ragedies caused by drug abuse haunt the front pages of newspapers across the nation. America is still in the midst of a drug epidemic, the nations former drug czar, Lee P. Brown, said. Leadership is critical to the success of our mutual efforts to reduce drug abuse and drug-related violence.
The youthful age of the victims is a central and painful element among the individual tragedies. From casual drug use, a youngster can soon become addicted, and with addiction comes the normal way to support the habit: crime. More than half of the population in our federal, state and local prisons and jails are incarcerated on drug offenses, while additional drug-related cases clog our justice system.
Drugs can change your whole personality, he told Freedom. They can make you more aggressive. They can make you want to kill.
Berry played for the San Diego Chargers from 1972 to 1974. Today, as director of a program called Goals for Life, which he founded in 1989, he helps students in Los Angeles area schools to establish positive directions in their lives with an aim to keeping them off drugs and free from crime.
And as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Football League Retired Players Association, he has a lot of old friends to help him. The Retired Players Association is a 2,000-member organization, with one-tenth of its membership in Los Angeles.
Goals for Life combines the talents and involvement of both former and currently active professional athletes, said Berry, specifically aiming to address the needs of students who are most at risk.
Goals for Life grew out of the Goals for Youth program, launched in 1978 by the National Football League Players Association, which focused on programs to aid children of migrant workers, but which has since been discontinued. Berry saw that a growing need existed to continue providing such help to children, particularly in our inner cities, and he envisioned Goals for Life as a way to do this.
Berry enlisted the aid of such former NFL stars as Dick Bass, Joe Sweet and Lucius Smith of the Rams, Henry Lawrence of the Raiders, Joe Williams of the Dolphins, Tim Brown of the Eagles and Clinton Jones of the Vikings to work with Goals for Life.
These athletes and others meet with small groups of students on a regular basis at various schools in Los Angeles. Drawing on their personal experiences in sports and in life, they speak to the youngsters of the enthusiasm, drive and determination that helped them reach their own goals. And what applies to sports also applies to education, they point out.
The athletes spend 24 weeks in a given school, working regularly with at-risk youngsters.
Many of these kids have never had strong role models, so we can offer them a mentor, Berry said. We knew that to go to a school, speak at an assembly and then leave wasnt going to achieve any long-term results. Our Goals for Life hands-on program is changing lives and we are confident it is going to succeed in cities around the country, now that weve tested it here in Southern California.
Alex Morales, California president of the Association of Mexican-American Educators and an elementary school principal, is one of many educators supporting the Goals for Life program. The program has been able to reach the most difficult students students that have displayed gang tendencies, he said.
Another Southern California school principal stated, The Goals for Life emphasis upon positive self-worth, high standards and values, along with an effective caring relationship developed by Goals for Life staff and students, has made the program an integral part of our school.
In his efforts to present children with people they can emulate, Alan Seaman, a teacher at Hargitt Middle School in Norwalk, California, told Freedom that he resorted to showing films in class such as Stand and Deliver. And thats what makes Reggie Berrys program uniquely valuable. With Goals for Life, he said, students have a real person as a role model.
Seaman is impressed by the programs results, citing one youthful former troublemaker who now mediates conflicts at the school and helps to resolve them. By directly helping youngsters, Seaman said, the Goals for Life program helps to prevent future violence, crime and drug abuse.
Gil Hernandez, vice president of marketing and community affairs for the Raiders, serves as chairman of Goals for Lifes executive committee and has often joined athletes in making appearances at local schools. The Goals for Life program helps to focus youth on the importance of education and helps them to realize that education is the first step to being successful, he told Freedom.
We find the Fs and the Ds turn into Bs and As as a result of the work the players do on a day-to-day basis, Hernandez said. You have to congratulate Reggie Berry and the other players for what they do. The players are bastions of hope to the children on the street.
The road to reaching ones goals, of course, does not include drugs. All students involved in the Goals for Life program are strongly encouraged to, and expected to, remain drug-free.
As part of his commitment to helping children, Berry supports the Drug-Free Marshals campaign, created and coordinated by the Church of Scientology. That program encourages children to take that crucial first step in preventing drug use: deciding to stay drug-free. More than 20,000 children and adults including U.S. senators and congressmen, state legislators, mayors, judges and police chiefs have signed the Marshals pledge to remain drug-free and to encourage others to do the same.
Children in our inner cities have a better chance of succeeding in the game of life when they are educated on how to achieve worthwhile goals and when they have someone they can safely communicate with and look up to. By starting and providing leadership to the Goals for Life program, Berry has furnished approximately 1,500 youngsters with that better chance.
Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, attended a Goals for Life fundraiser in Los Angeles as a special guest and applauded the work of the group.
Its a tremendous program, Landry told Freedom. Goals are the things that make success, whether its in football or anything else.
Landry hopes the program will expand. I think theyre doing a super job, he said. This could be an important program across the United States. Its something we could really use.
The nation could also use more individuals like Reggie Berry. Those who care enough to help children avoid drugs and other pitfalls and to instead start firmly on the path to success in life are truly scoring touchdowns for America.