For a brief period as an undergraduate at Morehouse College in Atlanta, community activist Lawrence Brown spent a few homeless nights sleeping on the street.
"Even though the circumstances that I found myself in were partially my fault, I still felt an intense and real sense of anger," says Brown, who went on to graduate from Morehouse and eventually earned a doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee. "I felt like there weren't a lot of people I could turn to. And it made me realize that black men in general need a lot of help."
But years later, when he began to think about what his peers needed--in terms of achievement, health, employment and self-sufficiency--he realized that it was just as important to think about how to help them.
"I had the thought that this intervention, whatever it's going to be, has to be male-centered, male-focused and culturally relevant," Brown says. "And what's more male-centered and male-focused than football?"
That's how Brown came up with a program to serve black men and families in central Baltimore that has a football metaphor as its guiding principle.
You're the Quarterback: Gameplan for Life aims to strengthen the families of men with children by focusing on barriers to employment, increasing health insurance coverage and providing support services to up to 150 men.
"Football is associated with machismo but also with planning; no quarterback just showed up on game day ready to play. There's a lot of strategy involved," Brown says. "The name of the project is the actual statement we want to make to our men, 'You're the quarterback. You need to do some game planning. Your team is your family. If you're going to move them down the field to score, to be successful, then you need to game plan for life.'"
Many of the men who will participate will self-select or will be referred from a Head Start program at Union Baptist Church of Baltimore or The Men and Families Center, which aims to improve the quality of relationships between fathers and their children.
Brown and his partners will work with the men during group sessions (team huddles) and in one-on-one meetings with "coaches." They will provide each man with a general "playbook" for life as well as an individually tailored "game plan" that addresses barriers to success in both their work and family life. Plans may include GED-program enrollment, rectifying child support payments, finding affordable health insurance or steps toward making the transition from incarceration to freedom.
One major resource Brown wants to develop during the fellowship is an easily searchable database of services and programs for the men who participate.
"There are a lot of services in Baltimore but many men don't know about them," Brown says. "And there's a lot of information out there that is not easy to wade through. You look at health insurance alone; it's complicated."
The database, Brown says, will allow coaches and participants to plug in relevant information about a specific individual and pull up useful resources more specific to him.
"I'm so thrilled at the opportunity OSI-Baltimore has given me to expand and further develop the project," Brown says. "I'm excited for the men. We've already been able to develop a rapport with many of them and this allows us to build something on that foundation."