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Metta World Peace asks LA students to 'take five' for mental health

Hayley Fox/KPCC

Metta World Peace wearing the "Titans" scarf and beanie given to him by the Edward Roybal Learning Center. He spoke about tackling mental health issues in youth and adults.

The soft-spoken but quotable Lakers' forward Metta World Peace addressed a gymnasium full of high school students Thursday morning and encouraged them to be bold, work hard and confront mental health issues head-on. He used his own internal struggles as examples -- and shared a piece of advice his own counselor gave him.

"First, I had to learn about myself," he told youngsters at the Edward Roybal Learning Center near downtown. "Why I am the way I am."

The athelete formerly known as Ron Artest said the kids have a "golden opportunity" to nip their issues in the bud and encouraged them to take advantage of resources like teachers and school counselors.

"The more you address things now the better you are for the future," World Peace said.

The outspoken star candidly shared stories of his high school struggles: He had a quick temper, got a failing 820 on his SAT's the first time he took them, and had a baby at 16 years old, he said. As a child, he saw his own family struggle with depression and anxiety and to this day, cites his parents' seperation as the most difficult thing he's ever had to overcome.

World Peace said it's this personal attachment to mental health issues helps drive his very public championing of the cause.

"I want to see change and I want to help," he said.

Last year, World Peace donated $285,000 to mental health charities across the U.S. and pledged to donate more than $500,000 that he raised by raffling his Lakers' championship ring.

More than money, the seasoned ball player offers celebrity status. Edward Vidaurri, district chief of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, said many young people look at basketball players as "gods on earth," and this empowers World Peace to set an example they may actually follow. In the past, mental illness was considered a death sentence (or a life sentence) said Vidaurri, but World Peace shows kids that it can be overcome.

He implored students to always "take five"; take five seconds, five minutes, or even five years, to focus on figuring your own self out.

After he finished his speech and was presented with his honorary Roybal "Titans" scarf and beanie (which he immediately tried on, illiciting roaring cheers from the bleachers) - it was the kids turn to ask a smiling, humble World Peace questions about how he got to be the mental health advocate and seasoned ball player he is today.

"Why did you change your name to Metta World Peace?" one student asked. "I've asked myself that same question," World Peace replied with a laugh.

Other questions spanned from "What do you do now when you get mad?" to ""How did you learn to play basketball?"

"I was bad when I was young," World Peace said. "I sucked -- really, really bad," he said.

Finally, one giggly student asked the question we were really all waiting for: "How do you keep your sexiness?" she said.

"That's a bold question," World Peace said with a good-humored wide smile. "It's good to be bold."

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