At some point Tuesday night, Devin McCourty will have to sit still. It won’t be easy. The longtime captain of the Patriots is not one to be idle, and even in this time of pandemic, McCourty has continued his full devotion to the causes that shape his life. Family. Football. Social justice.
But the camera is about to turn his way, putting him in a guest-of-honor spotlight during a gala fund-raising event for Boston Uncornered, a nonprofit group that works to get current and former gang members out of the gangs and back into school, using financial incentives to help them through high school and college.
As McCourty shares a virtual conversation with event host Andrea Kremer, the longtime NFL announcer who is a similarly ardent supporter of the groundbreaking initiative, he won’t just revel in the way others plan to fete him. He will do again what he has done for the last 11 years in the NFL and the bulk of his 32 years on the planet — be an agent of change, putting action behind the words his NFL platform lets him say with some volume.
Never has this distinction been more important to understand than now, in this time of social upheaval. When McCourty puts that same voice to the global conversation being held right now about systemic racism and police brutality in the United States, he deserves to be heard as a leader in the field. When he does so despite the recent heartbreak to befall the primary pillar of his life — the news that he and his wife Michelle suffered the stillborn death of their daughter Mia on May 24 — he shows even more how inner strength can keep us upright and in the fight.
To that end, here’s hoping McCourty gets a chance to smile Tuesday night, a chance to be taken by surprise by unexpected guests and swept off his feet by generous donations. As the nation grapples to find effective mechanisms for achieving the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement, eyes, and support, would do well to look toward Boston Uncornered.
By incentivizing education, it creates a path to a better life. It is the same lesson Devin and his twin brother Jason were taught by example, when their mother Phyllis sacrificed all she had to get them through private high school, an experience that would catapult them both to football scholarships to Rutgers.
“It changed my life, and I’m not saying the route I went is the only way to be successful, I truly don’t believe that,” McCourty said in a recent conversation, days before he made the news of his family’s loss public. “For me, where I grew up, I didn’t want to go to the public school that was near me, athletic reasons etc., and my mom sacrificed all the funds she had, ended up going bankrupt when we were in college.
“She spent that all for us to go to St. Joe’s [N.J.] and get the best education. When I went there, everyone believed everyone there should go to high school, should graduate college. That’s what you see with Boston Uncornered, the mentality that everyone should go to college. You can see the impact. Kids who dropped out of high school are finishing degrees at four-year colleges.”
Fast-forward to McCourty’s role as a leader with the Patriots’ player council on how to use the funds from the NFL’s social justice initiative, the one established in the wake of debate over Colin Kaepernick’s original form of protest, taking a knee during the national anthem.
That Kaepernick’s protest remains central to the current social activism gripping the nation proves how much it was needed. Continuing to denigrate Kaepernick for what is seen as disrespect to the flag is so counterproductive when it ignores the work being done on the ground, work that men like McCourty have been doing all along.
“One of the highlights at the event is that they have former gang members either in the program or through it, who work as CRAs, college readiness advisers, and they are sharing their stories,” said Kremer, a Boston resident who finds time in her busy broadcasting schedule to teach a Boston University class on the art of interviewing and whose husband, John Steinberg, is a senior scientist at the Fiske Center for archeological research at UMass Boston.
With roots planted in the area — she and John raised their son Will here — Kremer is moved to dig in and do the work to benefit all communities.
“One young man, he was in a gang, he got shot, he almost died, he came through the program and was working as a CRA, he goes back in same community that he worked to get out of, and he got shot again,” she said. “Here he is trying to do everything for these kids, to prove he’s turned his life around, and unwittingly gets shot. That was the central moment where I said, ‘What can I do?’
“I really felt strongly about it. They are so dedicated to doing what they can to help. The whole premise of it just fascinated me, the idea of paying kids to earn their college degrees. It just made sense. And it worked.
"That’s the thing: How many times do you contribute money and wonder where it’s going? You can see the tangible results with this.”
As McCourty echoed, “It creates real change, which has a huge impact on society. It’s taking people who have a lot of influence and changing their mind-sets.”
That’s a conversation worthy amplifying, now more than ever. Those interested in watching the gala can sign up at uncornered.org.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.