|Omari Hardwick Joins the 23 Ways Program at New Renaissance Middle School|
|December 19, 2010 12:00 AM|
In September of 2010, Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl running back Ronnie Brown launched his "23 Ways to Stop Youth Violence" initiative in South Florida middle and high schools with the intent of creating heightened awareness of the epidemic of violence and bullying today's young people are experiencing, and to discuss practical solutions to managing the actions and emotions that often lead to violent acts. In just four short months, Brown has visited eight different schools, impacted nearly 10,000 students, received national attention for his efforts from media outlets including USA Today and Yahoo Sports, and was recently named the Dolphins Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee. It is safe to say that people are taking notice.
Hardwick's first night in South Florida found him channeling his table tennis skills as Brown hosted a celebrity ping pong tournament to benefit his Ronnie Brown Project along with the Jason Taylor Foundation. Fun and games shifted to serious business the next morning, December 7, as the two made their way to New Renaissance Middle School in Miramar, Florida, just a few miles from Sun Life Stadium, the structure in which Brown makes tens of thousands of Miami Dolphins fans cheer each Sunday. More than 1,000 seventh and eighth grade students filled the school's auditorium over two powerful presentations to hear what this football star and Hollywood actor had to say.
Brown shared some of his background; how and where he grew up; some obstacles he faced along the way. He told of his successes on the football field and how all of that success can be tainted with one snap decision. He implored them to think about how their actions will affect their lives moving forward, how they will impact those around them, those who care for them most.
"I share these things with you with the hopes that you can learn from them," Brown explained. "So you can see that no matter where you get to in life, each decision you make matters and can affect not only you but your family and the people who care about you."
They listened. Then Brown introduced his special guest who had flown all of the way in from LA. And while the actor sat and listened to the football player who he had never met, he was amazed by what he heard. What Hardwick didn't know was how similar his upbringing was to Ronnie Brown's, having grown up in Atlanta, less than an hour away from Brown's hometown of Cartersville, Ga. How they both were fortunate enough to come from loving families who helped steer them away from some of the potential trouble that was around them. How they both found an outlet in sports and amazingly, how each of them were talented enough to hit the gridiron in the football rich Southeastern Conference. Ronnie an Auburn Tiger. Omari a Georgia Bulldog.
"Now, obviously Ronnie was a little better at football than I was," Hardwick quipped, "since he was drafted number two overall by the Dolphins and I now act for a living!"
What Brown didn't know was that, in addition to having stared in many films and TV shows that Brown had been entertained by, Hardwick is also an award winning poet and just a few nights earlier had penned a piece to address the very same issues that Ronnie was focusing on. Hardwick summoned 23 students to join him on stage, immediately making reference to Brown's 23 Ways, as well as his football jersey number. The students were asked to line up shoulder to shoulder behind the actor. And then Hardwick began.
"It's 23 minutes past pain," he belted. "23 minutes ago, 23 faces that looked like these 23 got beaten again." The auditorium was silent. And as the poet went on, the numerical references counted down in conjunction with each of the 23 students being asked to sit. By the time Hardwick had spoken his last verse, all 23 students who once stood, were now sitting on stage, and the words he had so rhythmically delivered clearly resonated with all in the room; students, teachers, administrators and law enforcement officials alike. And Ronnie Brown.
Read the full poem
"The poem was great," Brown explained. "I didn't know what to expect and was so impressed. I really hope Omari can join me at other schools."
"It will happen," Hardwick assured. "This is just the beginning."
So the football player and the actor, who had never met and didn't know each other two days earlier, realized that in some ways, they had known each other their entire lives. They talked about how powerful their visit was. They exchanged information. They discussed bringing the program to Atlanta, joining forces to speak in their hometowns. But why stop there?
At each school Brown visits, he mentions that he came up with "23 Ways" as a play on his football number but that their are far more than 23 ways to stop youth violence. It looks as if Ronnie Brown and Omari Hardwick have just found another way.