Mo Stegall Shares His Personal Story of Tragedy To Triumph
(Originally Posted in 2009)
When multi-media producer Mo Stegall first stood in front of his college peers to read one of his highly creative writings, it was clear to all that he had a gift.
By developing that gift into a career, the 37-year-old Atlanta native managed to catapult his Charlotte-based TV show, The S.E.L.F Show into a movement, tour the U.S. as a motivational speaker and produce a series of TV programs such as Gospel Vibes, Straight Talk with Micheal Stevens and Talk about It!, all aimed at empowering and uplifting the community, but it has not been an easy task.
After battling personal setbacks, Stegall was able to rise above his circumstances to promote social change, proving that there is much more to the man behind the mike.
Stegall’s life story begins in the low-income neighborhoods of Harris Homes Housing Projects in Atlanta. Raised in a single-parent household, his mother worked desperately to ensure that her son would not become another statistic. Using education as a means to shape her child’s future, Stegall’s mother bused her children to the most affluent neighborhoods to attend school.
“My mother sent me and my middle brother off to Buckhead [an upscale neighborhood in Atlanta] to go to school and I went there from kindergarten through high school. It was like I lived a double-life. I would be one individual during the day and another when I got back home because of my environment. The schooling showed me a different side of life,” says Stegall.
Although the magnet schooling gave him opportunities that may have not been afforded to him at his neighborhood schools, Stegall had some problems adjusting.
“A lot of the people I befriended at the schools had parents that were successful by society’s standards. They had a lot of material things and I didn’t. My mom had other priorities like making sure we stayed fed and that we didn’t get evicted,” recalls Stegall.
“I think the biggest adjustment for me, was understanding that just because they had certain things, that didn’t make them better than me or that their parents were better than my parents. My mom couldn’t afford to buy certain things, but she afforded us a lot of love,” says Stegall.
Without a father figure in the household, Stegall began surrounding himself around positive male influences throughout his young life.
“ I hung with a couple of young men that were much older than me in my community and Rev. Robbins, who was our pastor at the time, did a lot of great things in the community, including showing us how to be young men. It made a difference for those who took what he instilled and applied it,” says Stegall.
While living between two social norms as a teen, Stegall combined his street and book knowledge to set his sights high.
The energetic teenager attended Northside High School for the Performing Arts (aka North Atlanta High School) and began honing his craft as an entertainer and writer.
In addition to studying various writers, Stegall often found himself in the mirror mimicking radio personalities and talk show hosts.
After enrolling in college, the promising 20-year-old’s life suddenly took a turn for the worst. A catastrophic car accident left the young college student unable to walk for a year.
“I was so angry in the beginning, I was always a person on the go and now, I was suddenly unable to walk; but in the midst of it is when I really learned how to express myself through words and develop a closer relationship with my mom and God. I learned so much about myself during that period of time,” says Stegall.
Having suffered broken ribs and multiple operations as a result of the accident, Stegall saw a greater purpose in his life being spared, and set out to encourage others.
“I started a language and research program while in Atlanta. When I moved away, I took it with me and it was doing extremely well in Charlotte. It wasn’t until one day, I was with a group of high school students during a round table discussion and they began to express stuff they had never talked about. One individual talked about not being liked and how she utilzes sex to get attention from people, another student talked about his father trying to kill his mother,” says Stegall.
“I sat there like ‘wow,’ what topic is this? It wasn’t until it was over that I felt God speak to me saying, ‘this is what the young people need and you are the person I’ve given the ability to do something about it,” recalls Stegall.
However, life would soon deliver another blow for Stegall before his epiphany would materialize. After a long battle with the HIV virus, Stegall’s mother succumbed to the AIDS disease in 2000. Through his grief, Stegall allowed the situation to fuel his desire to provide a platform for youth going through similar situations.
The S.E.L.F. Show (Students Expressing Life Freely) became the first product of Stegall’s epiphany.
“The first production went well and the community loved it. Honestly, I didn’t know anything about media production at the time,” says Stegall.
“We did a month long show that really wasn’t a talk show format, where I brought in different guests from the city. When it made the front page of a major newspaper in Charlotte, that’s when I knew I had something big here,” adds Stegall.
As the show’s popularity grew, so did Stegall’s demand, defining him as a strong community leader and youth mentor. He became a frequent guest on radio talk shows and made media headlines across the country, but the stress became too much. Two years after the project’s conception, Stegall decided it was time to pull the plug.
“A young producer came into my office after seeing the S.E.L.F show online and wanted to know why I was no longer doing the show. The public just would not let me forget the impact the S.E.L.F. Show had made,” says Stegall.
The S.E.L.F show was finally re-launched in 2005, which unleashed many opportunities for Stegall who is currently a commentator for the HBCU Empower Me Tour alongside New York Times bestselling author Hill Harper.
“If I did not re-launch the show, I would not be where I am now. My goal on this tour is to reach individuals to help them discover their passion, understand their plan and to be prepared for opportunities that will come their way by being persistent and surrounding themselves with the proper people,” says Stegall.
The self-made entrepreneur is also hard at work producing a new radio show and documentary entitled RasberriRose: Life before HIV and after AIDS. The documentary will depict many different people with varying ages living with the HIV virus, while teaching others how to cope.
“This documentary is very special to me because I saw this first hand with my mother and I lost a cousin to the disease. It has been very therapeutic for me and I am sure it will encourage others,” says Stegall
Through all of life’s challenges, Stegall believes he is a stronger and wiser man whose living testimony surpasses any media he has and will ever produce.
With his biggest fear being that of failure or not being adequate enough to fulfill his vision, the man that was once bound to a walker is now standing with the support of a community ready and working for change together.
–Written by Angela Fedrick-Lewis