While coming of age in Houston, former NFL player Darrell Green faced several hardships. He was born into an impoverished community, his parents were divorced, and several people in his family battled with alcoholism and drug abuse. Despite having the odds stacked against him, he used his obstacles as a source of motivation to stay on the right track and go after something greater. He fell in love with the game of football, went on to become a first-round draft pick for the Washington Washington Football Team and had a storied athletic career. Now Green has gone from tackling his opponents on the field to tackling issues faced by teens across the country through his Strong Youth, Strong Communities (SYSC) initiative.
Green was cognizant of the struggles that teens battle with daily especially in today’s digital age; including things like bullying, suicide, drug and substance abuse, teen pregnancy and other roadblocks that prevent them from succeeding academically and in other aspects of their lives. According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 24 and oftentimes bullying is a factor. A report released by DoSomething.org revealed that more than 60 percent of teens said that drugs were sold, used, or kept at their school. The Covenant House found that 40 percent of the homeless population in the United States are under 18. Many of the things that youth are dealing with today, mirrored some of the experiences that Green had growing up which propelled him to create an initiative that would educate, empower, and inspire teens so they have the capability to positively impact current and future communities.
SYSC hosts summits throughout the country to provide youth with mentorship, leadership training, and resources so that they can transform themselves into leaders and set the example for their peers. The program is a collaborative effort between the Centene Corporation and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The summits—which are designed for middle school and high school students—are led by Green, and his fellow football Hall of Famers Anthony Muñoz, and Aeneas Williams. When interacting with the youth they stress the importance of having a strong sense of self-confidence.
“If I can use my influence and access to create opportunities for youth, then I feel like I’m making an impact,” Green told NewsOne. “SYSC seeks to help the youth so that they can discover a positive way to lead their lives. We guide them in building their own foundation to stand on. We want to show them that they can overcome obstacles, but that ultimately relies on your thought process when it comes to navigating your life. Through this initiative, we want to illustrate the importance of having wisdom, integrity, character and vision which is the recipe for success.”
SYSC recently hosted three summits in Florida. Joyce Larkin, VP of Corporate Community Relations, Centene told NewsOne that there is a need for programs like SYSC because inadequate funding at schools leaves little room for student resources. “Schools are stressed in regards to resources. Budget shortfalls closed a lot of community establishments designed to help the youth,” she said. “We want to close that gap and use this program as an avenue for mentorship. Kids want to have assurance that they can get back up after they’ve been knocked down. The youth are resilient. They are tomorrow’s leaders. We have to invest in them. Community organizations need to come together and find a solution to their problems.”
Built on the pillars of commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence, SYSC plans on continuing to make an impact in the lives of teens across the country by hosting future summits. “When I travel across the country to host these summits, I have more hope about the future of our nation. It’s been a privilege to work with these young people.”