On a daily basis, APEMAN receives emails and letters detailing how individuals all over the world “find their strong.”

We believe the most inspiring people are those around us every day, people doing extraordinary things and inspiring others to overcome. 

So when we received the below letter from inspirational speaker Kirk Latimer, it certainly captured our attention. 

In his own words, read how Kirk drew inspiration from his past experiences and the mission of APEMAN. 

Resilient. Tough. Honest.

This is the story of Kirk Latimer.


I stumbled upon your brand and something immediately connected with me when I saw the SCARS t-shirt. Honestly, I bought it without even knowing much about your company. The shirt arrived as I readied for an event my nonprofit organization was about to put on. What struck me were the cards included that carried narratives about how our survival and being champions of difficulty make us lighthouse beacons for those lost in the tumultuous storms of their lives.

It spoke to me in so many ways. It washed over the wounds of my past and reminded me just how important my life journey has been. It’s not easy to tell in few words. But I will aim to hit on the most critical moments and try hard not to be long-winded. This is not my strong suit.

I grew up in Detroit, poor, abused and with growing self-hatred. Labeled learning disabled and picked on by everyone—teachers included. I struggled to keep my head up. Raised by a violent family, I gained violent friends and somehow found my self-esteem, however artificial it was, in wearing the armor of toughness and anger. My friend Jack in seventh grade taught me to play bloody knuckles until I grew stronger than him. Got into my first fight that same year and learned a lesson: people can’t hurt you when they are unconscious. Or scared to say anything for fear they’d get a fist in the face. It worked. It kept me safe.

So I thought.

I started dealing drugs, self-harming and treating others as poorly as I once was treated. I walked tall now, but it was fake. It was a shadow only. An illusion. Because I was still a sad and scared little boy hiding from the monsters he grew up knowing too well. I just found a way to hide it better than ever.

That is until 1998 when our community became the center of attention on national news outlets. My high school was labeled “Suicide High.” That year, nine of my peers took their lives in a three month time period. Five of them were my friends. The first to go was my friend Jack, the one who taught me how to play bloody knuckles. Now he was buried. The youngest to end her life was a 14-year-old girl I had sold drugs to many times. I stared into their caskets completely overwhelmed by the damage that had been done, that I had done, that we all had done. They were gone, and yet I was still here. I somehow remained. Left behind—to be faced with looking in the mirror at my reflection and seeing all I had lost along the way. The loving boy I had forgotten was once alive within me.

The night I took a gun to my own head, I had gotten a phone call and was distracted enough, sad enough, tired enough to simply forget to go back to pull the trigger. So I went on another day. And another. And another. I graduated high school, tried out for the graduation speech and ended up delivering it in front of thousands of people—when my grades barely warranted a diploma. I decided to leave, go to college and dedicate my life to helping others. I wanted to become a teacher.

So I killed it in college. Took all that rage and anger and made it work FOR me instead of against me and the world. I graduated top of my class. I ended up realizing I had brains, grit and fortitude. I received over 14 awards for my academics and writing. Then I became a teacher, and did for my students what no one ever did for me and my friends. I tore textbooks in half and tossed them out the window and decided instead to teach what we all really need: life lessons, reminders of our strength, and the things that actually matter.

Then in 2008, I left my job as a teacher to follow my passion as a motivational speaker. I joined forces with an ex-gang banger and army veteran and we traveled (and still travel) the nation sharing our stories of transformation. I survived my own destructive self, and he overcame testicular cancer that had nearly reached his brain. We made it to the America’s Got Talent stage, the Apollo stage and have performed now for audiences as small as five and as large as 8,000.

I’m not famous. I don’t give a shit about that. We came back to our community and confounded a nonprofit that has since gone into treatment facilities, prisons and juvenile homes to help give VOICE to the often silenced. To help those at the margins see that they too matter. That the experiences we have don’t define us, but what we do with them does. How we see them. How we share them. How we use them as fuel for action and transformation.

Now that’s what I do. A man with PSTD, mental challenges, emotional trauma, and a past of many lives and deaths. I spend my days dedicated to giving hope where there is sometimes none to be seen. And while I wish I could say I make a huge difference in the lives of others...the truth is, it’s the lives of others who are, in fact, changing me. This journey is what continues to heal me. It gives ME hope. The unlikely and the damaged people I work with are, in actuality, the most inspiring people I have ever met.

They remind me that we are all damaged. And sometimes, the most damaged are the ones who mistakenly believe they are the most broken, when in fact, they are the most beautiful.

And that’s enough to get me up each day—as a bodybuilder, teacher, nonprofit leader, and speaker. Mostly I’m just a guy just as fucked up as the next one who wants to do just a little bit better than he did the day before.