See article published on TheCSPN and listen to Lewis’ speech: Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis speaks at MHS
You’re only young once.
Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis made a special appearance last Wednesday evening at a lecture series hosted by Mason African American Students for Change. Lewis headlined with a primary message of strength of character, but even touched on other topics relevant to high school students, like the importance of perseverance, communication, and making the most out of youth.
Lewis had been asked several times to speak at Mason High School, but was finally able to do so for the first time last week. According to MAASC advisor Jocelyn Burlew, Lewis was chosen to speak because of his huge impact on the Cincinnati community.
“We thought it was very interesting that even though he [has] coached [many different teams]…he’s really set to roots here and his Community Fund,” Burlew said. “He’s already shown strength of character by sewing into Cincinnati’s community. He’s already shown that he cares about the students here, and not just in Mason – in Cincinnati. So [we thought] why not tap into someone who is here, who is willing to do this, [and] we thought he would a great person [to have as a speaker].”
With 34 years of coaching under his belt, 11 of them in college football and 23 of them in the NFL, Lewis started his speech out by conveying his passion for the job.
“I’ve been very blessed to do what I do, to do it as long as I’ve done it and so forth, but it’s something that I guess all my life I wanted to do,” Lewis said. “And I feel very fortunate to do something that I love to do each and every day. I hope that all of you have that opportunity in your future in what you choose to do in your life [because] I’ve been blessed with that and hopefully you [are] as well.”
Another thing Lewis told the audience, which consisted mostly of high school students and a few parents, was the change in times. Growing up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with 160 in his graduating class, Lewis said Mason High School was a stark contrast. And so are the challenges presented to youths today.
“Strength of character,” Lewis said. “Those are big words with you young people and the challenges you face each and every day. [They are] way different than what I faced when I was in your shoes in the mid-70s. I graduated from high school in 1976, so when I graduated and was going on to college and so forth, I think the challenges and things that I faced were far less than what you do.”
Today, Lewis uses his Community Fund to help younger people with their challenges.
“With the [Marvin Lewis] Community Fund, we have an opportunity to affect young people,” Lewis said. “We’ve given up scholarships now for 53 [young people] in our 11 years of existence…so I’m very very fortunate to be able to do that.”
One of the recent recipients of that Community Fund was MHS graduate Nick Whitmore, a cross country runner who suffered a traumatic brain injury in his sophomore year of high school, but eventually overcame that obstacle and is currently a successful college student. Lewis used Whitmore among icons like Rosa Parks and Barack Obama as a few examples of people who have shown strength of character. According to him and his experience as a recruiter, they all possess important traits that people today need to remember and value.
“What [NFL prospects have] done on tape is always what counts,” Lewis said. “But one of things we do is, I have the opportunity to sit down with 60 of those guys…[and] one of the people in our group is a psychologist. And he takes these players through a small quick banter of three to four minutes of questions. One of the questions that he will ask about half of them is, ‘Who is Rosa Parks? Tell me who Rosa Parks was’…You would be amazed as to how few people know. The players we ask, they have an idea of who Rosa Parks is, but they don’t know in that [much] depth..And it’s really something we’ve lost sight of, particularly for minorities in our country. We’ve lost sight of that. And it’s somewhat of a shame because she was a big part of the civil rights movement.”
Education was an important ideal, along with strong character, emphasized by Lewis.
“Don’t allow people to set limits on what you do,” Lewis said. “Where you are right now in your life — you have so much ahead of you. It’s something I look at all the time with guys coming into the NFL, when you have an opportunity to continue to grow and learn, take full advantage of that. The saying ‘knowledge is power’ — that’s really truthful…Your education here is basically free. So take full advantage of it, gather as much knowledge as you can right here, right now, and when you move forward in life, whatever you choose to do…go about it full-speed ahead, but gain every bit of knowledge you can right now because we don’t get a chance to backtrack.”
After being enlightened by Lewis’s lecture, Burlew said she hopes the general idea of “cherishing these glory day”’ gets across to the busy students of today.
“The biggest impact that [the lecture] had on me — that hopefully impacts [the guests] — is the idea of soaking up as much information as you can now, [and] not rushing like, ‘You’re gonna get out, you’re gonna be working soon,’ — not rushing that, but enjoying the time you have and soaking in all the information and every opportunity that you have,” Burlew said.
According to Burlew, the main thing MAASC was focusing on this year as an organization was promoting diversity, through a diversity of events.
“We’ve tried to make it where it’ll hit the inner spot of someone — whether you’re musical or sport[y] or you wanna hear a speaker or you wanna participate, so that’s our goal,” Burlew said. “We’re hoping to raise that bar and have really great turnouts. We’ve had at least probably 100 kids each night.”
Along with a film viewing of ‘42’ and a Spoken Word contest, Marvin Lewis was just one of featured events for MAASC’s jampacked week. And according to Burlew, it will hopefully get their club’s message across to the community.
“Our goal always is to bring awareness to diverse issues here in Mason and also to realize that hopefully Black History Month isn’t just Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month…[but] as Coach Lewis said, respecting everyone for who they are and understanding differences and embracing those [differences],” Burlew said. “We’re hoping that this isn’t any different than anything else that’s happening in Mason High School all the time. We’re hoping that this is just one more way that we can give back to our community, and our community can see ‘Yeah, we embrace diversity at all levels, all the time, and [it just so] happens to have a few more things in February.’”