About a month ago, I was given the opportunity to join the production team of RISE UP, a new series that airs in September on ESPN. The premise of the show is to make over the athletic facilities of four extremely deserving schools around the country, and I was assigned to the episode focusing on William H. Dyett HS in the south side of Chicago. The school’s gymnasium and weight room were literally falling apart and the athletics program was close to non-existent.
Athletic Director Clarence Smith had written to ESPN as a final resort:
“This school is looked at in the Chicago public league as the ultimate dumping grounds. My plea today is that someone hears our cry for help because we have struggled too long…”
Initially I had no idea what to expect. I had heard from many to be constantly aware of my surroundings and never go anywhere alone, until one day I thought to myself, “I am here for one month. These kids go to school here every day. This is their real life.” If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.
I spent a month in Chicago and was able to attend practices and get to know the athletes and faculty pretty well. While working at ESPN, I’ve been able to do a lot of cool things, including meeting my football idol, Vince Young (hook ‘em!), but witnessing the players’ reactions to the renovations for the first time tops the list.
At the reveal, Coach Smith came up and hugged me and the smile on his face was indescribable. I mean, 3 months ago, this man is writing in a letter asking for someone to help out his school, and here we are, standing in a state-of-the-art facility that belongs to his staff and players.
Being a part of a project where you can actually give someone what they want, what they NEED, and know it has a lasting impact…there really are no words. RISE UP gave me a necessary shake up in my life as I realized that no matter who we are or what we do, we can always find something in our lives to be thankful for.
Check out all of the RISE UP reveals as they air: