"In 2018, I had two of my cousins murdered by a 16-year-old." Rams Community Affairs & Engagement Manager, Johnathan Franklin revealed, "and it broke me."
And while he is still mourning his family's loss, two years later, Franklin hosted a virtual "Character Chat" for 100 young adults at six southern California youth correctional facilities in order to have a rehabilitative dialogue, and help mentor some of those who are preparing to reintegrate into society. When I spoke to him, I was surprised at the compassion he has for young people who get trapped in the cycle of violence.
"And I share that because I always ask the question: What if I walked into a facility and that young man was in there?" Franklin, a former standout running back at UCLA pondered, "I take it personally. How can we now provide these youth the voices they can make when they are going back to the same communities that got them in that facility? How can we encourage them to think twice and act once?"
Rams Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day, punter Johnny Hekker and former linebacker Cameron Lynch, were three voices of encouragement during the earnest hour-long video discussion, sharing their experiences and answering questions from the youth participants.
"Sometimes, we need to take a few steps backwards to move forward," Joseph-Day explained. "Since the George Floyd incident, we have been forced to have these uncomfortable conversations, and try to make these uncomfortable conversations, comfortable."
Six different correctional facilities huddled around six different monitors to participate over a video conference as they watched the three players discuss some of their most personal emotions that we don't normally hear from men in uniform, or most men in general, for that matter.
"It's ok with not being ok. Let go of pride, emotional pride," Hekker said. "There has been so many times in my life where instead of being emotionally vulnerable and building that connection with somebody, [I would] shut it down and leave it as is. I've missed out on a lot of opportunities to build deeper relationships with people or friends that I wish I didn't miss out on."
Lynch added, "Express yourself - laughing and being angry are not the only two emotions. If you are sad, go ahead and be sad. Do those things. It's healthy."
This is not the first time the Rams have participated in anti-recidivism efforts in the Los Angeles community. Over the past four years, the Rams have coordinated efforts with the Anti- Recidivism Coalition and Café Momentum to create job opportunities and exposure in society for youths in the criminal justice system.
"Failing is good," Hekker told the young adults. "I don't need to go through life being afraid to fail and being driven by avoidance of failure because it teaches you how to move on and how to keep going. Failure is good. Quitting is unacceptable."