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Speaker gets motivation from home state

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Born in New York City to a prostitute and drug addict mother, Morris Morrison lost both his parents at a very young age. Then at 15, he lost his longtime foster mother to death and another father figure to a prison sentence in one fell swoop.

But Morrison, who grew up in Fairmont, has overcome the rough circumstances of his childhood to become a successful motivational speaker.

The 33-year-old was recently hired to speak to the National Basketball Association's newest players with the 2012 NBA Rookie Transition Program.

"Fortunately we've got studies and surveys that shows the average career in the NBA is 4.7 years, so they're only going to be 24 or 25 when there's no more air in the basketball," Morrison, 33, said of speaking to NBA players. "I teach them the skills they need to have as a person. Leadership skills [are important] at the end of the day."

He's also spoken to athletes at the University of Notre Dame, among others.

For his own success, Morrison credits his upbringing in West Virginia and his relationship with God.

"In West Virginia, if you're working hard and if you try your best and stay out of trouble, there are so many people around you that will support you and help you with whatever you need," Morrison said.

Morrison moved to Fairmont at an early age when his mother died of a drug overdose. His father died soon after.

It was then that Fairmont resident Gwendolyn Sanders took him in as a foster child. He likes to call Sanders his hero.

"What I learned in being from West Virginia [is that there are] many people who step up as a community and help, and do things that they don't have to do," he said. "That's what [Sanders] did for me."

Life again turned tragic for Morrison in 1994 when he was 15 years old. Sanders' son, Chucky, was sentenced to more than 90 years in prison for robbery, conspiracy and assault, according to published reports.

Chucky Sanders was in an altercation with a man who was ultimately shot in the hand during the struggle, Morrison said.

The man told police that Chucky and another man had shot him in the hand in the process of robbing him, Morrison said.

Morrison believes the sentence was unjust.

"He was sentenced to 96 years for a crime that most people would spend no more than two to five years for," Morrison said.

Sanders was a like a father to Morrison, he said. The man was sentenced to prison on Morrison's 15th birthday.

"On the next day his mother went to the hospital and died a few days later," Morrison said.

While Gwendolyn Sanders was an older lady who suffered from diabetes, many people say she died of a broken heart, Morrison said.

Orphaned yet again, Morrison "bounced around for a little while" and went to live with an aunt until he went to study at Fairmont State University.

While some might be tempted to be bitter, Morrison said the people in his life inspired him to overcome his past and be successful.

"It was tough to deal with," he said of losing Sanders and her son to prison.

"Because Fairmont had so many people around that encouraged and supported me, people had an expectation for me to do something with my life," Morrison said. "I was scared to let people down."

He went on to earn a psychology degree at Fairmont State University and a master's degree in industrial labor relations at West Virginia University.

Motivational speaking, he said, was a calling.

For Morrison, who now lives in Lake Norman, N.C., success boils down to the right beliefs, relationships and choices, he said.

" I learned early in life that if you trust in God, and secondly if you have the right relationships in your life -- which I did because I lived in West Virginia -- and if you make good choices, then the sky is the limit."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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