As part of their Breaking Barriers initiative, Colts players, IMPD officers, and staff from the Peace Learning Center met with teens at the Martin Luther King Center on Monday to talk about conflict resolution.
Linebacker Najee Goode resolved a conflict of his own when he was scheduled to be at the event, but also realized he was on daddy duty. But it was an easy fix – he brought his daughters with him.
"I love my daughters. They're everything to me," he said. "They're a huge reason as to why I do a lot of things."
"It made me smile when I saw him walk in with his two little girls," said linebacker Darius Leonard. "I love it. Especially with me having one on the way. I'm looking forward to it."
"He could have easily said, 'I can't make it,'" said Naeemah Jackson with the Peace Learning Center.
But the fact that he showed up with his daughters in tow spoke volumes. A veteran player, a leader in the community, and a dad – his actions spoke louder than his words.
"He's showing you how to do everything the right way," Leonard said.
"And it's not babysitting," said Jackson. "It's being a daddy."
The group engaged in a series of activities to initiate discussion. The first activity was to talk about how they felt going into the day. They used words like "good, excited, blessed, and grateful."
Colts players teamed up with the Peace Learning Center and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) at the Martin Luther King Center to engage teens in exercises designed to teach safe and simple ways to manage anger, solve problems and develop an understanding of differing perspectives. The visit is a continuation of the #BreakingBarriers initiative, a player- and club-led effort to address important social challenges off the field.
"And then you say, 'I'm in,' which means I'm here, I'm going to participate, I'm going to cooperate," Jackson instructed them.
The Colts were all in.
"The kids want to come and see us because of football and then they actually get to hear that we do these things because we were in their situation. We understand their perspective and we can relate to their emotions and feelings," said Goode. "It was huge to be able to come out and connect."
One of their messages – don't let your circumstances dictate your future.
"Everybody has been through something. It teaches you as a young kid that may be going through things to not use anything as an excuse. It's all about how you respond to it," said linebacker Zaire Franklin. "I wasn't going to give myself any excuses. I was never going to be like, 'Oh, I could have done this had I worked harder, or had I done better in school, or had I paid attention.'"
Linebacker Darius Leonard grew up one of nine kids in South Carolina.
"I have two brothers incarcerated, I have one brother dead. I've seen a lot growing up as well," he said. "I just want to let everybody know that there's a different way out than the street life."
For Leonard, football was the way out.
"I took all the negative and made something positive out of it. And being that leadership in the community to let guys know that they don't have to take that bad route. It's just a great opportunity," he said.
Officer Antoine Keyes with IMPD has seen a lot of things himself.
A product of a mother who was a drug dealer and a father who was a drug addict, messages like that helped him choose his own path.
"When I was a kid, I had people who were there to try to give me positivity and to let me know that I didn't have to be a product of my environment in a negative way, but in a positive way," he said. "That's the same thing that these kids are able to do now. They're able to take those same messages and pay it forward to the next group."
And that's what it's about. Different people with different backgrounds from different walks of life, coming together to talk, listen, and learn.
"When people from different stages in life get to sit down and have a real conversation about some things, clarity always seems to come through," Franklin said.
As they wrapped up the event, they were asked to come together once again and share how they felt.
The words they used were "fulfilled, satisfied, energized, hopeful, woke, clear-headed, ready, and inspired."
Everyone has a story.
For the Colts, one of the most powerful things they can do is step off the football field and tell it.
"Young people look up to them," Jackson said. "Many of them have broken barriers to get where they are. And they're coming here as a positive reinforcement of hard work, work ethic, determination, and stick to your goals."
Breaking barriers doesn't take superhuman strength.
It's something we can all do every day.
It starts with a conversation – but in order to hear each other, we have to listen first.
#BreakingBarriers is a player- and club-led effort to address important social challenges off the field by supporting community projects that are breaking down long-standing barriers to economic and educational opportunity and promoting equality and justice for all.