At some point Tuesday evening, Tony Richardson probably picked up his phone and called his father, Sgt. Major Ben Richardson, down in Alabama and talked about his day.
'He'll be like, 'OK, what did you do today?' He knows on Tuesdays I'm at a school or doing something for young people," T-Rich said on the steps of J.H.S. 167 Robert F. Wagner in Manhattan.
Richardson was at the school to launch the "Be a Champion" writing contest for students with disabilities. The Jets, who have partnered with the New York City Department of Education (DOE), and Lime Connect, an organization that connects people with disabilities for employment, are encouraging students to write about achievement and success as they move to complete their secondary education and prepare for the challenges of the life beyond high school.
"We want to motivate students to think about what they want to be and think about how they're going to achieve their goals," said Dr. Marcia Lyles, DOE Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. "Some of the students may think they can't achieve some goals, so it's really about setting your goals and writing about it."
Just a few minutes before 1 p.m., Richardson walked into a second-floor library and immediately grabbed the kids' attention. The 6'1", 238-pounder, a well-built figure who holds a bachelor's degree in education from Auburn and an MBA from Webster University, stressed the importance of the classroom to his young audience.
"There are so many opportunities out there for you guys," T-Rich said. "I just want to say go get them. … Whatever in life you want to do, it starts today and it starts with education."
The message was well-received. During Richardson's presentation, the children were locked in on his every word. They asked a number of questions afterwards and they were elated when he stopped by tables to sign autographs and pose for photos.
"He is an amazing person that let us know we can be champions," said Vincent, a sixth-grader from Queens who loves science, "and that we can go on and not be afraid to be anything we want to be and to go out and pursue our dreams."
"He's a person who doesn't just care about football — he cares about education, too," said Shateek, a seventh-grader from Coney Island.
The deputy chancellor was equally impressed with the eloquent Richardson.
"He was great. Just the way he told stories, he's a born teacher," said Lyles, who announced the new initiative in a weekly newsletter to the public schools.
Before Richardson entered the library, he asked about the whereabouts of Lime founder and good pal Rich Donovan, a successful entrepreneur and former portfolio manager for Merrill Lynch & Co. The two have developed a strong bond since meeting only a couple of months ago.
"This best-of-class partnership is opening new doors for these kids to reach for possibilities many didn't think were available to them," said Donovan. "Be a Champion encourages them to think big and go for it."
Donovan has cerebral palsy, but he hasn't let that slow him down. He's excited about the program where all public school students with disabilities in grades 6-12 are invited to take on the challenge of describing what being a champion means to them. Authors of winning essays will be invited to attend an event in December hosted by T-Rich and Donovan.
"A lot of times students with disabilities have low expectations and set very low goals. We try to encourage students that we all have abilities," said Linda Wernikoff, the DOE's Executive Director, Office of Special Education Initiatives. "Figure out what you like best and we'll help you get there."
Hopefully a lot of students are writing away this week throughout New York City. Richardson, a three-time Pro Bowler who has blocked for six 1,000-yard rushers since 2001, has a history of helping people reach their goals.
"I had a great example at home, and my parents definitely stressed that we are very fortunate," he said, "and every chance you get, you should give back and pull somebody along as well."