Once the door to the classroom opened inside the NFL YET Center at Gwen Cherry Park in Miami, the kindergartners and first graders could not contain their enthusiasm for what was waiting for them.
Three Miami Dolphins players – cornerback Richard Marshall, defensive end Kheeston Randall and center/guard Josh Samuda stood in the back of the room wearing their jerseys and big smiles. They were there to read to the kids as Randall read “The Champ,” a book about Muhammad Ali, do some coloring with crayons of drawings of Ali and then try to answer questions from Samuda about the book.
Today’s program was put together by Communities in Schools of Miami and was centered on Black History Month, hence the topic of Ali. The group’s mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and prepare for life through in-school and out-of-school programs.
“They were so excited about seeing the players and some of them were actually crying,” said Karla Cadet, project director Communities in School’s of Miami. “They just need to learn that education is very important, they need to know that reading is important and that’s why we had the players read to them. They also need to know that anything in life you want to do you have to try hard at whatever it is you want to do and that these players are also educated beyond sports.
“Right now our kids are preparing and getting ready for our big Black History program that we have. We have oratorical contests, we have them dress up, they do different shows, they do contests so now is the best time for the Dolphins to come out and just reiterate what it is we’re teaching the kids about Black History.”
All three players looked to be having as much fun as the kids, with Samuda showing off his artistic skills during the coloring portion of the program. One boy and one girl received a prize for the best drawing and all of the kids were given Dolphins stickers and autographed team pictures. Marshall, Randall and Samuda went around and personally autographed the pictures and other items.
For Randall, the afternoon brought back memories of his own childhood in Beaumont, Texas. So he had no qualms about standing up in front of this group of reads and reading the Ali book.
“Growing up I went to a program similar to this with the Boys and Girls Club so this definitely brings back memories,” Randall said. “I can remember being in their seats having (former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders guard) Frank Middleton come read to us. It was just a great experience because we’re from the same city, so today I could just tell the kids had a great time. One of the kids fell asleep so that was kind of funny but I think they all got something out of this.”
Samuda did grow up in South Florida and went to high school in Hollywood Hills, so to give back to his own community was special.
“The first thing I thought about was I wish I had NFL players or basketball players come and read to me when I was a kid because I never had that,” Samuda said. “It’s good coming back and reading to the kids. They were excited for us to be here so it was a good experience. I think when we got to the coloring part that’s when they really got excited, so hopefully they learned who Muhammad Ali was and how important he was and how important it is to read.”
Finally, Marshall really seemed to be connecting with the kids, especially over at the girls’ table because they all wanted to have their picture taken with him and touch his dreadlocks. He realized how special a moment this was for the kids.
“Just to have an athlete come out in general, I think the kids enjoy it and like it a lot because it’s something that they don’t see everyday,” Marshall said. “For us to be able to come out here and give back to the kids and let them now that the Dolphins players they look up to are really out there in the community. They got to actually meet us and it’s a great feeling for us and I know it’s a great feeling for them.”
Andy Kent • Dolphins.com