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Baltimore Ravens

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Van Brooks

Van Brooks is the Founder and Executive Director of Safe Alternative Foundation for Education, Inc. (SAFE), a youth education program in West Baltimore. SAFE helps students achieve academic success and prepares them to overcome challenges as they begin to navigate their career paths. Brooks uses his own life experiences to highlight the importance of maneuvering through life's inevitable challenges with perseverance in the face of adversity.

Brooks, a talented multi-sport student-athlete at Loyola Blakefield High School, was receiving attention from several college football programs until he broke his neck making a routine tackle his junior year. As a result of the injury, Brooks was initially paralyzed from the neck down. Refusing to let his injury define him, Brooks when on to graduate from high school alongside his classmates, earn a degree from Towson University, and even take a few steps on his own in 2012 after being told he would never walk again. After personally experiencing what widespread support from his family and friends did for him, Brooks set out on a mission to positively impact Baltimore youth and establish communities of support for them.  

Brooks founded SAFE in 2012 to provide free after-school and summer educational and vocational programming to middle school students in West Baltimore. In 2015, Brooks opened the SAFE Center, specifically designed to prepare students for their future careers, including unexpected life changes. 

SAFE runs a free flag football league called "Yards for Success" for middle school children from the Franklin Square and Poppleton neighborhoods of West Baltimore. The students play 7-on-7 games against neighborhood police officers, firefighters, and community leaders to build relationships and instill a sense of trust with local authority figures.

Brooks' commitment and the impact of SAFE on his community have earned some high-level attention. He received the President's Volunteer Service Award from former President Barack Obama. In October 2017, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan named Brooks the Director of the Governor's Office of Service and Volunteerism. Additionally, Brooks is the youngest Living Legends Award recipient from the Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity Foundation.