Every Sunday children in Belle Glade, Florida watch James Lee, one of their own and now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, live his childhood dream of playing in the NFL.
Lee's vision of playing professional football was born during the days he roamed the halls of a trio of Belle Glade schools: Glade View Elementary, Lake Shore Middle and Glades Central Community High. Knowing first-hand the importance of setting one's sights high, Lee is currently in the midst of a week-long trip back to Belle Glade, where he is striving to help the kids in his hometown realize their own dreams.
"I think it means a lot for the kids in the community to see me return home and give back," Lee said. "They see me on a professional level, they see that I'm in the NFL, but to see me come back and to see my presence in their lives will hopefully go a long way. Instead of just hearing about me, to see me in the community will have a great impact on the kids, I hope."
Lee's week-long visit to Belle Glade kicked off on Monday with his participation in the city's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade. James was accompanied by hundreds of youth in the parade in an effort to promote a "Stop the Violence" campaign.
This initiative is in response to recent murders that have taken place in the Belle Glade community. Residents are still recovering from a recent string of crimes, including the murder of Alabama Georgia Grocery store owner Jimmy McMillan on January 2 by a teenage gunman. On Monday morning, Lee personally distributed 1,000 "Stop the Violence" t-shirts from Lake Shore Middle School to all interested youth and families willing to walk in unity with him and send a message to criminals that the community will no longer tolerate crime.
"It was a great experience just to see the community come together as one, especially on a day when we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.," Lee said. "It was a joy that the city came out and celebrated as one."
In addition to participating in the parade, Lee will also serve as "Principal for a Day" at each of the schools he attended as a child. He called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit behind the principals' desks at his former schools.
"It's going to be a great experience," Lee said. "I never would've thought that I'd be a principal, so it's going to be one of my greatest accomplishments to say that I'm the principal of the schools that I attended."
Lee will also visit and meet with students of Palm Beach State College in an effort to enlist them to serve as mentors for the younger population of the city. The remainder of Lee's schedule will consist of various meetings with potential corporate and private sponsors and churches to help garner support for the development of youth mentoring programs and the creation of academic incentives to help students achieve academic excellence.
Lee's message to the children growing up in his hometown of Belle Glade is simple, primarily because he has been in the same shoes as the kids in the community.
"I'm going to tell the kids how I came up and that I know about the obstacles that everyone faces living here," Lee said. "I want them to understand that it's possible to not only make it in the NFL, but in any professional field that you desire."