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NFL Star Devonta Freeman's Success Inspires Liberty City

After only his second season, Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman was named captain of his squad in the Pro Bowl last month. Also on the team were Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, two Miami Northwestern Senior High alums.

In the year that ended with Sunday's dramatic Super Bowl win by old man Peyton Manning, 23-year-old Freeman gained 1,061 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. That's amazing. It wasn't long ago that I was dropping off Devonta at his apartment at the Liberty Square housing projects after little league and high school football practice.

I've watched Freeman grow from being a Liberty City Optimist Club Warrior to a Miami Central High Rocket to a Florida State University Seminole. Now he's at the top of the NFL.

Not long ago, I was warning him that if he ever got caught up in dope-dealing and killing other young black men, the odds of his brothers and sisters following a similar dark path would increase.

It's uplifting to see him now sharing his dream with his friends and family. I traveled with a small entourage to see him play. Everyone soaked in Hawaii's natural beauty, including the north shore coastline along Oahu's Turtle Bay. We were as far as we could be from the gun violence in Miami's inner city.

This success inspires me to continue my volunteer work in Miami's black community. I might have moved to Los Angeles or New York City to further my entertainment career. I could have made more money and been more productive. But I stayed in the town where I was born.

Helping kids like Freeman makes it clear that my fight for kids to have a safe space here has added something. Kids make it out of Overtown and Liberty City, then return to help their communities. Of course, not all of them will make it to the NFL like Freeman. But that's OK.

They can be like Keon Hardemon, another Liberty City Optimist Club star, who grew up to be a lawyer and a Miami city commissioner.

That's why I stick around.

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