Dallas Cowboys’ all-time leading tackler Darren Woodson says he knows what it’s like not to have hope. The three-time Super Bowl champion grew up in inner-city Phoenix with a single mother who worked two jobs to provide for him and his brothers and sister.
He will share his story as the keynote speaker and honorary chair for Rainbow Days’ Pot of Gold virtual event on June 25.
Now a partner at commercial real estate firm ESRP, Woodson has a rich history of philanthropic involvement, with organizations like Make A Wish, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and C5 Youth Foundation of Texas. He says he got involved with Rainbow Days after the nonprofit’s CEO Tiffany Beaudine asked him for a favor.
“Her spirit and mine totally aligned,” Woodson said. She told me a story about her father growing up and what kind of man he was, and I immediately thought, ‘I can make time. Just wake up early, and you create time.’”
His commitment grew after visiting one of the Rainbow Days camps to speak to some of the youth the organization serves.
“When I got there, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I noticed a lot of those kids looked like me when I was 8 years old, and I saw myself. Those kids are me, and I am them.”
Walking in, Woodson said he had an idea about what he would speak to the youth about but quickly learned to be effective he had to get down to their level and talk about the small things. The message, he said was simple, reiterating stuff like “listen to your teachers” and “make sure you eat.”
“A lot of people in this world won’t understand that message, but I remember when I went to school, and my mom would leave for work at 5 a.m., breakfast was already out,” because she knew he had to feed his brain to be successful at school, Woodson said.
“Those are the littlest things I was telling these kids,” he continued. “It is heartbreaking that I say this, but for some of those kids, their first meal is at school. It just breaks me up cause it hurts that there are so many children that go through this every day.”
Woodson said he also spoke to the children about competing in the classroom the same way one would on the football field or basketball court.
For his keynote at the Pot of Gold event, he will speak about and share some of his childhood experiences.
“My message is going to be who I was … and about what enabled me to be the person I am today,” he said. “You have to be disciplined. You have to have a foundation. My foundation was church. We went to church every day. I remember cleaning the pews Monday after school, cutting the lawn after church Tuesday, and also having an accountability partner.
“It is lost on us that we think we can do things by ourselves, and that is so not true,” Woodson said. “I have not accomplished one thing in life by myself. It has been a friend who pushed me through, a mentor, my wife. You can’t be sensitive enough not to take that good advice.”
His mother did a great job, but there was one thing she could not teach, Woodson said: how to be a man. He credits his former Arizona State coach Lovie Smith for teaching him that lesson—along with how to be disciplined, courageous, and listen.
Battling Systemic Oppression
Woodson also talked with D CEO about recent protests, and the movement they’re inspiring.
“There’s a lot of pain going on today with what has happened with George Floyd—it’s been built up over a number of years,” he said. “I have seen police brutality. I have seen the community that does not trust police over the conflicts.
“There has been so much animosity that has been built up years and years over systematic oppression,” he continued. “I understand the voice and the demonstration. I just wish that people would listen. Just listen. Don’t put up the walls. Don’t have an opinion. Just listen to the pain. It’s similar to being in a relationship. I don’t know how many times my wife has said, ‘I don’t need your opinion. I just need you to listen.’ When I did that, we worked things out. I gave her the time and respect—and that is what the black community is looking for.
Change will come, Woodson said, through individual effort.
“Not everybody is going to hear your voice, or want to, but it is up to us to force change,” he said. “That is through education. We have to educate ourselves. And not look for handouts. It starts with self, it truly does. You can’t look to other people to give it to you; you have to go take it.”
Greater Good is a new editorial series from D CEO that features Dallas business leaders and their hands-on involvement with area nonprofits. To submit ideas for consideration, email Online Managing Editor Bianca R. Montes.