Misty Copeland and Sean James’ beautiful campaign to end bullying

Photo Credit: Richard Corman
Photo Credit: Richard Corman

Sean L. James: model, former NFL player, businessman and advocate against bullying. James also found a creative way to show common straights with sports and the arts with his campaign with Misty Copeland.

How did you find time to establish a non profit?
I think that the way you framed this question is interesting. So often we think about all the responsibilities we have in our lives, and we conclude that with all the commitments we have, we lack the time to do something for others. I have always believed that doing for others is one of my foremost responsibilities. I think that part of being a productive member of society is finding a way to use the talents and gifts that we have to give back to others in whatever way we can. So the question for me is never “Do I have time?” but rather, “How should I spend the time I make?” Now, as a former NFL player and a businessman, I have found that I have a unique platform from which I am able to help others. As an athlete, I have been given a voice that people listen to, and as a businessman, I have a skill set that enables me to run an organization such as Be In The Know About Bullying.

Why is bullying so important to you?
Bullying has become an epidemic in our country that affects everyone, but seems to take an even heavier toll on our children. Since I have dedicated the last 25 years of my life to educating children and helping them to thrive, bullying has become a critical issue for me, because it has become a critical issue for our children. Unfortunately, although our society acknowledges the severity of the bullying epidemic, real focus on the issue only tends to occur when a tragedy occurs. A student who was bullied takes his or her own life, the story will be plastered all over the media, and then in a week or two it will just fade away. October is National Bullying Month, but one month is not enough! We need to be vigilant in working proactively to fight bullying every day of the year, and we can do that through education. That is what Be In The Know About Bullying is about. We want to educate children and the adults that guide them on how to be positive members of their communities, how to be kind. That is how we begin to root out bullying from its source!

How do the teens respond to your efforts to support them?  
They respond quite positively. Teenagers, like all children, crave leadership, structure, and discipline (whether they know it or not). Be In The Know teaches children how to respond to leadership in order to be leaders themselves. We give them an education that goes beyond English, history, and math- we teach them how to think about each other, how to treat each other, and just as importantly, how to think about and treat themselves. These are skills that have been largely forsaken in an educational landscape that is lush in testing and data, but largely lacking in personal accountability for behavior. Children are thirsty for that kind of knowledge and discipline, and we provide it for them.

What is the biggest challenge you face with fulfilling your mission?
I think the biggest challenge I face is not in educating the children and students, but in making adults understand what that education really means and just how critical it is for children to have. So often I hear teachers and administrators tell me that they simply do not have the time to work on social skills or implement a curriculum like ours. What they fail to realize is that they simply do not have the time NOT to implement it! When you teach children a curriculum that instills in them an inherent respect for themselves and for others, you are paving their path to success both as students and as people. That type of success will manifest itself in the classroom just as surely as it will in the cafeteria or on the field.

How did you end up collaborating with Misty Copeland?
Misty and I are friends with a common experience and a shared passion for helping others. We both grew up having the experience of feeling insecure and we have a keen sense of what that does to the self-esteem of children and of adults. We have also both made it part of our life’s mission to use our platform to help others. Since I have always felt that there is an undeniable link between artists, athletes, and intellects, we thought coming together for this collaboration would be an amazing way to show the artistry of football, the athleticism of ballet, and the intellect that not only exists- but is essential in both disciplines. The hope being that highlighting these ideas would help people gain confidence in their abilities and in the belief that they do not have to be defined by just one thing. As to your point about allowing my career to compliment others’ careers, I am so glad you brought that up. I think that when given the opportunity to work with other people in collaborations, as partners, or even just helping out a colleague, our society tends to get caught up in the idea of “conflicts of interest”. If I help you, will I potentially be taking business or money or credit away from myself? I think we have to pull back on that fear. Great things happen when we find ways to work together. It’s not a matter of me helping you or you helping me, but rather how can we work together to help others?

What is next for you?
It has always been important to me to tap into all the things that move me. I was never content to be put in a box and simply labeled an athlete. I am a creative person and one who places a huge emphasis on education and philanthropy. All of these areas move me, so throughout my life I have felt compelled to explore them all to the absolute best of my ability. That compulsion is what drove me all the way to the NFL, past college and to the completion of my MBA from George Washington University, and to the creation of Sean James Student Athletes, and most recently, Be In The Know About Bullying. Right now I am entrenched in Be In The Know About Bullying working on expanding and implementing our two newest programs: Gateway and Ballers Club. Gateway provides community services to cultivate and grow the relationship between law enforcement and the people in the communities they serve. The Ballers Club is a high school program we created in order to engage student athletes in the fight against bullying with a buddy program that works through mentorship and leadership.

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