The Los Angeles Rams are teaming up with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE)to pilot a season-long leadership and community building program featuring Morningside High School in Inglewood and Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village. The collaboration is designed to harness the unifying power of sports and build relationships between two Los Angeles area high school football teams with a cross-section of races and socioeconomic backgrounds, and to build leadership, understanding, acceptance and cultural competency for student-athletes and coaches.
This season-long program includes a monthly touchpoint for the participants. The program kicked off on Monday, September 17 when Morningside players and coaches traveled to Westlake Village for a convening at Oaks Christian. The following day, Oaks Christian players and coaches visited Morningside in Inglewood for another session of interactive leadership programming developed by RISE.
"I believe during this time in our country, it's important that we create more opportunities for healthy conversations to take place when talking about things such as race, diversity and inclusion," said Rams Alumnus and Director of Football Operations for Oaks Christian ROLAND WILLIAMS. "I think it opens up the idea in their minds that we're all more alike than we are different."
The Los Angeles Rams are teaming up with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to pilot a season-long leadership and community building program featuring Morningside High School in Inglewood and Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village.
Last week, the participating players from each varsity team were invited to attend the Thursday Night showdown between the Rams and the Vikings at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Prior to the game, the players had the opportunity to meet NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Rams Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson. The student-athletes then stood with the Rams on the sideline during the performance of the National Anthem. Later this month, the varsity teams also will engage in a community service event led by the Rams.
"Every school should be able to do stuff like this because if this wouldn't have happened, I know for certain that I wouldn't have met any of the players from Oaks Christian. I think it was a great opportunity for us all," said Jeremy Hayes, player for Morningside High School.
Several Rams players including Linebacker MARK BARRON, Pro Bowl Punter JOHNNY HEKKER,All-Pro Cornerback AQIB TALIB,and the entire Rams rookie classparticipated in sessions, engaging in discussions about race, ethnicity and diversity while highlighting variances in perspective and defining the characteristics and qualities of leadership.
"It means a lot to be a part of the RISE program. These students are from two totally different backgrounds and they are really connecting with each other," said Talib. "It's nice to show them that I'm just a person who came from where they come from and that anything is possible. I think it means a lot to them too. It just reminds you that football can bring any group of guys together."
Joining on the second day of the joint-leadership sessions, Barron was encouraged to see the friendships that the two teams had developed in such a short period of time.
"It was really encouraging to see. These kids have only been around each other for two days but it feels like they've been friends for years," said Barron.
Harnessing the unifying power of sports, the Rams and RISE hope to continue improving race relations and driving social progress while developing the future leaders of society.
"These kids are our future and to be able to help introduce an initiative that's going to bring these two different communities together is awesome," said Hekker. "This program will hopefully raise some young leaders who are going to do great things for the community of Los Angeles and beyond. We're uniting them through the power of sports."
"The Rams organization and its players have shown a true commitment to the Los Angeles area and we're proud to partner with them to bring our leadership program to these schools," said Kim Miller, RISE's vice president, leadership & education programs. "Whether at the high school or professional level, athletes are natural leaders both on and off the field. Empowering them with the tools to discuss and address matters of race, diversity and inclusivity within their teams, schools and communities can help bring people together and have a lasting impact."
For more information about the Rams community outreach initiatives, please visit therams.com/community.