The LA Rams and RISE host Dorsey High School and Lincoln High School Varsity football players at Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel)

For the sixth consecutive season, the Los Angeles Rams teamed up with RISE, a national nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice, and improve race relations, for a leadership and community-building program and panel discussion that welcomed local Dorsey High School and Lincoln High School’s varsity football teams.  According to Rams Director of Social Justice and Football Development Johnathan Franklin, this year’s initiative will include five sessions for the varsity football players from the two schools.

In Los Angeles, inner-city youth face violence and other challenges on a daily basis.  In the pursuit to change the narrative, on Tuesday, July 18, Los Angeles Rams and RISE invited the two inner-city football teams into their locker room at SoFi Stadium for discussions in finding the common good in all the attendees while accepting each other’s differences.

The program kicked off with the players and coaches watching a screening of the Rams’ “Kingfish: The Story of Kenny Washington,” which tells the story of Washington who was the first Black player to be signed by a National Football League (NFL) team in the modern era, ending a 12-year ban on Black players in the league.

Ed Jones ll, Coach Gabriel Cotero, Coach Stafon Johnson, Eric Dickerson, and Johnathan Franklin. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel)

After the film, many players and coaches, who just learned about Washington, were asked what they interpreted from his journey and story.  Dorsey running back, Javaun Lewis, Jr. viewed Washington’s character as being pivotal to his success. “It’s about who you are and what you stand for said,” he said.

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In one activity, the athletes wrote down 10 things about themselves and allowed some of the items to be read aloud by complete strangers, creating transparency, tolerance, and camaraderie.  Lincoln High football player, Marvin Gomez, shared that his leadership qualities came from experiencing different environments and people. “It isn’t about your color, your value is created by who you are,” he said.

“The more our kids are able to experience positive environments outside of the natural boundaries, they find the commonality and similarities in each other; they discover that others share their same experiences, whether good or bad.  To come together in this five-part series is critical in creating harmony within the inner city.  Although we aren’t on the same team, we are learning that we’re fighting the same fight,” said Stafon Johnson, Dorsey head football coach and sports analyst for CBS Sports Central.

Football players from Lincoln High School and Dorsey High School learn of common interests during a discussion session hosted by the LA Rams and Rise at Sofi Stadium. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel)

Following the student workshop, Ed Jones ll, RISE director of programming, led a panel discussion featuring Rams Hall of Fame running back, Eric Dickerson, and former Dorsey High, UCLA, and NFL running back, Franklin.

Dorsey Coach Stafon Johnson, a former Dorsey, USC, and NFL running back, and Lincoln High School Head Coach Gabriel Cotero, participated on the panel about their football careers and the importance of understanding identities and perspective-taking.

Dickerson shared his challenges as a Heisman award-winning college player and an NFL Hall of Fame running back. He encouraged the young men to stay patient and humble, sharing a cautionary phrase his father always told him. “It takes a second to get in trouble but a lifetime to get out of it,” he said.  Franklin shared overcoming depression following a career-ending injury, and Coach Cotero challenged the athletes to leave their mark where ever they go.

“This is an incredible partnership we have with the Los Angeles Rams. It is great to see them reach out to the local community and impact LAUSD. The impact of this programming will be leaders who will be able to communicate, support, and empower other people in their community, and to provide hope and belonging as these young men create a more unified Los Angeles,” Jones said.