Our world is a lot different than it was nearly a year ago, where it was common to engage in a hug, a handshake or even attend a group event. These days, we’ve had to redefine what it means to connect with others. How can we still create positive impact where distance is limited, and speech is often muffled with a mask? What do we do? We innovate. We get creative. We keep going. We may slow down, but we don’t stop.
This is exactly what the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan (BGCSM) did through their Passport 2 Manhood program, which is designed to walk with young men on their journey to manhood. BGCSM has been able to accommodate the youth and hold events, albeit either virtually or in a safe environment that follows sanitizing and social distancing guidelines. Each week, Passport 2 Manhood holds an event, and this week, at the Dick and Sandy Dauch Club, featured a Resilience Workshop and Resilience Action plan with Detroit Lions cornerback, Jeff Okudah.
BGCSM is devoted to developing the 21st Century Athlete. By this, they strive to have athletes who are strong athletically as well as in the classroom. The goal is to expose them to career opportunities. While football and other sports may be the hook, the bigger picture is to push the students to thrive in the real world, in entrepreneurship, and in leadership. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they were able to keep this vision alive. By developing the 21stCentury Athlete, their goal is to reimagine sports for the youth. Last year, they were able to partner with Greater Metropolitan Youth Sports League and Xenith to continue and expand their football and cheerleading program, including the development of a new football team, The Packers. Through these partnerships, they are able to provide top quality sports equipment and high-quality education and enrichment programming to the youth. The league now includes 11 teams and serves roughly 2,700 youth athletes.
This is what made this partnership with Jeff Okudah so special. BGCSM has a big focus on athlete development, as well as pushing for growth and resilience in life and academics. This is what Okudah was able to bring during this event. He said to the young athletes, “We’re just excited to be here and get a chance to get with the community and help you reach your dreams…someone helped me climb my mountain, so I want to help you guys climb yours.”
What separated this event from others was Jeff’s hands-on approach with the kids while he creatively taught young athletes how to better their performance. “Come into it with control, instead of running to it full speed…you gotta play with swag,” he said as he proceeded to show them by example exactly what he meant. You couldn’t help but smile while watching the young men soak up the things he said and shuffle their feet, emulating what he exemplified.
Jeff spoke and led by sharing his insight on the things that matter, both on and off the field. They were able to hear about the work it takes to balance both football and schoolwork, a tool that will be helpful in the balance and harmony of many things they’ll encounter as student-athletes. “I know you guys probably have trouble balancing football and schoolwork. I’m a competitor like y’all. I’m sure a lot of you like to compete. I want to be the best in everything I do. So, when I’m in the classroom, I’m trying to be the best in the classroom.”
During the interview, questions led by the youth were centered around sports, education, and other personal interests. Members of Passport 2 Manhood were able to hear about Okudah’s challenges and gain wisdom, lest they encounter the same ones on their own walks of life. They learned of the importance of resilience and how to have it throughout their lives and careers. Okudah shared many helpful tips with everyone in the room, such as:
- Take control and responsibility for your actions, thoughts, and feelings.
- Don’t neglect your personal development.
- Use setbacks as a chance for growth.
- Have a positive outlook.
- Seek social support.
- Seek to be the personal best you can be.
- Exercise control both on and off the field.
“I want to make sure whatever I put my name on is the best work they see…when you have that mentality, it makes it easier to find that balance,” Jeff Okudah.
These young men were shown the care and attention that went beyond a lecture.
Jeff mentioned that others helped him along the way, and it was his hope to return the favor by paying it forward to those beginning their athletic journey. He encouraged them, “Having y’all here and seeing you put in the work right now is really inspiring. Y’all are going to go really far and have really bright futures.” This is what it’s all about: doing our part to plant the seeds that others have sown in our lives (or the ones we wished had been sown), to continue the cycle of positive legacy building and properly passing the baton to the young men and women of the next generation.
As one staff member puts it, “My bottom line to make sure that each kid is successful in their next level of life.”