prisoner who explained the coffee bean message to him.

It begins with boiling water, the carrot, the egg and the bean. Life circumstances are represented by those elements to illustrate our powerful ability to change the way we think, act and see the world around us. The carrot symbolizes becoming weakened and softened by the environment, the egg becomes hardened by its surroundings and the coffee bean transforms those surroundings from within.

The illustrated tale of “The Coffee Bean: A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change” follows a character named Abraham or “Abe,” whose teacher shares with him the inspiring life changing lesson of the coffee bean and follows Abe for the rest of his life through all its trials and tribulations.

The book sends the message that we can rethink our life circumstances to change our environments for the better. That kind of positive thinking, said Nagy, can even apply to the troubled times of COVID.

“I think Damon’s West message was this: that we need to take this time as an opportunity to do an internal audit, and basically throw out the stuff that is negative, throw out the stuff that is harmful and throw out the stuff that does not allow us to be the best self that we can be for others to see,” Nagy noted.

“So taking a look at this environment,” he added, “the environment can work so much upon us, and affect our social and emotional well-being, that in essence it can paralyze us and not allow us to be the best person that we can be.”

Nagy also cited the book’s message that we can positively influence those around us.

“It’s not an end, it’s a journey,” he offered. “And as we learn more and more about the journey and ourselves and how we work within this journey, we learn a lot more about ourselves and the potential that we have to influence positively the people that are around us.”

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