Photo Credit: Through Our Eyes Foundation
Through Our Eyes Foundation: The NFL Travel Group That Recently Gave Back To Jamaica
When the grueling NFL season ends, players and coaches typically want some time to decompress before delving back into preparations for training camp. And since 2017, a select group of current and former NFL ballers have been showing that not only do minority men travel, but they also give back while doing so. The seeds for the Through Our Eyes Foundation were first planted during a 2015 Colorado ski trip where now-retired players Brandon Marshall, William Gay, and Tony Carter discussed the stereotypes that Black men don’t travel.
The foundation soon followed with the aim of purposeful travel that incorporated a service component.
Their first trip was to a high school and orphanage in South Africa, followed by a visit to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where they partnered with Hyatt Resorts non-profit Granville 404 Project, to assist underprivileged students at Granville All Age School. Costa Rica was their next stop in 2019 but their 2020 plans were put on pause amid the pandemic.
This off-season a crew of six including Carter, Chicago Bears assistant defensive backs coach Mike Adams, San Francisco 49ers cornerback B. W. Webb, and NFL vets Drayton Florence and Abram Elam returned to Jamaica. They partnered with Royalton Negril Resort and Spa to offer support as the island grappled with the impact of Covid on the education system.
Executive Director of the Through Our Eyes Foundation, Jon LeSane, explained to Travel Noire why this time around Negril was on their radar.
“We had been to Montego Bay and also Kingston, but Negril was a new area for us and also allowed us to go out to some schools that don’t always get a lot of attention from people visiting or sponsors. They usually go to the big parts. So the Royalton has a strong presence in the Negril community. And it was a blessing and also a no-brainer for us to take that offer and really just partner with them to do the best that we could.”
Due to Covid restrictions, the players weren’t able to follow the typical program, which includes a sports camp and other recreational activities. Instead, they focused on meeting the western Jamaican town’s most immediate need.
As the pandemic shut down schools worldwide, over 600,000 children across the island were affected by closures. Of those, 30,000 were left unable to participate in distance education due to lack of access to internet connection and technological devices. Acting on the advice of the local principals, the group donated tablets, school supplies, hand sanitizers, masks, and other essentials to students at Little London High School and Grange Hill High School. The team was heartened by the warm reception.
“The kids were so excited and happy,” LeSane recalled fondly. “I could see they were a little nervous too because it took them a minute to warm up to us. But I could tell once they had dapped the guys up and had a conversation, they realized we’ve all got humble energy and nobody was really coming out acting like a superstar or anything like that. The kids are awesome, and the biggest thing is they’re always really appreciative. It just warms our hearts because a lot of our nieces and nephews and some of the guys that have kids, they’re so used to tablets, iPads and phones, so that type of stuff doesn’t really excite them. But the kids over there, they have a huge appreciation.”
According to LeSane, the athletes are also deeply moved by these exchanges.
“Over the last three years, when we’ve gone out to the schools and driven through the communities and gotten to really get in touch with the locals, it makes it so much more impactful. Everybody leaves with a whole new perspective about how their resources, funds and things can do so much for people. It also affects them in such a humbling way. A lot of those guys really come back, and they’re already asking, ‘when are we going next or where are we going next?'”
The group is already planning ahead for their next trip which is a return to Africa in 2022. Potential locations include Uganda or Sierra Leone. Or maybe both.
“We’ve gotten some interest from different schools and sports programs that potentially have lodging for us and an opportunity for us to there and spend a week or so and really explore the culture and do some safaris while also helping out with the kids and some of the youth programming that they have.”
For more information on the Through Our Eyes Foundation visit their website or follow them on Instagram.