NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – One brief conversation with Tennessee State University senior Deontae Henderson, and it becomes clear that he is an undeniable force of inspiration and positivity.
Each morning, the 21-year-old Minneapolis, Minnesota native begins his podcast, Just Deontae, by proclaiming to the world, “I can’t stop until I make it to the top.” For Henderson, making it “to the top” is not just a catch phrase; it’s a way of life, as well as the title of his first children’s book.
To The Top tells the story of a turtle named Koa who overcomes numerous obstacles during his quest to make it to the top of a mountain. On his journey, Koa encounters various animals that discourage him from reaching his destination. However, Koa exercises persistence and determination until he reaches his goal.
Like Koa, Henderson’s story is one of overcoming obstacles. In fact, his mother, Evette Henderson, said his writing started as a result of her finding constructive ways to discipline her son when he was in grade school.
“When Deontae was young, he had to do a lot of time-outs because he wouldn’t listen. In his time-outs, he would have to read or write. He did a lot of writing,” she said. “When he would get in trouble at school, I would also have him come home and write out his five-year plan, and I still have some of the papers he would write for me.”
Henderson’s book, which can be purchased through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iBook, Xulon Press, and Mall of America, became the number one selling book by a local author at a Minneapolis Barnes and Noble, surpassing the sales of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future, a book written by Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and the first nonwhite that Minnesota has ever elected to Congress.
The founder and CEO of an inspirational brand called S.M.O.O.V.E., which stands for Steady Moving On Our Visions Everyday, Henderson uses his company to create bracelets, apparel, and books to encourage and motivate others to pursue the best version of themselves.
“What I’m starting to realize is that those people we look up to, Steve Jobs, Stan Lee, Jim Henson who made the muppets, Jay-Z, P Diddy, and Ryan Cooglar who just made The Black Panther, all these people are just being big kids. And when you watch the interviews they say, ‘I’m just doing what I wanted to do as a kid,’” he said. “They are having fun doing what they are doing and they don’t see it as a job.”
A consummate optimist, Henderson said a great deal of his success can be credited to the training he received from his mother.
“She really taught us to believe in ourselves,” he said. “She gave us so much confidence that whenever we went to do anything, we thought, ‘Yeah we can accomplish it. This is easy for us.’ And she still does that. No matter what, she always has my back.”
After a disappointing introduction to college life, Henderson set his sites on attending TSU and becoming a walk-on member of the TSU Flying Tigers Track Team. In order to make the team, he had to impress Olympic Gold Medalist and TSU Track Coach Chandra Cheeseborough.
“He found Coach Cheese, and he e-mailed her. At first she denied him, but he just kept contacting her, and she finally told him he could come and do a walk on,” Henderson’s mother said. “I just packed all our stuff, and we basically went on faith. We just threw all his stuff in my truck and I drove him to TSU, and that’s how he got there. He’s been there ever since.”
“I am proud of Deontae, and what he has accomplished as an author,” she said. “He has a spirit of determination, and that will take him a long way.”
Henderson, who recently released his second children’s book, Momma Bear, which is available on Amazon, said being an author brings him great joy.
“When I am able to write a story, put it out there, and receive a profit from my own ideas and what I love to do, that’s actually the best feeling ever,” he said.
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About Tennessee State University
With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.