Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Danny Clark Foundation A Big Hit

On Saturday night, April 17th, Danny Clark, a nine-year NFL veteran linebacker now with the New York Giants, hosted a fundraiser on behalf of his Foundation at the River East Art Center in downtown Chicago. To kick off the event, Mr. Clark described the roots of his charity in a heartfelt recount of his son, Nicky, who is struggling after a premature birth:

“March 11, 2002, my second youngest son, Danny Clark V, we called him Nicky -- he was born three months early. He was 25 weeks gestation, one pound and thirteen ounces in weight. He lived in a little incubator I called, ‘his apartment’.

“My son went through a whole bunch in a small amount of time. In the first three months of his life, he struggled. Doctors gave him a 30 percent chance to live. Needless to say, there is a God. I’m very thankful.

“So my son now is seven years old, three-sport athlete, 100 percent healthy…Nicky was the inspiration for the Danny Clark Foundation. I met with my board members a couple of years ago and said I wanted to help out, to reach out to premature families. Not just the children, but I want to reach out to the parents -- you don’t know how to understand your child when he is a pound and thirteen ounces. So the whole concept is that we want to reach out to the families; and the board said let’s reach out to all kids, not just premature families. And that’s our mission, objective and motive -- to get a lot of people to do a little.” With that, we officially kick-started the night’s events.

The evening was creatively designed, hoping to entice those with some extra pocket change to open their wallets for a good cause. Dozens of donations were available for silent auction, including the use of a private jet that started its minimum bid at $8,000. As the emcee for the night, Leon Rogers had proclaimed later, “There is no recession happening with this room full of people!” By far the most entertaining fundraising event of the evening was the live auction of some of the New York Giants in attendance. Cornerback Aaron Ross, safeties Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson, as well as Danny Ware and Geris Wilkerson raked in the Benjamins, not so surprisingly from the female contingency in the bidding audience. The bidding concluded climactically with Rogers auctioning off two beautiful Porsches, which were all but in my possession until I realized I write for a living. All in all, I unofficially calculated that Mr. Clark raised somewhere in the order of $150,000 by the end of the auction.

As far as the other entertainment, the night’s activity was highlighted by Cirque du Lumiere or “Circus of Light”, best described as acrobatic yet artistic performances in the vein of Cirque du Soleil. The female performers garnered much attention, almost as much as the models “wearing” only painted football jerseys, courtesy of Body Paint Chicago. Hats off to the athletes for making themselves openly available to the guests as well -- they accepted photo ops all night. Of particular interest was the sudden deflation of manhood as I reviewed snapshots of me (or was it mini-me?) posing next to Marcus Stroud of the Buffalo Bills and the Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka. My wife finds these pictures particularly amusing. But again, their gentlemanly spirit added that much more to the overall generosity of the evening and I recovered from my momentary lapse of manhood.

Despite the light-natured atmosphere of the hosts, I became deeply intrigued by the motive Mr. Clark expressed for starting his foundation. Upon further investigation and a quick conversation with the founder, the mission of the Danny Clark Foundation is clearly an attack on the socio-economic conditions plaguing children born in to circumstances with little positive influence. More specifically, Clark is asking for “more positive role models” in the backdrop of single-parent households, increased crime, juvenile drug abuse, incarceration and teenage pregnancy. New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Mississippi are the four states the foundation is focusing on; one need look no further than my current residence of Chicago, Illinois, to appreciate first-hand the depth of the problem Clark is attempting to tackle.

For instance, Illinois and Texas hold two of the nation’s highest teenage pregnancy rates and in 2000, Mississippi had one the highest teenage birthrates according to a Guttmacher Institute 2006 publication. With respect to single-parent households, Families and Living Arrangements: 2006 found 12.9 million one-parent families in 2006, over 10 million of which were single-mother families. In Illinois, over 12 percent of all family households are comprised of a female-householder with no husband present. What’s particularly alarming is that 78.7 percent of black women in Illinois give birth when they are unmarried (compared to 24.0 percent whites and 48.6 percent Hispanics). All signs point toward situations where children, more often black children, are born in to households lacking paternal influence. Mr. Clark is right -- education, opportunity and a guiding light are desperately needed in order to break the downward, spiraling circuitry of single-parent households giving birth to children who themselves eventually become pregnant as teenagers.

Statistics are the most scientific and logical method to present a position or argument. As such, I have provided an oversimplified, yet number-rich description (I write about sports -- a table of numbers is my color palette) of a socio-economic epidemic stretching both coasts of our rich country. My personal taste of this reality comes every weekend, when I meander to my local park to play basketball adjacent to Chicago’s infamous projects, Cabrini Green. Seward Park is packed with kids of all ages once the cold weather finally breaks as it houses ten basketball hoops and plenty of space for running around. Last week I was shooting hoops by myself when a little boy no older than five asked if he could play with me. The ball, twice the size of his head, took all his arms and legs could muster to even approach rim level, let alone find its way in to the basket. But after about 15 minutes of persistence, jumping jacks, pushups, sit-ups and a few laughs, my new friend was on his way to following the footsteps of Derrick Rose. He was a pleasant, energetic young boy, just like any other you would find on a sunny warm day at the park. So kind was he that he offered me half of his twizzler -- only I watched him pick it up right off the ground before he spoke in such generosity. After pleading with him not to eat the tainted candy while frowning inside at the notion of a child eating candy off the ground without hesitation, he conceded regretfully and chucked the red dirt bit in to the grass and eventually walked away. Minutes later, as I packed it in for the day, I saw the little boy leaving the basketball courts, say around 6:30PM, walking away with no parent in site. In downtown Chicago.

Mr. Clark pleads that he would like to “…get a lot of people to do a little” in an effort to spread positivity to the people who need it most. And although the fundraising event was attended by the New York Giants’ defense, it has become very obvious to me, and hopefully to you, that even one of the best defenses in the NFL needs a little help on the offense -- go and be a positive role model for someone today.

Go to for more information on Danny Clark’s Foundation, future fundraising events and to make donations.