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Riviera Beach Native Joins Las Vegas Raiders as In-House Social Worker

Devon Lewis-Buchanan, founder of Inspire Youths, joins Las Vegas Raiders as in-house clinical social worker
Devon Lewis-Buchanan
Devon Lewis-Buchanan, founder of Inspire Youths, joins Las Vegas Raiders as in-house clinical social worker

Before Devon Lewis-Buchanan founded Inspire Youths, the organization that brought behavioral health education to marginalized communities in Riviera Beach, he was a linebacker for the University of Louisiana— and a Las Vegas Raiders rookie prospect.

Lewis-Buchanan was hurt during the 2012 NFL rookie camp. He eventually pivoted to a career in social work and community activism for mental health awareness. After joining the Raiders staff this summer, he says life has “come full circle.”

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The Riviera Beach native just got his Master’s degree in clinical social work — and now he’s the Raiders’ alumni relations director, helping current and former players with their post-career transition and adjustment to the stress that comes with life after playing in the NFL.

After his collegiate playing days, Lewis-Buchanan was interested in post-transition sports depression, fascinated by how studies have shown that current and former athletes are often susceptible to depression due to drastic changes in lifestyle and “loss of personal identity.”

The new career and a move to Las Vegas. The new territory requires a huge adjustment for Lewis-Buchanan as well. He says it’s a “surreal” experience having to move across the country during a pandemic, and leave behind family, friends, and his local mental health activism efforts. He plans to take the Inspire Youths program virtually and hopes to expand operations in the future.

His move to Vegas, Lewis-Buchanan says, is part of the undying uncertainty in the air that is “fueling anxiety” in today’s personal and professional environments. He says overcoming difficult challenges is part of his personal journey, and it’s why he’s able to relate to young Black boys in Palm Beach County and transfer his relatability to professional athletes.

In today’s game, Lewis-Buchanan says athletes from various sports are more in touch with their own mental and emotional well-being; more professional and collegiate athletes are coming out publicly to address their mental health, and Lewis-Buchanan says that's a good thing because examining pressing issues at home can often open a window into how mental health issues can disrupt work-life balance.

During the pandemic, he says people are “focusing inward” because of “isolation.”

Here's an excerpt of Devon Lewis-Buchanan’s conversation with WLRN, which has been edited for length and clarity.

WLRN: Adjustment — how hard was it to to move to Las Vegas right now, during a pandemic?

LEWIS-BUCHANAN: It's layered. Right. Because, of course, we're in the middle of this pandemic. It was also the fact that I was leaving pretty much everything that I had built, in a sense within the community. Well, my organization, you know, with the relationships and everything and also just, more importantly, my son. So he wasn't gonna be able to come with me. And, you know, so that that was the tough part.

In terms of mental health for NFL players, casual fans automatically go to the issue of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) or the potential to get CTE. How do you think football players deal with mental illness, anxiety and all other mental health concerns?

The game of football is such a gladiator type sport. The perception of playing football is ... it's all about toughness. The essence of your role as a player, as all like, you know, you have guys that, for example, that when your career is over, they talked about how tough you were — like you think of Brett Favre, like he didn't miss any games.

I'll give you kind of a sense of what I saw — the new documentary that they just put out for the [Netflix] series of Last Chance U. So they just had like the final season just come out. And they did a great job in this last season with talking about the correlation between what — these players and other NFL level — but these are young guys who are, you know, in a JUCO (junior college) or community college and trying to get to the next level. But they're experiences that they've had that, you know, before the football field.

So whether it be like their relationship with parents or relationship with parents with substance abuse or their experiences with things that they went through growing up. All of that is still there even though, you know, you're successful, you may make a million dollars. Like, even for adult players in the NFL or at the high level, those things are still there.

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Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.