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Vikings in the Community: Impacting Youth at Juvenile Detention Center


MINNEAPOLIS — Warm sunlight glowed across green grass. Young people played games on The Commons as adults grabbed a bite to eat from food trucks.

Harmless clouds dotted a blue sky.

The picture-perfect day for most was anything but for one young man sitting in a third-floor classroom of the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.

The young man and several others in a life skills class were having a discussion with Vikings safeties Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse during a visit by the Vikings. The young man said he was getting tired of that view outside the classroom window, and Harris replied to him, "You could change that."

Harris was making his first visit to the secure, 24-hour detention facility for juvenile male and female offenders up to age 18 who have been arrested and are waiting for court disposition or placement.

Inside the facility that is a block away from soaring U.S. Bank Stadium, Harris wanted to make sure that the young people took away a message of optimism and that past decisions don't have to affect future ones.

"It's possible for you to accomplish whatever you want to accomplish. Mentally, you've just got to be there and want it bad enough," Harris explained of what he wanted to pass along.

"One kid mentioned he was tired of seeing the view, so I'm like, 'You could change that, you seeing that view because of your decisions, so whatever you want to become, you have a chance to do it still, but you've got to be mentally locked in and do what it takes, as far as doing the right thing, treating people right and having a commitment to it.' "

Another young man mentioned he had stopped counting the number of times he's been detained at the facility and would probably wind up in prison.

Kearse, who has previously visited youth in the facility, shared his powerful testimony.

It is the story of a mistake that he made as a 14-year-old that led to him serving a year in Florida. He emerged from that time determined to carve a better path.

"It's kind of different for me because I've actually been through what you guys are going through," Kearse said. "I've actually made that decision. I've stepped behind these doors, and that's why everything I was saying, when I sat in that room, I felt the same exact way: 'I'm tired of being here, but it's all based off a decision I made.'

Kearse told the young people he's grateful for the second chance he was afforded and realizes if he had made his mistake a little later in life, he wouldn't have been able to attend college, then get drafted by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

While making it to the NFL is rare, Kearse wanted to emphasize making the most of a second chance and let them know, "It's not too late. … Your whole life is still ahead of you. You haven't lived yet and experienced anything … [and] just because this is the situation that you're in now, it's not the situation you have to be in 10 years from now.

"I told them when you get out, that's your decision," Kearse explained after the session. "You have a choice on if you're going to keep going down the same path, so I just want to keep passing that message on. That's why I've been here multiple times, trying to talk to different kids and let them know I was in the same situation and look at me now. I'm doing something that I always wanted to do growing up, and it wasn't too late. I just put a lot of faith in God, and just do your part, and he'll take care of the rest."

Harris hopes that the young people will take the very forthright discussion that he and Kearse participated in, "realize why they are here, who else it is affecting outside of themselves and how they can move on or break the cycle of coming back here, especially if they've come more than once."

Harris has never been detained but has multiple friends and family members who have, including one that "is like a brother to me, still kind of going through that situation."

"I know what it's like to be on the other side, on the family end, and I just wanted the kids to realize not only are you hurting yourselves; you still have a chance to overcome that, and it's better that you realize it now and overcome it and find a way to do something positive," he said.

Elsewhere in the facility, Eric Kendricks and Rashod Hill visited an art class, Harrison Smith and Dalvin Cook participated in gym class, Stephen Weatherly played chess with a female juvenile, and Ameer Abdullah visited an English class.

Abdullah, who shared how he and his family have overcome adversities, called his first visit to the facility "powerful."

"You see a lot of perspectives that are different and life-altering for a lot of kids," he explained. "I think the main objective for me was to come in and let them know that people do care.

"Sometimes it's very easy to lose faith in these situations where a decision can become an absolute on your life when it comes to the psychology, how you apply yourself from that day forward when one day can kind of change how you feel about yourself, but just letting them understand that life is about experiences, not happenings," he added. "Nothing is happening to you, just an experience, just take it and learn from what you're going through and understand that, from tough times, come tough people. I think that message really resonated."

Kearse and others say they plan to go back to the facility to continue trying to impact young people.

"I want them to know that I'm no different than [them] because I was in the same situation," Kearse said. "I've had family members, friends that are spending the rest of their lives in prison for one bad decision, and it happened too late in their lives, that they couldn't get a second chance. I'm just trying to prevent these kids from going down that same path and being where it's too late for them to have a second chance."

Raise the Barr Foundation continues effort

Linebacker Anthony Barr recently hosted a reception at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center to further explain the work that his Raise the Barr Foundation does to support single-parent households.

Barr, who grew up in a single-parent home led by his mother, launched the foundation in spring 2016. It works with organizations like The Jeremiah Program, where Barr has visited families multiple times and helped provide an upgrade to the computer lab. Raise the Barr provides money for childcare assistance as well as scholarship funds for mothers that are continuing their education.

Greenway keeping it going

It's been a busy couple of weeks for former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and his Lead the Way Foundation, which helps critically and chronically ill youth and their families.

Greenway was chosen as the U.S. Bank Hometown Hero when Minnesota hosted Oakland and was able to surprise cancer survivor Alex Weed with tickets to Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

The Lead the Way Foundation hosted its annual TendHer Heart luncheon at U.S. Bank Stadium this past Sunday...

… and held its annual fundraising Celebrity Waiter Night on Monday at Manny's.