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Gang life is an ill-fated decision for way too many young people. But there are paths of avoidance (Paul Sancya/AP)
Gang life is an ill-fated decision for way too many young people. But there are paths of avoidance (Paul Sancya/AP)

PETE CARROLL

Free The Children’s We Day: Kids are the difference Add to ...

One of the most rewarding aspects of coaching is putting belief in a young player, developing his talent and then watching him flourish. On or off the field, it’s tremendously special to witness the growth of a young person who maximizes an opportunity and accomplishes his dreams.

Whether it’s in a football stadium or in the arena of life, seeing our young people reach greatness by achieving their full potential is remarkable. It’s been a passion of mine on the gridiron but also in the community, as we’ve made great strides in connecting with troubled young people in gang-riddled areas in Los Angeles, Seattle and other U.S. cities, offering them hope and empowering them to accomplish good with their lives.

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We were excited to bring the National Football League to Toronto on Sunday when our Seahawks faced the Buffalo Bills at the Rogers Centre. But there’s something I’m honoured to be a part of in bringing from Canada to the U.S. for the first time on March 27 in Seattle – Free The Children’s We Day.

During my years coaching in Los Angeles and Seattle, I’ve seen our cities’ kids, many who come from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds, join a different type of community than the one that We Day is and hopes to create – gangs.

As we all know, gang life is an ill-fated decision for way too many young people. Kids are brimming with energy, but perhaps they lack the means, the guidance or the focus to turn it into something meaningful or productive. Gang involvement, perhaps the ultimate anti-social manifestation, typically involves prison, violence and death – and always ends in heartbreak.

There are paths of avoidance, of course.

I’ve had the pleasure of helping found such charities as A Better LA and A Better Seattle, both of which have done a tremendous job of helping youths evade these negative forces. But young people need something beyond a mere escape; we have to help them find something to strive for. As such, engaging and empowering youth in meaningful activities is crucial to their success – for individual growth and to foster productive members of our communities and of society.

All young people deserve this right, including those who have been identified as the problem: bullies. These are young people who we now know are – in some cases, given the proper guidance – capable of thriving in positive leadership roles among their peers. In any case, instilling compassion, courage and a sense of community in all young people is essential.

Back when Craig Kielburger started Free The Children, many adults questioned what difference a bunch of kids could make. But he and his organization have shown that young people aren’t problems. They’re problem solvers.

At a recent event announcing We Day Seattle, youth leaders stood up, one after another, to explain how they planned to earn their way into the event. Some will collect for local food banks, some will fight bullying, and others will raise money to build schools overseas. There are dozens of causes, and it was exciting to witness students dedicate themselves to making a difference – as Craig did 17 years ago, and like millions of Canadian students have done over the past decade or so through Free The Children. My hope is that some students will join together in helping kids stay out of gang life.

Like Toronto, Seattle’s corporate, political and community leaders – including the Seahawks – have joined together in resounding fashion to give their support to the inaugural We Day in our country, showing that the event will be a monumental moment for our city and its youth. It will unite the city and region and provide avenues for young people to achieve something great.

Before every game and every practice, our players tap the “I’m in” sign above the door to the field, an affirmation of their commitment to the program and that they’ll hold nothing back.

And that’s precisely the spirit I know the students in our community are embodying leading up to We Day Seattle. And beyond. It truly is “the movement of our time.”

Like so many young Canadians before them, they will undoubtedly realize their full potential, make our city proud, and make the world a better place for everyone.

Pete Carroll is head coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

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