Nationally known pro-life speaker Bryan S. Kemper, a tattoo-covered reformed former drug dealer, looked out of place at Immaculate Heart Central Junior/Senior High School.
Mr. Kemper, who converted to Christianity 25 years ago, spoke to students about his change and abortion stance at the school’s Ash Wednesday Catholic Retreat.
“I talked about different times of history when our personhood has been stripped by others,” he said, referencing the Dred Scott decision, the Holocaust and Roe v. Wade. “We always need to stand up for the person regardless of their race, the color of their skin and their age.”
Campus minister and religion teacher Seth O. Conklin said he invited Mr. Kemper to speak at the retreat about what it means to be a human being.
“The idea was to step back from the normal school day and grow spiritually,” Mr. Conklin said. “We can’t separate Jesus from what it means to be human. The message of what it means is to acknowledge not only human beings who are here, but also those who are unborn.”
Mr. Kemper became clean after he nearly lost his life in a drug deal that turned bad. He is now the Priests for Life youth outreach coordinator and has spoken about his stance on abortion for about 20 years since he first spoke at the Lollapalooza music festival.
He has been invited to speak by pregnancy centers and colleges throughout the world and said he thinks the young generation embraces his message.
“This generation, I think, is definitely pro-life, I’m sure,” he said. “In the ’90s, it was about 70 percent older people, but now it’s 70 percent younger people.”
He has seen fewer protests at his speeches, citing the last one a year ago in Belgium. He said he respects everyone’s right to protest as long as they respect his right to speak.
“I believe everyone has the right to raise their voice, even if we disagree,” he said. “If we don’t stand up now, what will our kids have? What will our grandchildren have?”
He wrapped up his time with the students with a quick question-and-answer period. Students asked what his favorite tattoo is — the ring symbolizing the love for his wife — and why he started believing in God.
He cited a moment when, in southern California, someone planned to kill him in a drug deal. He avoided the deal after receiving a tip from a friend. However, when he tried to sleep in his truck that night, he said, someone opened the door and pointed a gun inches from his head. The person did not fire and left after a few minutes.
A few years later, Mr. Kemper approached the man who pointed the gun at him and asked why he did not shoot.
“He said, ‘Dude, your truck was empty,’” Mr. Kemper said to the room full of students. “I really believe God was protecting me that night.”
Mr. Kemper will speak in Dayton, Ohio, for his next gig and has a tour of Australia planned for later this year. However, he said the students at Immaculate Heart Central were memorable.
“I’ve been treated so well by the students,” he said. “It’s one of the most respectful student bodies I’ve spoken to.”