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NFL Hall Of Famer Encourages Duval Students To Take His Free Mental Health Course

Brian Dawkins
Brian Dawkins

Long before Brian Dawkins landed a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was playing for Duval County’s William M. Raines High School. Now he wants Jacksonville teens to know about a free online mental health course.

The “Brian Dawkins Values Program - Owning Your Cerebral Wellness” initiative is aimed at grades 8-10.

Dawkins, who spent his football career as a safety for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Denver Broncos, has spoken publicly over the last few years about his experience with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Early in his NFL career he even struggled with suicidal thoughts until his coach and wife pushed him to seek help. But it all started back when he was a kid.

“Lost a couple of friends to the violence in the street when I was young and not knowing how to deal with that,” he said on a Zoom call Thursday. “I remember being extremely sad and not being able to function in class. We didn’t have any grief counselors, nobody talking to us, saying, ‘It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to be feeling the way you’re feeling.’ I didn’t know those things. It was not easy. It was extremely tough.”

Dawkins said he’s improved his mental wellness by learning how to reframe his thoughts and has learned techniques to breathe through stressful situations. He also finds music helpful. But he wishes he would have had this information earlier in life.

“I would not have fallen as far as I did, I believe, because I would have had strategies in my toolbelt to utilize, Dawkins said.

Dawkins’ course is the first project of the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation, which he launched last year. Dawkins collaborated with the education company EVERFI, Inc. to create it. The program takes about an hour to complete.

“Particularly at this time of our public health crisis I think we’ve seen a lot of demand and requests for resources that relate to mental wellness,” said EVERFI founder and President Jon Chapman.

Dawkins’ interactive course helps teens explore their own mental health, identify challenges they may face, develop strategies for managing those challenges and be able to identify if their friends need help.

Teachers can choose to assign the course to their students, or parents and students can access it on their own through the Duval County Public Schools website under “blended learning” and then by clicking the EVERFI logo. Students and teachers can also log in , and students and parents without EVERFI accounts can create one here.

Dawkins said mental wellness is only the first area he plans to tackle with his foundation. He can envision helping single moms and others who may be going through a hard time. He plans to expand programming outside of Duval and to other communities where he’s played football including South Carolina, the home of his alma mater Clemson University.

Thursday at 7 p.m. Dawkins will host an Instagram Live on @briandawkinssrwith with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Derrick Gunn to talk about why he wants to help young people take control of their mental health, his journey and launching the course in Jacksonville.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

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