"I'm a product of my environment. I'm proud of where I'm from."
Arizona Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston(notes) is one person who has not forgotten his beginnings. Growing up in North Braddock, Pa., Breaston saw the good and bad of inner-city life, and he's set up different ways to give back to his home community. He wrote a poem called "I Am What It Is," which detailed his childhood memories, and teamed with apparel manufacturer IMU to create a shirt, the sales of which will benefit his Steven Breaston Foundation
"I had started the poem about a year ago, and that's one thing when you're writing something, you try to get back and finish it," Breaston told me in a recent interview. "Then, when David Merritt, the CEO of IMU, asked me to get together on a T-shirt, I finished it. It started off being about me growing up as a kid, and just what I am. Things we did — playing whiffleball and football in the lots and stuff like that. One of the big things I wanted to do was to give back to the community — just show things that were positive through my poetry, so they can see what's good about where they live."
Breaston said that his foundation "helps at-risk kids in North Braddock. We just felt that it would be a good thing to do. The biggest thing for me growing up were the after-school programs, and Boys' and Girls' Clubs around the area. I haven't seen much around there lately. They have a good summer program there, but the biggest thing is for the kids to have a place to go after school. When I was growing up, the Boys' and Girls' Club was in the library. We'd do our work, and we also had the gym up there and the baseball field. I want to provide [the kids there now] with opportunities after school so they don't just go home and sit on the couch — they can get out and interact; work in a good place and get things done in a safe environment."
That environment helped Breaston transcend his surroundings, something that's on his mind as an example for others to follow. "I think that some people try to glorify the negative things about the neighborhood. People focus on the negatives a lot, but I'm trying to focus on the positives — the good that does come from the community. There were a lot of people in the community who supported me coming up who are still with me. I'm just trying to show the kids in that area that it isn't all about guns and drugs."
In the poem, Breaston wrote that "there are more than eleven on my team," about the friends now gone. "Growing up in that neighborhood, you lose friends and people you grew up with," he said. "As I was writing it, I felt that I play the game not only for myself, but for all the people who supported me growing up. You're doing it for them. You're doing it for their parents. People saying how they they're proud of you and things like that. You're doing it for them. You understand that you're bringing a positive light to them, because they're living a dream through you. So you keep going, and keep that dream alive."
After the jump, there's a video of Breaston reciting the poem and walking around North Braddock; the shirt is available here if you're interested.
Of course, Breaston also had his mind on his current Cardinals team; a franchise facing a huge roster overhaul after two very successful seasons. With quarterback Kurt Warner(notes), receiver Anquan Boldin(notes), linebacker Karlos Dansby(notes) and safety Antrel Rolle(notes) now out of the picture, Breaston knows that it's about a new generation of Cardinals making a difference on the field.
"You just move on, and you come together as a team knowing that it's not just one person who has to fill that void. People wonder how Matt [Leinart's] going to replace Kurt, but Matt just has to go out there and do his job. The receivers have to pick it up a little but, the running backs have to pick it up a little bit ... I think people get caught up on one guy replacing somebody like Kurt or Anquan; you're not just going to replace them with one guy at this point in time. With Anquan gone, I have to step up, Early [Doucet] has to step up, the running backs need to do more out of the backfield. We'll be able to handle it."
Especially when you have more than eleven on your side.
"I Am What It Is"
I don't regret what I did and I'm not shameful for where I've lived. Remembering how I took cookies from under the babysitter's lid.
I am what it is, a product of Red Nerds and overflowing pop fizz, red stains on my shirt as I played games around the church... Wiffle balls in the lots where I slid in rocks instead of dirt, for this felt good it never hurt... Grilled government cheese is how my parents made it work, with these memories I go to work...
Or Zips' corner store, where a bag of fish was 25 cents and not a nickel more, add a quarter and that's what you can get a pickle for, and sure there were a few pickles I got into... But few questioned the things that I might do...
Even if I did, but I fight through because they reminded me that I was in reach of what's under my eyelids...
My dreams, the reason there are more than eleven on my team. For my little league friends in heaven know what I mean, and by any means, I will show the light of my birthplace, the community that showed me that victor is not always the one who stands in the first place, the basis on why I'm here in the first place...
For these memories are what I'm worth,
And for what it's worth, I think about them first.