Although the roar of the crowd and the glow of the Saturday night lights may be intoxicating for many, Southern University’s star running back Lenard Tillery tried to puts things into perspective Saturday for dozens of black youths.
The occasion was “A Gathering of Neighborhood Boys” at New St. John Baptist Church on South Street, where Tillery encouraged boys and young men ages 8 to 18 to concentrate on their academics and making the right choices in life.
An incoming Southern senior who already holds the school’s career rushing record with one more season to play, Tillery stressed that education is one thing no one can take away from you.
“You have to realize every choice you make will come back to you,” he said, speaking to youths decked out in a colorful array of buttoned-down shirts, crisp navy blazers, and complementary neck and bow ties. “Therefore, good choices are the best choices.”
In an interview, he said he firmly believes academics should be celebrated as much as athletics.
“If our academic banquets could get the same love and support our athletics banquets do, then I feel we would really make a lot of progress,” Tillery said.
LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones, who also spoke to those attending Saturday’s event, said his mission is to help the boys understand that they’ll be judged by the choices they make.
Jones, Tillery, members of the community, and the boys and their relatives also witnessed the second annual The Rev. Dr. W. Marshall Myles Oratorical Contest at Saturday’s event, with the theme of “How to Eradicate Poverty and Violence in Our Communities.” Myles is pastor of New St. John Baptist Church.
They also commemorated the successful end to the New St. John Baptist Church Boys Academy, which is a month-long summer session involving primarily third-, fourth- and fifth-grade neighborhood boys who hone their reading and math skills while picking up etiquette skills.
“The most important lesson we learned was to be friends,” said D’Kobe Chesterfield, 11, who attends Broadmoor Elementary. “We had to work together to solve problems.”
Solving problems is something Tillery understands well. He said he has experienced plenty of hardships both on and off the field, but they made him who he is today.
“You have to adapt, not just with injuries but with life,” Tillery said. “With every failure, you have to be strong and fight past it.”
Jones also gave examples about how some of the greatest NBA players today — Kevin Durant and LeBron James — overcame adversity to get to the top of their games. He said they both surround themselves with good people and make the right choices.
“It’s never the right time to do the wrong thing and never the wrong time to do the right thing,” said Jones, to loud applause from those attending the program at St. John Baptist Church.
McKinley Senior High School incoming junior and winner of last year’s inaugural The Rev. Dr. W. Marshall Myles Oratorical Contest, Jalen Butler, introduced Jones at the event and said the coach caused him to think about how he wanted to lead his life.
“Coach Jones encouraged us to choose the five ways to go about our lives, which really touched me,” said Butler, 15.
Jones listed the five driving forces of his life as having great character, being trustworthy, being respectful, not having any regrets and being a servant.
“I want to make sure that I serve and be a great servant for others out there, because it’s really not about me; it’s about them,” Jones said. “I want to do everything that I can to try to help people grow, and that’s my mission.”
Tillery shared Jones’ sentiments.
“My pastor always tells me when you give a message and just one person listens, then you did your job,” he said. “So if one kid heard anything about what I was saying — work hard, hang around the right crowd, respect your elders — then I feel I did my job.”
“Lenard (Tillery) telling us to work harder than the people around you really stuck with me,” said Butler.