This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In his ongoing effort to curb violence at South Philadelphia High School, Principal Otis Hackney brought in a little star power Tuesday.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Ronnie Brown, in conjunction with Eagles Youth Partnership and Power 99 FM, stopped by South Philly High to share his “23 Ways to Stop Youth Violence” program with the full student body.
In an understated yet heartfelt 10-minute speech, Brown spoke about his personal struggles—including a stint where both of his parents went to prison—and encouraged students to persevere through the many pressures of adolescence.
“I always tried to stay positive,” Brown said.
“I always tried to use school and sports as my tool, my safe haven.”
Brown’s speech segued to a student-filmed documentary about school violence called “Teen Truth.” Erahm Christopher, the film’s director and creator, presented the film in person and added a sentimental touch by sharing his own teenage struggle against bullies.
Brown started “23 Ways to Stop Youth Violence,” which is part of the larger Ronnie Brown Project, while he was a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Among the 23 pointers, Brown’s initiative tells students to “walk away,” “see the big picture,” and “talk to a professional” in order to diffuse potentially violent conflicts.
Though Brown has only been with the Eagles for a matter of months, he’s moved quickly to transfer his anti-violence message to his new hometown.
“We all need people to help change our lives,” Brown said. “I want to be one of those people.”
The lesson seemed to resonate with the students at the school, which experienced violence in December 2009 when more than two dozen Asian students were attacked by classmates. Hackney called the student audience one of the most engaged he’s seen at South Philly High, and concluded the assembly on a triumphant note.
“We are going to change this school,” Hackney bellowed.