"I would like to challenge you all today," said Rams Community Outreach and External Affairs Executive Johnathan Franklin as he addressed nearly 700 Boys and Girls Club members from Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties. "I want to challenge you to embrace yourself, embrace your story, embrace your purpose."
On Saturday, October 21 at Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Franklin served as a keynote speaker at the annual Teen Summit hosted by the L.A. County Alliance for Boys and Girls Clubs. Leading experts provided a full-day's experience with the best advice to create and maintain healthy habits, with the unique concerns and perspectives of teens in mind. Professional athletes led the teens in stations of fun workout activities and all attendees went home with a Rams t-shirt and other goodies.
Prior to sharing his story, Franklin shared a few videos with the audience to provide them with some information on his background. One of the clips was a highlight tape of his days as a UCLA running back, with footage of his 37-yard touchdown run that broke the school's all-time rushing record. The second was a video that Franklin had only seen once or twice, and a video that continues to hit home for Franklin to this day. It showed the Green Bay Packers' Monday press briefing, one in which Head Coach Mike McCarthy publicly announced that running back Johnathan Franklin had received a neck injury that was going to sideline him the rest of the season and require rehabilitation away from the team. After nearly a year of rehabilitation in preparation for a return to professional football, Franklin was dealt another blow. He was informed by a team doctor that he was no longer able to play football, triggering his retirement in 2014.
When asked why he chose to share this difficult press conference with the kids, Franklin responded, "It was a video that I struggled watching from an emotional and acceptance standpoint in the progressions of my life. I believe if I'm talking about owning who you are as a person, your struggles and your success, I had to take the initiative to progress in my own life and take the steps and face that video. Regardless of how often that video is shown or how many times I hear the words 'Johnathan Franklin is done playing football,' I need to be at peace with it. It was time to face that and be an example to the youth."
Executive Director of L.A. County Alliance for Boys and Girls Clubs, Mary Hewitt, has dedicated herself to enable youth, especially those in need, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens. She found Franklin's story and address to the kids to be a message that was consistent with the Teen Summit's mission.
"Johnathan Franklin's speech today was so powerful and moving," said Hewitt. "I think the kid's takeaway was 'Don't let your environment or circumstances define you – you are able to overcome them.' I think that was a very powerfully received message that the kids will take home and it will transform them."
Even the Mayor of Thousand Oaks, Claudia Bill-da la Pena, joined in the local efforts for the surrounding youth. She opened the event with a brief introduction and explained her role in providing local youth with resources and opportunity and how that positively impacts our community at large. Having been moved by Franklin's story and passion, Mayor Bill-de la Pena expressed her gratitude for the Rams' community outreach initiatives.
"We are thrilled that the Rams are here in Thousand Oaks," said Mayor Bill-da la Pena. "What the Rams have done so far in terms of community outreach has been very exciting. The football players are going out into the local schools and then you have someone like Johnathan Franklin to inspire all of the children here today with a speech so powerful that it brings tears to your eyes. I hope what the children took away from his speech is that the choices they make are up to them, and they can last a lifetime. Having Johnathan be the keynote speaker representing not only himself, but also the Rams and our community is absolutely inspiring."
The ever-so-humble Franklin rarely has expectations regarding how well his story will be received or what kind of impact it may have on others. He understands that everyone's story is different, therefore the ways in which others interpret his story may vary as well. For Franklin, it's simply about extending his hand for the benefit of others and reminding kids that they are important to him, others, and most importantly, themselves.
"I hope they take away that it's ok to be who they are," said Franklin. "Sports, money and other's opinions do not give them more self-worth then they already have by just waking up each day. The power of choice and the choices that you make each day will really guide you to creating the life that you want to live."
The 2017 Teen Summit's takeaway was just that. Sean Eowelo, a child with Eastman's Boys and Girls Club was sitting on a chair watching his peers partake in some activities. Curious to see what the event meant to him and how Franklin's story impacted him, I asked Sean about his experience and what he learned.
"Just be yourself at all times," said Eowelo. "Don't let anybody bring you down, and make things happen for yourself."