'There is nothing more powerful than the human spirit'

DOWNEY - In its 20 years of existence, Gangs Out of Downey has received its fair share of accolades for their relentless efforts to tackle and prevent gang violence in the city. But on Wednesday, the non-profit may have received its toughest endorsement yet.Hall of Fame NFL running back Jim Brown - hailed as "the greatest professional football player ever" by The Sporting News - delivered generous amounts of praise as he spoke at the Gangs Out of Downey (GOOD) luncheon at the Rio Hondo Event Center in Downey. At 73, Brown used a cane to approach the podium. But he was otherwise spry, and his gruff voice resonated through the banquet hall as he lauded the city's anti-gang efforts. "When you talk about Downey, you're talking about people who had a vision," said Brown, who spends much of his time now mentoring troubled teens and adults. "The arrogance is not there, but the success is." Brown attended the luncheon with associates from Amer-I-Can, a life management program Brown founded that helps students "take charge of their lives and achieve their full potential." The program recently opened a new location at Stonewood Center. Brown's speech was relatively short - about 15 minutes - and he used the time to emphasize what he termed "the human spirit;" that is, community involvement and selflessness. He spoke highly of dignitaries who paid $50 each to attend the fundraiser, including four Superior Court judges, the entire Downey City Council, a contingent of Downey Police Department administration, and school district officials. "There's a lot of great people in this room trying to save our children," Brown said. "It's almost unprecedented." Brown enjoyed a short but stellar 9-year career in the NFL, where he shattered several rushing records and was named MVP three times. He retired before age 30 and settled into a career in show business, but later began his humanitarian work. The result, Brown said, was that he became a surrogate father to many troubled young adults. Despite his celebrity, Brown said he is motivated by "kindness and integrity, not money and fame." "To help someone, no feeling tops that," Brown said. "There is nothing…more powerful than the human spirit." Brown said his father abandoned the family early on, and his mother was young, so he was primarily raised by his great-grandmother. Eventually, Brown's high school football coach took the role of father figure. Brown said he tries to follow his coach's example. "When you work in an organization like (GOOD), some people want numbers to measure your success," Brown said. "(But) numbers can't measure humility and integrity. They can't measure the integrity in your soul." Brown wrapped up his speech by urging the audience to "be careful with the generalization" of gang members. "Some people are trapped in gangs," he said. "(After counseling) some have performed at incredible levels." Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe emceed the event.

********** Published: April 24, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 1