Sometimes it takes seeing one of your dreams come true to realize your dream wasn’t big enough.
1 Thursday this summer, I sat with Richard Collier. 2 years ago this month- while fighting to start his 2nd straight game at Left Tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars, BigRich had his career halted and life nearly ended when he was shot 14 times, leaving him partially paralyzed and without 1 of his legs. He was with me in jail…. talking about choices, forgiveness, and redemption to 75 soon-to-be-released youth offenders at a high security facility where only 4 of the 75 boys said they had grown up with their fathers. I looked around and realized I’d never seen a room of juvenile felony offenders so moldable and responsive to a male role model.
The next Monday, I sat in a circle of 25 guys. 16 foster kids ages 9-16, 6 NFL players ages 22-27, and 3 of us regular guys. We were spending time with the kids in either 1:1 or 1:2 groups trading stories about our strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the night-like they had the past 10 Mondays- the kids thanked all the guys, circled up for prayer, and said “See you next Week!” with smiles on all their faces.
Friday came around. We’d been at this for 54 weeks, hitting foster homes and juvie centers with young NFL players and the volunteer mentors they’d mobilized and inspired with their valuable time and large platform of influence. But at the end of this workweek, several news stories about these mentoring efforts hit local and national media outlets. That- and the news about Don Miller’s ”Living a Better Story” Seminar sparked me to consider dreaming a lot bigger.
30 other Cities needing much more THAN money
There are 32 teams in the NFL, representing some 31 of the largest 50 cities in America. Lots of NFL players and professional athletes are doing huge things in charities in these cities and their hometowns. A large number give countless millions to charities, football camps, etc.
But these cities are hurting for more than a perennial winning team, or even more money from athletes for worthy causes… these cities are losing the battle for a generation of young males. Each city throws tens- some of them hundreds- of millions of dollars each year at its most at risk youth faltering in places like foster care, the juvenile justice system, or high crime neighborhoods. Oakland spends some $216,000 per kid on its juvenile justice system while thousands of Christians march the streets of Chicago praying to end violence as programs working with at risk youth continue to have just 1% of the volunteer mentors needed to make true 1:1 impact on the youth of the city.
The NFL Draft
One weekend every April, some 240 young men achieve a 1 in 10,000 dream ….they are chosen in the NFL Draft.
Each of these young men will do what some 99.91% of his high school teammmates only dreamed to do….he’ll wear an NFL uniform.
These guys throw draft parties, watch ESPN, get the phonecall, and their whole world changes, because someone ”Picked them”. Each 21-23 year old will catch a flight to his new home- where for the next 10-12 weeks he’ll stay in a team hotel, work out at the facility during the day, and work towards making the team and signing his first contract.
Draft Day for Mentors
What: I dream to see another draft some 2 months after the NFL draft…. 1 inviting these rookies to spend the next 12 months committing time and influence as mentors within existing non profits and government groups working with at risk youth in their new cities.
When: Just before the young men begin signing their respective 3-6 year contracts for anywhere from $750K-50 Million, each year’s draft class comes together only 1 time and in 1 place: the Annual NFL Rookie Symposium. Here, they hear about personal conduct, the power of choices, money management, and other basics of their new profession from current and former coaches and players.
How: I see a 3 layers to this story with 32 chapters. I feel I can be a catalytic part of the story, but definitely see hundreds of people playing important roles in it, a vast majority of them playing larger roles than I will.
1- Big Net Cast at the Symposium: An inspiring authority on youth mentoring such as a high level rep of TMProject speaks for 15 or so minutes at the Rookie Symposium, casting vision for how these young men who’ve been “picked” can do something similar for at risk youth, and “pick” kids and mentors within a local cause to commit time and influence to as a rookie. 1 Point of selling the league is that no links in this mentoring chain are to solicity money…. this is simply about time and influence. Also, a rookie mentoring at risk youth is a maturing, responsible rookie–capturing the spirit of the symposium. The NFL wants these players in the news for stories about good character….not for character issues.
2- Partner with Ed Block Network and other trusted non profits or government orgs for places on the ground for players to invest time and influence. The NFL Teams already have a strong connection with the ED Block Network, a group that has youth shelters in 19 of 31 NFL cities in dire need of mentors. Each team selects an “Ed Block Courage Award” Winner from its roster each season as a model of courage in overcoming obstacles, and the winners all go to Baltimore’s Courage House after the season to receive their awards.
3- Select and Train a “Team Captain” in each city to coordinate with the local mentoring organization, the NFL team, chaplain, and it’s players. This team captain will work with the team and will present at each team’s “mini symposium”, which the league mandates be held some 1-2 days just before training camp with each team’s current rookie class.
Living a Better Story Seminar
I want to be a part of inspiring influencers to live better stories.
I stood in a parking lot at juvie and talked with Jaguars LB Russell Allen one night. His ride was late, and we were just talking about the year he’d had. It was a good year. But after reading, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”, I felt compelled to ask him what story he wanted to live this year. That’s when he said he loved going to juvie, but he and his wife really wanted to do something they ‘could see’ where they could make a bigger long term impact. The weekly mentoring at the Foster Home was where that story took root, and Russell’s story has skyrocketed ever since. Not only did his story get national press, but he also just won the Jaguars Community Leader of the Year. This is the kind of story our cities need to see these influencers living…and I’m certain it’s the kind of story the League wants them living. Im just thinking…if the book nudged us to go this far….how far could a concentrated conference go?
I’m living a pretty good story with at risk youth and mentors right now. I work in an incredibly influential church with local, national, and global platforms. Aside from seeing leaders live better stories at our US and International campuses, there’s a real possibility that what we’ve done locally will directly influence our national partners and other fast growing and influential churches through our work with Outreach Magazine.
But Draft Day for Mentors is different. Influencers like this go places churches cannot, and leave the door open for us to follow. This story with 32 Chapters and 240 incredibly influential potential protagonists is one I need to seek real direction on…. I say 240 potential protagonists. Maybe all rookies won’t do it. But what if 3 from each team did? Then 3 the next year, and 3 the next. 9 on each team, 32 teams…lots of influential mentors in a very short time.
Before you know it, we’re talking a movement not just driven by rookies, but success stories from Vets getting driven into the fabric of the NFL. We’re already dealing with that in Jacksonville, as the rookies who helped us last year aren’t rookies anymore…and their involvement only spurred on the current draft class to jump in.
Draft Day for Mentors can be a story in itself. If we dream bigger, we could think about players’ wives and cheerleaders working with girls or the visibility a player’s work brings to local non profits and drives volunteerism. Really, if it’s wanted badly enough and obstacles are overcome, what we get is something dreams are really made of.