In a tough year for local students’ mental health, a Philly sports legend is using technology to help young people make positive choices for themselves.
NFL Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins has announced the expansion of his foundation’s Brian Dawkins Value Program (BDVP) to support middle and high school students in Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Florida, his hometown.
The digital program first launched as part of the BDVPs collaboration with D.C.-based social impact education company EVERFI in May 2020 and uses Dawkins’ positive values framework as the structure for learning modules. The interactive resource is available free to users at 12 new schools in addition to the original seven.
Dawkins, an 11-time NFL Pro Bowler, said the timing of launching the digital resource during the pandemic was significant.
“When the pandemic happened in 2020, I was already in a space where I understood that technology was a way to reach a lot of people in a major way,” he told Technical.ly. “I understand the significance of having a platform [and] also the capability of reaching people in a space that they feel comfortable doing things in.”
As a proponent for mental health (which he refers to as “cerebral wellness“), Dawkins has been transparent about his own dealings with depression in the past. He said it was important for him to follow up on sharing those struggles by doing more work with his foundation to help others in similar circumstances.
Working with EVERFI — which also offers digital courses that address social justice and economic disparities — has provided what he called the perfect combination of his motivational goals for a positive life with a digital platform to reach people.
“That’s where this mental health push came in,” he said. “I’m transparent [about mental health] in my Hall of Fame speech, but I’m also going to do this [work] with my foundation to help and assist others by using technology.”
The need for mental health resources for young people in Philadelphia has been an increasing concern in recent years. Calls to Philly Hopeline, a hotline designed to assist young people, have surged alongside growing mental burden due to gun violence, the pandemic and racial trauma, WHYY reports. And a 2019 report by the School District of Philadelphia also showed an increase in negative responses by students to questions about mental health and suicide.
Since retiring from the NFL in 2012 as one of the most beloved Philadelphia Eagles of all time, Dawkins has worn different hats as a philanthropist, analyst for ESPN, and executive for the Eagles. Pivoting into new territory in the most recent phase of his life has helped him relate to professionals that have had to reskill or or change direction during the pandemic.
“Never define yourself by what you do,” he said. “As a job, what I did for a living is not who I am as a person, so if I fail at football, I’m not failing in life. When you make those separations, it helps you. If that is what I’m blessed to do because of my athleticism, that’s not who I am. Because when that’s over with, if that’s all I thought that I can do, I’m in trouble.”
Michael Butler is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-