By Ryan Mink, Baltimore Ravens.com
About a year ago, when the Ravens visited Douglass High School amidst Baltimore’s unrest, Head Coach John Harbaugh, former Ravens great Ray Lewis and others gave impassioned speeches to the students about how they could change their circumstances.
It was a powerful scene, but at the end, one student asked what the Ravens planned to do next.
What were they going to do once the streets were clear of rioters and debris and store fronts repaired? What were they going to do in a week, a month, a year when the turmoil was no longer bubbling over on television screens?
This is one, small, example.
On Friday night, the Under Armour Performance Center was the launching point for an innovative idea from a former Miami (Ohio) football teammate of Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Steve Fitzhugh is taking 30 Baltimore high school freshmen and 10 Baltimore police officers on a weekend retreat to the 405-area Covenant Village Retreat in Cumberland, Md. There will be no badges, no uniforms, no weapons. Just lots of time and conversations in the hope of building a partnership.
Fitzhugh reached out to Harbaugh and Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees (who coached Fitzhugh and Harbaugh in college) to bounce the idea of the Summit off them.
“True to form, first thing out of John Harbaugh’s mouth was, ‘Whatever I and the Ravens can do, let me know,’” Fitzhugh said. “It’s one thing to get somebody tickets to a game. It’s another thing to provide ongoing, effective work if we’re going to change our community. The Ravens are committed to doing that.”
Fitzhugh was an undrafted safety with the Denver Broncos (1986-87). He went back to school at Howard University and has since made a name as a motivational speaker, author and community activist helping at-risk youth in Washington, D.C.
Now Fitzhugh is reaching out to help Baltimore youth and police officers gain a better understanding of each other.
“So many people are responding to the volcano erupting in Baltimore last year,” Fitzhugh said. “It’s going to take a lot of approaches, but one has to be for the youth of Baltimore and police enforcement to spend time together to create a better relationship. That’s where it has to start.”
Fitzhugh has worked with inner-city kids and police officers. He said both are great people, and in each group there are those that don’t always make the best decisions.
“So many times in the city, people can make up their mind on a police officer and not understand that their perspective is skewed by one or two experiences,” he said. “And often, there are officers that have not been able to change their perspective of stereotypes.”
Among the 10 police officers are some who walk school hallways and some who patrol streets. Among the 30 students, there are A-plus earners, some who struggle to stay in school and those in between. Both groups have a mixture of participants from Baltimore County and Baltimore City.
Before taking the two-hour bus ride, the group will have dinner at the Under Armour Performance Center and hear from NFL Player Engagement speaker Freddie Scott in the Ravens team meeting room. At the summit, former NBA champion Adrian Branch will speak to the group.
Perhaps more importantly, the students and officers will eat meals together, build together and compete on mountain courses together. They’ll sit around the campfire at night and wake up at sunrise together.
“I would love to be a fly on the wall and just hear some of the conversations that are going to be kicked around at night with the lights out,” said Fitzhugh, who, like many troubled kids, grew up in a broken home without a responsible male adult.
“I think it’s going to have a tremendous impact on the lives of these young boys and I hope it will do the same with the police officers and reshape their perspective.”
This weekend is only the beginning of the change. The plan is to continue the program throughout the students’ four-year high school journey. During the first two years, the curriculum focuses on principles of personal development. In the third and fourth years, the lessons are on community impact, future planning and opportunities to lead and mentor.
“At the end of the day, we will have sewn seeds in the hearts and lives of these young men that will begin to transfer them new possibilities in their lives so they can become the best versions of themselves that they can be,” Fitzhugh said.
“We want to build a sustainable community of young men and grown men and insert them into the community at-large, and have them be the conduits of change.”
The first step was made in the Ravens’ house. For some kids who have never left their four-square block of Baltimore, that’s already exciting enough.
“I have a motto,” Fitzhugh said. “Create a moment for life change and any life can change in a moment. That’s what we’re going to do for these students.”
Fitzhugh Breaks Down Harbaugh’s College Game
While Fitzhugh was around, he had to give the insider scoop on Harbaugh’s college football career. Harbaugh won the Football Scholar Athlete Award as a defensive back for the Redhawks.
“He was the fastest guy on the team,” Fitzhugh said with a sarcastic chuckle. “He was a student of the game – a real technician. He didn’t have blazing speed, but he understood defenses and all the changes the offense was making. He really was like a coach on the field.”
And what about Coach Pees?
“For a lot of us guys who didn’t have the male father figure, Dean was a guy who wanted us to have success as athletes and men,” Fitzhugh said. “He was a great coach, had very clever defenses and was very intense about us being where we needed to be.”