From Cooper City to Boca Raton, RISE empowers Walker’s playersJuly 25, 2018
By Denise Spann
BOCA RATON, Fla. – After watching the RISE Leadership Program’s success during his final season as head coach at Cooper City High School, Brandon Walker brought the program to Boca Raton High School as head football coach there.
The program is designed to empower coaches and athletes to be leaders during discussions of racism, diversity, prejudice and inclusiveness within their teams, schools and communities. Student-athletes learn about the history of race and sports, how the power of sports can drive change and how to become leaders to improve race relations.
“The enlightenment, the knowledge just going through RISE, what these kids learn is the most beneficial thing,” Walker said. “Even at a young age they can become active participants in change. Empowering the youth through this program is really what I think the greatest aspect of RISE is.”
Spending five seasons as head coach at Cooper City, Walker gained a relationship with his previous players that allowed him to feel comfortable to lead them to RISE.
“I think the biggest thing is their ability to have these open conversations about things they were uncomfortable talking about before, or social issues they were uneducated about,” Walker said. “I think it just opened the kind of dialogue where they get to know each other; they got to understand each other better, and, in turn, we played better because we were truly more of a team. We knew each other a lot better, more personally. It impacted not only how we interacted with each other, but how we played on the field, as well.”
After helping to get RISE started throughout athletics at Cooper City High in Broward County and seeing the result with his players, Walker wanted Boca Raton to be one of the first schools in Palm Beach County to be doing the program. The program launched at Boca Raton in spring 2018.
“We did it in the spring, which was a little different; I did it in the fall at Cooper City,” Walker said. “Doing it during the spring gave these kids an opportunity to get to know me, to understand what’s important to me outside of football. Sometimes as a coach coming in they believe that all you know or do or care about is football. I wanted to make sure they understood that I’m more than just about football. Football is what I do, but there’s a lot of other things that are important to me and that I care about. This was a way to get to know each other outside of football and bridge that gap.”
As an offshoot of the program, the Miami Dolphins hosted the Boca Raton players at one of the Dolphins’ Organized Team Activity practices in May. The high school team toured Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University and got to watch the Dolphins in action at practice and meet the players afterward.
“Kids see players on TV and they’re almost not real to them,” Walker said. “So, I think it’s important when you get a chance to go down there, see these players, meet these guys in person and sometimes hear their stories – because you always see the finished product. These guys already made it into the NFL, but when some of these kids hear their stories of what it took to get to that point, I think it really enlightens kids and opens their eyes about the amount of work these guys put in day in and day out to be where they are and to stay where they are. I think that’s something these kids will carry with them forever.”
Twan Russell, Miami Dolphins youth program ambassador and Dolphins alum, spoke to the Boca Raton team about dedication and commitment.
“Their experience with the Dolphins was phenomenal,” Walker said. “Twan Russell always does a great job giving them motivational talks about commitment and finishing things. I think the kids really heard what he had to say. We played the next night, and they really applied it.”
That empowerment is something Walker saw throughout the RISE program for his student-athletes.
“It was really enlightening to see them have the light bulb turn on, realizing that they can be part of change to make things better,” Walker said. That’s what I took away from this.”
Walker said he has seen his players put what they learned into action.
“They were taking skills they learned through RISE and applying them to situations that weren’t necessarily with another athlete, but with their classmates in the classroom, in the hallways with regular students. They were able to take a lot of things they learned in that program and apply them to their everyday lives.”
Denise Spann is a summer 2018 intern for communications and marketing in RISE’s Midwest office in Detroit.