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Posted on 07/17/12
By Team NFL
By Michéle Danno
United Way TEAM NFL Intern
“We may not have come over on the same ship, but we’re all in the same boat”
From east coast to west, poverty to excess riches, middle school to middle age, a variety of Team NFL members were brought together in our nation’s capitol last week for one purpose – to discuss the abhorrent state of education in America. Under this common goal, personal matters were forgotten and egos were checked at the door. The playing field was leveled at American University – we all stayed in the same dorms, ate the same food, and wore the same outfit – a plain white T-shirt boldly declaring LIVE UNITED across our chests.
This inspiring uniform bore a powerful message to be preached long after we departed Washington DC for our respective homelands. Never could I have imagined such a diverse group of people uniting in such a unique and purposeful way. On day one, I questioned it, as groups remained somewhat segregated during the introductory activities. Sitting in that awkward circle introducing ourselves, I felt extremely disconnected to those around me. As a white, upper-middle class female who recently graduated Iowa at the top of my class and was fortunate enough to find employment in my home city of Chicago, getting struck by lightening seemed more likely to me than ever dropping out of school. Sadly, not all Americans are so fortunate. As I realized from my peers at the summit, earning even a HIGH SCHOOL degree is now becoming the road less traveled – with one in four students dropping out before graduation. To my left, there was an African American high school boy at risk of not graduating due to financial and personal setbacks. To my right, a two-time Super Bowl champion almost 20 years my senior. How did I fit in? What was I doing here?
Over the next two days, my role on Team NFL became much clearer, as did my vision of how I could help. The phrase “pay it forward” inspired me to use my success to benefit others. I’ve never taken my education for granted, but I never realized it was something I could share. As a journalism and communication studies double-major with a minor in sports studies, I have always focused on my three passions – writing, working with people, and sports. Fortunately, those are the ingredients for success at Team NFL!
With a revamped vision, fresh ideas, and a great new network of friends to work with, I left DC more motivated than ever to start using my social media skills, communication background, and inventive nature to tackle the high school dropout rate in Chicago. The summit in DC helped bring the numbers to life, as it put an actual face on America’s at-risk youth. Meeting students and hearing their stories – both fortunate and troubling— made the statistics meaningful and even more daunting. I couldn’t imagine these kids, who seemed so motivated and passionate at the summit, missing out on opportunities because they couldn’t obtain a quality education. I didn’t want to see any of them become a statistic.
Since my return to Chicago, I’ve contacted all the right people in my community, as well as my local United Way, about how to promote Jason Campbell’s commitment to Team NFL. Hopefully, as a team organized and united under one very important goal, we can turn the statistics around and cut the dropout rate in half (or more!) by 2018. Chicago is one of the worst public school districts in America, so what better place to start? I’m taking the pledge to LIVE UNITED, and I’m here to inspire others to, too!