QB Shaun King believes young men and women can impact their communities if they understand the workings of its government
In the nine years since he graduated from Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King has achieved things of which, as a high school student, he could barely dare to dream. King took Tulane to an undefeated season in his final year in college, was at the helm of the hometown Buccaneers when they went to the 1999 NFC Championship game and won a Super Bowl with the Bucs a year ago.
Nearly a decade after leaving Gibbs, King still makes his home in St. Petersburg. And he has a message for the members of the Northside Teen Center in St. Pete: "Dare to dream."
King plans to help the teens at Northside accomplish things that, only a few days ago, they might not have thought possible.
On Wednesday, in front of a standing-room only auditorium full of students, local dignitaries and media members, King unveiled plans for a three-year educational program for Middle and High School members of the Northside Teen Center. The highly-ambitious program will be called 'King's Dream' and it is designed to encourage youth to become active participants in the political process and to better understand their local and national government.
"I'm very excited about this three-year journey," said King. "It's an opportunity that I can provide for these kids and I believe that the difference between success and failure is often just being provided with an opportunity."
The program features 12 weeks of classes each year, which will include guest speakers, personal research and field trips to local, national, and ultimately, international government agencies.
At the completion of this year's classes, 20 students will be chosen through criteria including attendance, attitude, behavior, grade point average, overall participation and essay presentation. Those 20 students will then go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Tallahassee to see Florida government in action. The travelers will meet Governor Jeb Bush, state legislators, and lobbyists and have a chance to witness political activities first-hand. All students enrolled in the program will be actively involved in the planning and execution of the trip, including itinerary, letters to state and local officials and the scheduling of hotels, airfare, transportation and recreation.
Year two of the program will focus on the federal government and conclude with a trip to Washington, D.C. The final and most ambitious year of the program will focus on international government relations and follow up with a trip to the United Nations offices in New York and the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Said King: "I firmly believe that education is the foundation for success in life, and that all children should be exposed to programs that inspire and motivate them to learn."
King knows that his plans have taken on a grand scale, but the 26-year-old has experience with this type of program, having hosted a similar "King's Dream" in 2000-2001. That program focused on prejudice, slavery, the Harlem Renaissance and the Montgomery bus boycott. King's Dream participants were required to complete various research and writing assignments on topics such as the United States Civil Rights Movement, colonialism, slavery and the Civil War. They also learned about civil rights struggles around the world and discussed the Holocaust and the controversies in such areas as Bosnia, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland.
At the end of the first King's Dream, King took 20 kids on a trip to Birmingham, Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama and Atlanta, where the students visited the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the Rosa Parks Museum, the Civil Rights Memorial, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical District, the MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Morehouse College and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the father of Martin Luther King, Jr. served as the pastor.
The focus that King has placed on civil rights and governments in action during his two programs is not by accident. He believes that the best way for the next generation to have an impact is through politics.
"By understanding the political process on a local, state, national and international level, these students can impact their communities in ways they may have not thought possible," said King. "This program is a way for me to show them how they can make a difference."