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NFL linebacker’s story inspires work that unlocks youth potential

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NFL linebacker’s story inspires work that unlocks youth potential

The Devoted Dreamers Academy is designed to unlock potential in outstanding young students and, ultimately, in society.

Group of sports players in a huddle together at Devoted Dreamers

"Devoted Dreamers Academy was designed based on my story," says Demario Davis, an All-Pro linebacker and team captain for the New Orleans Saints. Long recognized for his contributions on the gridiron, Davis is among a growing number of professional athletes who are leveraging their life experiences to pave a path for other talented youth.

Long before he achieved national stardom through the NFL, Davis was a young man trying to navigate teenage life and school, just like anyone else. 

"Growing up in Brandon, Mississippi, I always excelled in school, I always excelled on the football field," he remembers. 

But alongside his success, he was being pulled in the wrong direction by negative influences. During high school, he became involved with drugs and alcohol and was expelled from school. Later, during his first year of college, he landed in jail.

"That was a wake up call, that scared me straight into knowing I had to do something different," Davis says. "At that moment, I think something greater entered inside of me that didn't exist before. My life became about doing what I had to do to be an example to other people."

Davis went on to graduate from Arkansas State University and play for both the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints. But he recognized that though he was fortunate enough to have the resources to reflect and pursue the life he wanted for himself, many other youth in his position may not. So many people, including NFL players, never fully develop from adverse childhoods. 

That led to him founding the Devoted Dreamers Academy, a community-level investment in educational opportunities for youth to achieve their dreams. 

The goal is to equip the next generation of leaders with the tools to be successful spiritually, mentally, and physically. 

"I want you to imagine a place with me where kids can discover their identities and gifts, and they can grow them and expand them," says Davis, who founded Devoted Dreamers with his wife Tamela. "A place where the teaching is catered to their unique learning style. Devoted Dreamers Academy is that place. We want to know who the kid is, how they learn, and teach them from there."

Devoted Dreamers uses sports as a tool to unlock passion

The hope for youth at Devoted Dreamers Academy isn't necessarily to just increase their academic performance. It's to create lifelong learners who explore their passions. 

At Devoted Dreamers, sports are used as a tool to help youth develop their individual skills and interests, and to give them an opportunity to explore new pathways. Most kids won't grow up to make the pros, and that's alright. Their passion for sports can be harnessed for value in nearly any field. 

"We want to show them how they can be the next great sports media analyst, or they can be the next great general manager of a team, or they can be the best orthopedic doctor," Davis says. 

At Devoted Dreamers Camp, students have the opportunity to learn about everything from financial literacy to reading comprehension, to physical fitness, to character development. 

The students aren't just there to participate in sports. Instead, through sports, they are meant to strengthen all aspects of their lives. The goal is to empower them to start building the future they want for themselves, on their own terms. 

"It's a model designed to go into any community, identify the kids who have unique gifts in that area, and put them on display to shine for the world to see," Davis says. "We want to encourage not kids who go and take tests well, but kids who are successful lifelong learners. We do that by individualizing our model to each kid that becomes a part of our program."

Tamela and Demario Davis' Devoted Dreamers Foundation focuses on individual strengths and a broad definition of success

Devoted Dreamers begins by asking, "What dream do you have?" and then "puts you on a pathway to reach those dreams," Davis says.

Today's traditional school model is largely designed to be successful for students who happen to do well with standardized tests and reading-based learning. For those with different learning styles, Davis asks, "Was it the students failing the system, or the system failing the students?"

Devoted Dreamers instills confidence and empowerment in each student, showing them that they deserve to vocalize and pursue their dreams. Curriculum is tailored to each student. They are able to sample different careers and prioritize their interests.

That approach means the definition of success at Devoted Dreamers is broader than grades or college acceptance. Success is inspiring students to continually develop what they excel at so they can contribute to society and live a life of purpose. 

"Education is about learning your gifts, and learning how to bring them out of you and into the world," Davis says. "It's not about how well you can go in and perform in a classroom setting. It's about ultimately how you perform well as an individual that's part of a team, which is a society."

Devoted Dreamers Academy aims to build off past success

More than 1,000 youth have participated in Devoted Dreamers' program since 2013. At least 13 scholarships have been offered to 7 v. 7 athletes for Division 1 programs, including at the University of Alabama, the University of Tennessee, Auburn University, Louisiana State University, and the University of Mississippi. 

Devoted Dreamers is currently regrouping to discover more meaningful ways to further its mission. Davis and his team are working on new impactful programming to guide the next generation. 

The benefits of Devoted Dreamers Academy will spread far beyond the classroom, and have impacts for the community as a whole. It will lead to a community strengthened by dedicated, empowered youth who have purpose and drive.

"Ultimately, I want to see our society succeed as a whole, and the only way to succeed as a whole is to focus on everybody being able to succeed," Davis says. 

Devoted Dreamers Academy is supported by Stand Together Trust, which provides funding and strategic capabilities to innovators, scholars, and social entrepreneurs to develop new and better ways to tackle America's biggest problems.

Learn more about Stand Together's education efforts, and explore ways you can partner with us.

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