"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.