Tia Norfleet, the first and only African-American female licensed NASCAR driver, was the keynote speaker at Teaneck High School’s Honor Roll Assembly, Thursday.
Norfleet addressed approximately 500 Honor Roll students in an assembly to celebrate their academic achievements. Norfleet, the 25-year old daughter of racing veteran Bobby Norfleet, made her NASCAR racing debut in August.
Norfleet's career in racing began with go-karts and progressed to drag racing until she finally proved herself by obtaining her NASCAR license, breaking ground by being the first African-American woman to do so.
Norfleet explained to the students that NASCAR requires a special license that must be signed off by professionals attesting to your abilities.
"Even if you do well, they can still say 'no,'" Norfleet said.
Despite her commitment to the sport, Norfleet is determined to break even more ground. She is a self-described businesswoman, as well as a philanthropist. Her foundation, “Driven 2 Read,” focuses on child literacy. When she’s not preparing to race, she speaks to young people about overcoming the odds.
In addressing the honor students at Teaneck High, Norfleet emphasized the importance of obtaining an education and encouraged them to follow their passions and do what they love.
"Don't listen to people who discourage you," she said. "Don't surround yourself with negative people."
"One of the most important considerations in life," Norfleet stressed, "is to "always know that you're a role model to somebody--whether you realize it or not."
To the surprise of the students, Norfleet said that she has turned down sponsorships where they had offered her "a lot of money."
"Liquor sponsorships, cigarette sponsorships...I turned them down because that's not the image I want to project," she said.
Norfleet credits her dad with giving her great advice. "My dad always told me that all money isn't good money."
Responding to one of the student's questions about being professionally paid to pursue her sport, Norfleet said, "Always know the business side of what you do," she said.
Norfleet encouraged the students to go to college and take business courses. "Once you understand the business side of what you do, no one can ever take advantage of you."
When asked who her role models were, Norfleet said her parents.
"My mother taught me how to be a strong and independent woman, and my father taught me how to drive and be a business person."