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Ray Lewis Leads Ravens Into Inner-City Baltimore


Not long after the riots in Baltimore broke out, Ray Lewis was on the phone with Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. They both knew they wanted to do something.

Lewis got the ball rolling with a passionate Facebook message posted Tuesday. When he woke up the next morning, it had more than 8 million views.

"I can't stop now," Lewis thought.

On Tuesday, ESPN and Lewis announced he would be skipping his planned coverage of the NFL Draft. He remained in Baltimore and joined up with Harbaugh and the Ravens instead.

They wanted to go into the community to talk, encourage and provide whatever help they could.

On Thursday morning, hours before the first round of the draft kicked off, two busses full of 55 players, every coach and more than 30 staff members left the Under Armour Performance Center at 9 a.m. They were headed to three schools.

The players included quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, linebacker C.J. Mosley and many, many more. Lewis was the main attraction, however, bringing his usual passion and love for the city he played in for 17 years and still calls home.

"It brings more awareness that the movement has really begun to clean up in the cities across America," Lewis said. "That's where the focus has got to be."

The busses first stopped at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in West Baltimore, where a Giant Food trailer full of 7,000 items of food and toiletries awaited to be handed out to 600 families in the community. Players unloaded the trucks, then split into classrooms around the school.

At Excel Academy, Forsett led a talk before fullback Kiero Small grabbed the microphone with much on his mind. He spoke about how he grew up on these same Baltimore streets, struggling with the same problems and even spending time in jail.

Another group split off with Harbaugh and Lewis to head a few blocks across town to Frederick Douglass High School. Mondawmin Mall sits right across the street from Frederick Douglass High. Just four days earlier, the same streets were bedlam.

As Lewis walked, he ranted about the deep-seated issues that live there, unseen by many but not by him. As he later told an audience of high school students, he grew up in these same, or even worse, conditions in southern Florida.

"The world says, 'Oh my God it's such a tragedy.' I'm like, 'It's the same thing going on for years. This ain't nothing new,'" Lewis said.  "This is a movement.

"To bring attention to actually straighten up our streets, that's what I'm excited about. If this had to happen so we could take care of our streets, then so be it. This ain't just Baltimore. It's Detroit, it's Chicago, it's Miami. It's everywhere. If the movement starts in Baltimore then so be it. Then let's go do it then. That's why I'm here."

When Harbaugh, Lewis and the players arrived at Frederick Douglass, they first met the Frederick Douglass football team. Harbaugh talked to them about being the leaders at the school, about setting an example for others.

He later promised them a trip to the team's Ravens training facility, where they could get on the fields and lift weights, and lights for their football field.

"Who's taking care of people? Who's looking after the little guy? Who's keeping things right around the school?" Harbaugh said. "The football team. There's no better catalyst for good and doing the right thing than the football team."

Once inside, Harbaugh spoke to the packed auditorium before introducing Lewis to a massive cheer. And as always, Lewis delivered with his trademark passion. At times, when he got really worked up, his toes hung over the edge of the stage.

Lewis spoke to the kids mostly about taking personal responsibility for themselves, about improving themselves before looking for help. He talked to them about setting an example for others through their behavior. He had several highlights:

"Everybody here in this room right now, we have an opportunity right now. The spotlight is on us. It's on Baltimore. … Nobody is going to put it back together but us."

"We don't win wars with wars. Everybody loses in war. If you want to do something, take a protest and turn it into a march, because that's what changes things. … If you want to change things, let's march to the White House."

"If you want to be the real change, be the example of change. … Show me your report card or how many books you read instead of how many touchdowns you made."

Ravens second-year offensive lineman John Urschel, the team's math genius, took the microphone. He shared the story of his mother, who grew up in inner-city Cincinnati and was the top student in her class. Still, she was told by her own family and guidance counselor that she should get a job as a secretary instead of going to college. She walked to her local university, enrolled, got a full scholarship and became a nurse.

"What she always taught me was that no matter where you are in life, no matter what your situation is, don't hold yourself to the standards of others around you," Urschel said. "Hold yourself to something higher. Aspire to something greater. And if you want to see change in this world, you need to be that change."

It wasn't a one-way dialogue, however. After Lewis, Urschel, Harbaugh and Director of Player Engagement Harry Swayne spoke, the Ravens gave the microphone to the kids in the audience. They could ask any question, and it was clear there was a lot on their minds.

One girl expressed frustration that students at Frederick Douglass High were being blamed by the media for starting the riots. Lewis encouraged her to think beyond that. Another student asked if the Ravens were at their school because they heard these kids started the trouble, or because they really want to spur change.

This is a sentiment that Lewis takes personally. There's still a lot of criticism about Lewis out there, questions about his authenticity. But those in Baltimore know he's done much, much more than has even been seen.

"Everyday work," Lewis said. "That's the thing people don't know. There's so many people like myself [trying to help]. I've been doing this since 1996."

That commitment to the community, and the love Lewis holds for it, was clearly evident as he walked down N. Pulaski St. and back to the team's busses.

As Lewis walked, people ran across the street to hug him and thank him. "We need you, Ray" one woman said. Another woman stopped her car in the middle of the street to thank Lewis for coming. A group of men talked to him about police brutality.

Lewis doled out hugs to anybody within arm's reach and salutes and thumbs up to those who called his name down the streets. He listened. The people were shocked, yet Lewis greeted them as if they were old friends. He walked with one man for several blocks.

"It shows they really care about what's going on right now," said junior football player Gabriel Colborn.

"It's a positive thing," said Montreze B. Watt, who wore a sport coat, tie and McGruff the Crime Dog pin. "We're just going to see how far we can take it and stand behind what we came here for, which is to change."

Lewis' original Facebook video now has more than 27 million views. Now, Lewis and the Ravens are taking it to the street, and they aren't going to stop at Thursday's meeting.

"It's been hard for everybody," Harbaugh said. "Hopefully it will be a catalyst for change and for good things. Good things can come out of everything and good things are going to come out of this because Baltimore has such a great heart and such good people."

The Ravens visited with community members, delivered food and encouraged Frederick Douglass students.

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