Art Monk is accustomed to disappointment. For almost a decade, the record-setting wide receiver waited for the phone to ring from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only to be passed over again and again.
Finally, in 2008, Monk’s long-overdue induction brought the three-time Pro Bowler the longest standing ovation — more than four minutes — in Hall of Fame history.
“I think the people in the community wanted it more for me than I wanted it for myself,” says Monk, the keynote speaker at Monday’s Luncheon for School Leaders. “It been great all of the recognition, the people sending letters and well wishes. I can’t begin to say how much it has meant to me.”
Monk set most of his pass catching records during his 14-year career with the Washington Redskins. Fifteen years after retiring–he also spent a year each at the end of his career with New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles–he still lives in Northern Virginia and remains committed to helping youth in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
That’s where disappointment rears its head again. For almost 20 years, the Good Samaritan Foundation worked with hundreds of students from one of D.C.’s toughest high schools. In March, the program co-founded by Monk and teammates Charles Mann, Tim Johnson, and Earnest Byner — was shut down due to lack of funds and financial support. The foundation’s new building, located near Anacostia High School, had to be sold even though it was 99 percent complete.
“I’ve had a great year and a half personally, but at the same time, we had something that was very important to Charles and me that was just dying on the vine. It just hurt to see something like this wither away without us being able to do anything about it. It was disappointing and frustrating to our students. I have trouble explaining how difficult that was.”
Monk will talk about his work with the foundation during his speech at Monday’s luncheon, sponsored by American School Board Journal and Sodexo School Services to recognize the winners of the 2010 Magna Awards. (Mann will address Sunday morning’s fellowship breakfast as a last minute substitute for “Remember the Titans” coach Herman Boone, who had to decline due to injury.)
The following are highlights from an interview with Monk prior to the conference.
Tell me about your foundation. How did it start?
When we came to D.C., we were encouraged by some of the veterans to get involved in the community. It’s what you did. Charles and I were very active, but we were doing a lot of different little things. We decided, “Instead of running all over the place, let’s do something together.” So we got together with Tim Johnson and Earnest Byner and we all threw different things out on the table.
We all agreed that we were interested in helping youth, focusing on academics and providing opportunities for workforce enhancement. So we decided to do that in one of the worst communities within D.C. We were these big football players and we wanted something that was going to be challenging, but we didn’t realize how challenging it would be.
The foundation established the Student Training Opportunity Program, also known as STOP. How does it work?
We worked with 50 students, ninth- through 12th-grader, each year on academics and career and character development. It was all after school and during the summer. Four days a week during the school year, we provide them with tutoring and mentoring. During the summer months, we worked with local businesses to employ the students in their areas of interest. It didn’t matter. If they wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor or a garbage collector, we put them in those environments to get first-hand experience.
What was the community’s initial reaction to your program?
A lot of people have started work down there before and then left without delivering what they promised. So we had a lot of issues with trust. People didn’t trust that we were in it for the long haul. But we came in every day and honored our word, and they came around.
For students coming in as ninth-graders and continuing in the program through their 12th-grade year, our results were pretty significant. Our emphasis was on students going on to higher education, and we had a very good track record with students from a school that has a very low graduation rate. Our graduation rate for the students who stuck with the program was 95 percent, and most of them went on to higher education, the military, or a trade school.
When you say those who stuck with the program, what do you mean?
A lot of these kids that come into this program are really rough around the edges. They have to want it. We can only help those who want to be helped. We tell them up front, “We’re committing ourselves, our time, and our resources, and we’ll do everything we can to help you fulfill your dreams.” But that means they can’t miss any class time, and they have to participate in the program every day. Some have to work and participate in sports and we work around those issues, but it’s not something where you can come and go as you please. We have a lot of kids who come from single-parent homes, and the parent has to put the stamp of approval on it and help us.
What’s your biggest success story?
One guy came in as a freshman. We do an assessment–what are your goals, what do you want to do, and what do you envision yourself doing, things like that. He said, “I want to go to Stanford University.” We didn’t want to discourage him, so we said we’d have to work on that. There was no way, from what we saw then, that it would ever happen.
But he was determined. He worked hard and did everything we wanted him to do, and he actually got a full scholarship to GW (George Washington University). It was the first full scholarship offered by GW to a student at Anacostia, and he turned it down. “No,” he said, “I want to go to Stanford.” With a little bit of help and financial aid, he ended up going there and graduated at the top of his class. Now he’s getting his master’s at NYU (New York University).
There are some disaster stories, too. Kids who didn’t want to do the work. We had a guy who was shot and killed as he was coming to our program from school. But most of them have fulfilled their obligations, especially once you build that trust.
How do you do that?
Sometimes it takes a year or two. They come in real rough they’ve got the street dust on them as I say it and it takes a while to break through the hardness that they have on them before you start seeing some productivity.
A lot of it depends on the type of student your program is serving. In the suburbs, you have kids who are doing well and you see the results a lot faster. When we decided to work with inner-city kids from bad neighborhoods — with no mom or dad or just one parent, or living with their parents but mom is a prostitute and dad is on the streets, or people are getting shot in their neighborhoods every week — it’s hard to just be different overnight because someone wants you do.
Many of these kids have no hope for the future. They don’t think they’ll live beyond their 20s. They see no reason to save their money because they don’t figure they’ll live long enough to use what they spend. Most never leave their neighborhoods. We’ve got these beautiful monuments and museums and the White House that people come from miles away to see. It’s right in their own backyard and they’ve never seen it.
We take them out on weekends to ball games, take them to sightseeing events and retreats. When you can connect and they see that you really care about them, that’s when you start seeing more results. But it takes a lot more time, a lot more work, and a lot more resources to get that done.
What happened to the foundation this year that caused it to pull the plug?
It’s the economy. The economy just killed us, and we lost all of our support. We had a big grant earmark that was being pushed for us in Congress, but then it was pulled off the table at the last minute and that kind of broke our backs. We had to sell our building to pay off our debt.
We understand the need for this program. Most of the people who run nonprofits understand it. But the corporations, personal sponsors, and other foundations that give grants don’t necessarily see it that way.
On top of the economy, it’s always been a struggle to get funding. When we go out to a company or an individual about supporting us, we’re talking about black inner-city kids, and these people aren’t willing to help. They want to give money to the high school basketball team for uniforms. When it comes to helping our kids, they just aren’t interested.
So, what now? What’s your outlook on the foundation and the STOP program’s future?
It’s part of life. We’re going to pick up the pieces here and maintain our relationships and see if we can get it going again when the economy comes back. It’s a worthwhile program, and if we can find a way to make it work, we will.
Editor’s Note: The School Leaders Luncheon is a ticketed event. A limited number of seats are still available. If you are interested in purchasing a ticket, go to the registration booth. Also, Monk will pose for pictures with the Magna Awards winners and individual attendees for 30 minutes after the final session but will not sign autographs.