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Jameel McClain Committed To Making An Impact

Posted Dec 22, 2012

McClain knows what it means to have nearly nothing while growing up in inner city Philadelphia.

It's unlikely to hear him boast about the last event he attended that benefited his community. He will never ask why the camera isn't focused on him. The word "leader" is not a term he uses to describe himself, although his teammates would disagree.

All that Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain asks for is a listening ear, an open heart and hands that are willing to accept his help.

He knows what it means to have next to nothing, and his focus now is helping those in similar circumstances.

Raised in Philadelphia's inner city, McClain hasn't traveled life's easiest path. Often times, he wasn't sure from where his next meal would come. But looking back, he is grateful for those who came to his family's aid and vows to never forget everyone who played a prominent role early on.

Some of the most important influences emerged when McClain was unsure of where he would spend the night with his mother and three siblings. The Salvation Army was a place they called home for a year before eventually being taken in by his aunt and uncle. While attending George Washington High, McClain battled through adversity, focusing his attention on athletics and academics. With his hard work, dedication and persistence, he earned a football scholarship to Syracuse University.

Today – fast-forwarding nearly a decade – McClain is often asked why, after working six days out of the week, he spends a seventh attending his or other teammates' charitable efforts. The answer is easy for him.

"I will never forget when others put their hands out for me," McClain stated. "I know I wasn't made by myself. Most of the time it doesn't cost me anything. I just have to show up and show who I truly am, and that has the ability to change people.

"I have the ability to change so much in this world by just giving some good advice – whether it be to an adult or child. If you're blessed with that privilege, I believe it's my job to share it."

Enter Miss Rachel

As a student at Syracuse University, McClain studied communications/rhetorical studies and sociology. Little did he know that while taking a course taught by Rachel Gadzick, he would learn one of the biggest lessons in his life.

Prior to this class, McClain had not actively participated in giving back movements. But Gadzick taught him the impact he could have on the lives of others, just by sharing his story. He began to attend community events held around campus and quickly learned that he enjoyed making a difference. McClain wasn't offering money – he was simply donating his time and story.

"At that time, people were talking about how I was going to be in the NFL and how I would be able to give back money," McClain expressed. "But all Miss Rachel was thinking was I could tell my story, and that would be more valuable than anything that I could offer material-wise. I still talk to Miss Rachel a lot. She taught me the importance of reaching out and giving back."

Making A Commitment

After signing a new three-year contract with the Ravens last May, McClain's connection with Baltimore continues to flourish. The community accepted him five years ago when he joined the team as an undrafted rookie, and since then, he has taken pride in impacting its people.

During a function in 2009, McClain met Julie Bates, an individual who shares his commitment to community. Bates began assisting McClain by planning and managing several community endeavors.

This past Thanksgiving marked the third annual "53 Families Dinner," an affair benefiting members of the Salvation Army by providing a hot Thanksgiving meal. The event was one of the first planned by the duo, and it has continued to grow annually. Last year, Bates witnessed McClain taking a further step forward – personally.

"He likes to spend time individually with people and just really get to know them outside of him being an NFL athlete," Bates explained. "I know last year at '53 Families,' there was one family in particular – a mother, a father and two kids. He sat down and talked to them for a while. He likes doing that kind of stuff and has really grown into doing it comfortably."

Cause and Effect

On most Tuesdays during the season – the only off day players experience – McClain can be found attending a teammate's function or hosting one of his own. From the third annual "Lardarius Webb Charity Softball Game" to being a spokesperson at the Salvation Army "Kettle Kickoff," McClain not only participates, but he finds motivation to impact his community in new ways.

"My motivation is seeing the progress, just seeing a change in a person – seeing a change in an event," he stated. "A parent of a child messaged me on Facebook letting me know her son was affected by me. I let her know that I was the one affected by him. People are telling me, 'Thank you,' but I'm telling them, 'No, thank you!' I'm thanking her son for letting me share myself and knowing that he received it."

McClain is constantly thinking of new ways to help the less fortunate, and last summer, Ravens Director of Community Relations Heather Darney recognized how much he wanted to step up and make a difference. She saw the change when McClain approached her with new concepts and ways to connect with others.

"He was coming up with ideas on his own," Darney explained. "He definitely gets it, and he's excited about doing more. He's realizing the connection that he has with others and wants to continue to help because of it."

A coat distribution was one of the new notions McClain presented to Darney. The event, which generated significant media attention, benefited 300 Boys and Girls Club members and gave each a new coat, hat and gloves, compliments of McClain and Walmart.

Charitable activity by NFL players has often caught the eye of the press, but McClain doesn't seek the spotlight. In fact, he would rather his contributions go unnoticed. Bates recalled a time involving several news stations, when McClain was not particularly enthused about the substantial coverage.

"He likes interactions with the people versus the camera following him around," Bates said. "He doesn't like to do things for media exposure. He has never said to me, 'Oh, there wasn't any press here.' We do so many things nobody even knows about. He does it regardless of who knows about it."

"I don't care about the media coverage," proclaimed McClain. "I want to affect the people; I want to touch the people. It could go unnoticed every day, and I'd be good with it."

Leading By Example

Although he may not desire the media recognizing his contributions, McClain's teammates and members of the Ravens organization notice his work ethic on and off the field. During the last five seasons with the team, he has earned the respect of Ravens personnel and has become a leader in the locker room.

"He gets a tremendous turnout at his events," Darney explained. "I think that shows a great deal of support that his peers are willing to give him. That illustrates being a leader, when he asks for other players' support, and they come out and do it."

Over the years, McClain has learned that if he assists others, they will back him in return. He continues to learn from his experiences, saying that they change him daily. And he believes helping others prevents him from losing perspective of what really matters.

"Giving back is the most humbling thing, because you consistently see the reality of the world," McClain said. "That's a big deal. It makes you stay on a level that you need to be at – speaking for myself."

McClain's community involvement doesn't look like it will be slowing down anytime soon. When asked what he would ultimately do for his community, it took him a few moments to think of something specific.

"I never tried planning that far ahead with what I would want to do," McClain stated. "I've always wanted to do motivational speaking. Inspiring people and being able to give your heart without sounding fake is a talent and gift."

No matter where a professional football career takes him, one thing remains evident: McClain's passion for his community will remain at the forefront of his mind.

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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