Newark, NJ—Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Newark Bronze Shields members, and members of the NFL New York Giants football team took part Wednesday in an educational forum for Newark student athletes.

“We are deeply, deeply indebted to them,” Baraka said of the Giants players who attended the forum. “They could be anywhere else doing a bunch of things.”  

Baraka spoke to the students first and delivered a hopeful message.

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“I think our athletes need to hear honest information,” said Baraka. “They need to hear from folks that went through the things you’re going through now. Sometimes successfully. I know someday everybody here thinks they’re going to a D-1 pro ball player with whatever they are doing and unfortunately that may not happen for you, but it does not mean you should not be striving for that.

“I mean, whatever it is you think you should do you should stay on that path despite all the negativity that people tell you,” Baraka continued. “Because they are supposed to tell you that. They get paid to tell you that. Your counselors will tell you that you’re not going to make it and to have a plan B. I’m telling you to focus on your dreams. To do what’s necessary. If you want to be a pro ball player do what you can to make that happen. The reason why I am saying that is all the skills that you will learn along the way will benefit you in everything else that is that you need to do even if you don’t land there.”

Baraka emphasized that the importance on courage and collaboration.

“You can make your own championship based on whatever field that you decide, or god puts you in to do based on the skills you’ve learned on the journey to fulfill the dreams that you have in your head today,” said Baraka.

Giants football players Michael Thomas, Oliver Vernon and Dalvin Tomlinson spoke to the students and answered their questions at the Rutgers Golden Dome Athletic Center.

Thomas told the students his story of not being drafted and being on the practice squad for the first year and a half but working hard. He ended up catching a game winning interception while playing against Tom Brady during his second year and made a name for himself my capitalizing on that opportunity.

“I took something that was a negative. Going undrafted, having to be on the practice squad into an opportunity, working hard toward turning into what is going on to my seventh year in the NFL,” said Thomas. “Set the goal. Whatever your goal is in life work towards, go and make It happen without letting anyone tell you no. So many people told me why I couldn’t do it. Why I wouldn’t make it. How I needed to move on. I knew in my heart if I worked hard I could do it.”

The Giants players took turns answering many questions from students who asked about everything from the transition from high school to college and who their mentors were when they were growing up. The players also posed for pictures with students from each of the Newark high schools in attendance.

Levi Holmes and Yolander Graham of Newark Bronze Shields and Rutgers men’s basketball coach Joe Loughran and Rutgers volleyball coach Pedro Trevino spoke to the students and encouraged them to succeed both in their studies as well as their athletic goals.

“I’m glad I was able to come out here and speak to y’all,” said Oliver. “I see a lot of young cats out here, man. You’re the reason we all came out here. I know that at your age… I was young like y’all too. You can be hard headed. You feel like you know everything. I understand. You won’t realize it at this age, but the window of opportunity is very, very small. It’s basically just hard work and dedication that’s gotten me to this point.”

Tomlinson encouraged the student athletes to find something outside of sports to focus on and to be certain to maintain good grades.

“Make sure you all focus on those books because in the long run you want to go to college and do something after football or after any other sport you may do and be successful at it,” said Tomlinson, adding he has two degrees. “One day you’re going to have to hang the cleats up. My biggest thing is keep your head in the books.”    

Thomas talked about the importance of students learning time-management skills because of the demanding nature of being a student athlete in college and beyond. He said developing time-management skills becomes a necessity because there will be days when you don’t want to work out or go to class but you must grind and do it anyway. Student athletes in college are required to maintain a certain grade point average to compete, he said.

Thomas told TAPInto Newark that he was happy to be a part of the event.

“I try to give back as much as I can,” Thomas told TAPinto Newark, adding that in volunteering in other cities there are a lot of the same problems in a macro sense for urban youth. “This was a new city for me. It was a cool event. The kids had some good questions they’d written up. I hope they took something away from it.”