Last month the Buccaneers announced their new social justice initiative, which focuses on police relations, criminal justice reform, racial inequality, workforce development and youth empowerment.
On Tuesday Donovan Smith, along with other Buccaneers players, spent their morning at Abe Brown Ministries, listening to some of the Ready4Work participants, according to Eduardo Encina of Tampa Bay Times. This is the second stop on their schedule. Their first was a stop at Tampa Police Department.
Abe Brown Ministries was founded in 1976 and named after the former Tampa High School football coach, who was also a pastor. Ready4Work is a program designed to help ex-offenders adjust to entering back into the work force after being incarcerated.
“I think just in general, it was everyone’s openness and candidness that stood out. It’s not easy to talk about your life story to complete strangers and the fact that everyone was able to do that was really a testament to who they are. It’s really powerful stuff,” said Ali Marpet, who is on the Social Justice player board.
“Football and life parallel in a lot of ways. It’s about second chances,” said Smith, adding, “just hearing their stories and their similarities, it’s weird, because we are on two different ends of the spectrum, but we have similar backgrounds.”
Donovan Smith sat next to Kingston Aristil, who was incarcerated at the age of 18 and served 10 years. Aristil ran track and played baseball at a high school in Orlando before his incarceration; he is currently in his fourth week of the Ready4Work program and is working towards owning his own business one day.
“For the first five years of my incarceration, I beat myself up about seeing guys I went to school with make it pro,” said Aristil. He added, “I was broken. I was hurt. I thought I would never be able to compensate for the 10 years that I lost. My spirit feels at peace here. I feel humble here. I feel love.”
Former Buccaneers Coach Tony Dungy has long been involved in the Ready4Work program. The ministry’s president and Ready4Work director Robert Blount said, “The best way I can sum that up is this. I’ve heard Tony Dungy say this, because everyone wants an autograph, right? There was a letter written to him by an inmate who actually came to the ministry, and he said, ‘As bad as I wanted an autograph from you, I never had the opportunity to get one-on-one with you to get that autograph. But that day, you autographed my soul.’ I think from the players standpoint, they have the opportunity to autograph a soul of some of those men at the institution.”
To read more about their visit to the ministry, the full original article can be found here.
And more about the program and ministry itself here.