Reggie isn’t your typical motivational speaker, but one thing’s for certain, he is the man for the job.
For the past 31 years, US-based inspirational speaker Reggie Dabbs has been travelling across the world delivering a message of hope to teens. He is known by multiple generations of Aussies for his jovial presence, booming voice and heartfelt messages – often with a serving of saxophone. While his audience ages, his message does not.
It's not because Reggie's funny, it's because, unlike many other speakers, he gets right down to what's important.
"It ain't the humour and it ain't the honesty [that make kids relate to me], it's the love," says Reggie. "I believe people turn to drugs and a lot of other negative, horrible influences in their life because they don't have that love. When you put in that love factor, it attracts people in a cool and genuine way."
Reggie's presence is undeniable – one which stands head and shoulders above everyone else in the room.
"The number one thing I make fun of is my size. Being very large, I just joke about it, and anybody who has any kind of abnormal feeling about themselves thinks; 'Now this cat, he's laughing about himself. Why can't I laugh about me?'" he says.
By laughing at himself, Reggie gets to talk about what truly matters to his audience: their concerns about relationships, bullying and their future. But, most of all, it gives him the remarkable ability to bring hope where there is none.
"If you confront the walls and break them down, when you bring up hope, love and Jesus, it's easier to reach into the heart of every person in the room," he explains.
After the laughter dies down, Reggie will tell the kids sitting in front of him about his own upbringing. He explains that his birth mother was a prostitute, and she gave him away to her favourite schoolteacher and her husband, who continued to care for him as foster parents before eventually adopting him.
In fact, Reggie was only eight years old when he found this out for himself, and he shares that this put him on the path to helping young people.
"When I was 12, it was three in the morning and I decided I didn't want to live any more. My foster-care dad came into my room, put his arms around me and said, 'You're not my son. I can't give you my blood, but if you let me I'll love you to the day I die.' And he did just that," Reggie gladly acknowledges.
"It was the love of Jesus through him and through my foster-care mum that led me to Jesus the first time."
After graduating from college, Reggie began his public speaking. During one speaking engagement, his host asked if he would be interested in addressing a high school assembly. From that small beginning in 1987, Reggie has become a popular public school speaker.
Over time, Reggie realised that the only way he could keep kids from the darkness he once felt was to share his own story.
That's why every joke he cracks is paired with the truth that no-one is ever truly alone.
"We all have something deep inside that only love, only Christ, can fill," he says. "I can be a part of that hope-finding process. I come across as very funny in my humour, and also very serious in my personal testimony, and I think God gave me the ability to blend the two in a way that's really unique."
Reggie talks to kids about family and how thankful they should be that they have families. Most of all, Reggie drives home the fact that, "You can never change your past, but you can change your future!"
In a climate where religion is becoming more contentious in public forums, different sources label Reggie different things: a motivational speaker, an evangelist, even a 'bully buster'.
When you get down to it, though, it's clear he has one simple agenda: to bring hope wherever he goes.
Reggie's results speak for themselves. He's met with tears, kids that line up for bear hugs, ones that want to take selfies with him and messages from all over social media.
He makes a point of travelling far and wide so people in even the most remote areas have the opportunity to hear his story.
"I have an incredible wife who lets me go," Reggie says, before mentioning that she made sure their son Dominic joined him on the road as a kid so he understood what his father did.
"When Dominic was 10 years old, a teacher asked him, 'So, what does your dad do?' and he said, 'My dad saves the world.'" Reggie says with pride.
Reggie is planning to return to Australia in May – by way of London and Stockholm.•