Former Ohio State University football player Maurice Clarett may be best known for helping to lead his team to a national championship during his freshman year in 2002 -- and his fall from grace in tangles with substance abuse and the law.
After spending some time in prison, Clarett has begun working to share his healing process. He will speak at 7 p.m. Sept. 16 in a free event in Bexley High School's Schottenstein Theater, where he will candidly share his story, including how mental illness, substance abuse, stress, race and class affected his life.
Kimberly Brazwell, Bexley City Schools' director of student and community engagement, was moved by Clarett's story, which aired in an ESPN 30 For 30 documentary, Youngstown Boys.
"I was surprised I didn't hear about his recovery story before," she said.
She said she was impressed by his journey to heal and wanted to share that with both students and parents in Bexley.
"These are great stories to hear. His story tells many stories ... it's captivating," she said. "It's not about spectacle but about wellness."
And it's a community conversation, she said, that's overdue in Bexley.
"I want people to trust the process of having these conversations that we've never had publicly," she said, which is why the district is holding the event in the evening rather than the daytime during a student-mandated assembly.
Brazwell, who is charged with eliminating Bexley students' non-academic barriers to success, suggests the school community has an opportunity to better manage stress and pressure that sometimes leads to negative decisions and risky behavior by young people.
Based on the student conversations that she heard in her first year in the school district, Brazwell said she feels Clarett's story can send home a powerful message.
Addiction, legal issues, shame, denial, embarrassment, depression, anxiety, stress and pressure to deliver are some topics Clarett touches on during his speech. Brazwell said students will be able to relate to his struggles with race diversity, socio-economic diversity, substance abuse and recovery as well.
She said Clarett's very public example of seeking help will serve as a positive model for students who she hopes to support in recovery.
"He, too, fell victim to shame and embarrassment. He was sick and needed to get well. And there's no a right way to get better," she added.
The program will kick off Bexley's wellness efforts as part of the B3 Initiative, including a new elementary prevention program, a learning community for middle school and high school students, parent networks focused on wellness, and other new programs.
Clarett addresses numerous schools, churches and nonprofit groups across the U.S., including a speaking engagement at the Sept. 14 game between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. He has set up a nonprofit organization, the Comeback Project, to help at-risk teens. He also hosts youth football clinics and promotes physical fitness.
Bexley City Schools is partnering with Jewish Family Services and Ohio State University's African American and African Studies Community Extension Center in bringing Clarett to speak.