New Orleans Saints Defensive Back Usama Young is focused on football. With one Super Bowl ring under his belt, Young is convinced the Saints are marching toward another championship season. Now in his fourth year in the NFL, the Kent State graduate is also focused on perfecting his game and helping others achieve their dreams.
“I learned early that it’s important to give back” says Usama. “We weren’t rich, but my parents found a way to put food on the table for us, and to feed other people. We would make hot stew and go to downtown Washington, D.C, to feed the homeless. Once I got older I went to the kitchens and would prepare and serve plates on the holidays. As an adult, I get other friends to come with me. It’s a chance for us to help one another and those in the community who are in need. You have it, so you also want others to have it.”
For the past several years, Young has used his off days to travel to area schools to talk to middle and high school students.
“I’m in a great position,” he says. “The kids listen to me and relate to me as a pro athlete. Sometimes I can change a life and get a few things planted in the kids’ heads that the teachers have been trying to do all year.”
An education major at Kent State before he was drafted by the NFL, Young says working with children is his true calling. On his off days he was visiting the schools so often that he decided to the take the next step to structure his visits, labeling his conversations with kids “Chalk Talk.” Then, noticing that many of the kids in his home town were just hanging on the corner after school with nowhere to go, he created the Usama Young Youth Foundation.
The Foundation offers kids an after-school destination and a place to focus on developing their talents.
“If they like drawing, they can draw. If they like basketball, they can get on the court. If they like football, they can go play football. If they play an instrument — whatever, I didn’t want to leave anybody out of it. If its kids with learning disabilities, they can get extra tutoring. It’s not yet there, but it’s starting up. That’s what got me to this point, I just said, ‘let’s get rid of this inactivity.’”
He also started the “Stay Focused” camp to initially focus on football, but now the camp also includes cheerleading and other activities targeted to both boys and girls. From year one to year two, the event has experienced tremendous growth, attracting kids from all over the Washington area. Featuring Young’s family and friends, the day-long camp targets middle and high school kids between 12 -15 years old, teaching them how to set goals, the importance of choosing the right friends and other important life lessons they might not learn at home or at school.
“We started with 50 kids, and this year over 200 attended our event,” said Young who recruited his NFL teammates and friends to join in his efforts. “It’s about teaching the kids to do the right thing and to show them how it’s going to affect their life in the long run.”
Among those enlisted for the day, New Orleans Saints Tracy Porter and Chip Vaughn, David Jones of the Jacksonville Jaguars; Abe Elam of the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions’ Jack Williams, along with Derrick Williams, who also happen to be from Young’s hometown, all pitched in to teach drills and fundamentals, plus conduct huddle sessions with the kids.
“They’re my teammates and friends and were happy to help me do what I was doing,” Young added. “They interacted and just talked to the kids. Having that bond, even for one day, was special. The kids were able to open up and relate to a professional football player and you could see the smiles on their faces.”
The Foundation, the camp, and his off-day “chalk talks” with the kids are a big part of Usama Young’s future plans.
“I’m privileged to play in the NFL this season,” he says. “A lot of guys play three years and then retire. I’m young enough to enjoy this opportunity and want to use it to make a difference. I started this Foundation because I was always around people who were humble and always helping others. Having those humble beginnings let me know that I can also use my stature to help my community. I can change lives, and I plan to use this opportunity to do as much as I can.”
The next level includes creating set lesson plans and guidelines for his huddle sessions, and taking New Orleans high school juniors out of their neighborhoods and on a college tour to Tulane, Xavier and other area colleges.
“Many of them have heard about college, but not many of them get a chance to see what college is all about. We want them to be able to envision the possibilities and to clearly be able to see their future,” says Young.
He is also getting organized, and is forging ahead with clear plans to address the educational needs of the next generation.
“We want to teach the students some clear points,” he states. “This is serious business and getting organized is important for the kids and for the Foundation’s development. Once I hang up the cleats and helmet, I’ll be getting into the classroom getting kids ready for the next step in life.”
Regarding the Super Bowl, it’s clear Young is ready to taste the thrill of victory once again.
“I’m a young man and in the beginning of my career. I’ve enjoyed it so far and plan to enjoy it some more,” he says. “It was a dream come true to go to the Super Bowl, I can’t put it in words. It’s hard to focus on past accomplishments, and only God can write this story, but we [the Saints] want to feel it again.”