Dozens of ninth and 10th-grade students swarmed Michael Bennett following Friday's practice, eager to get an autograph from or picture with the Seahawks' star defensive end.
One teenage boy collected signatures not just on his jersey, but also the back of his cell phone and on a $20 bill he will now never spend. One teenage girl got a signature on her arm, then jokingly began reciting her phone number to Cliff Avril, who also paid the group a visit.
Yet as much as these students, who attend Rainer Beach High School, were excited to meet Bennett, as well as Avril, who joined the group later, Bennett and Avril were equally impressed with the group of kids who are part of Washington Building Leaders of Change's Freedom Schools, a six-week literacy and social justice leadership development program.
"I'm inspired by you guys," Bennett told the group of students. "You guys are the future of this country, the future of your communities."
Later, Bennett further expressed his admiration for a group of students who are dedicating six weeks of their summer to better themselves and their communities.
"These are kids who are growing up seeing there are problems in their community making changes," Bennett said. "They're just out every single day trying to make their communities better. It's super inspiring. They're so young, we can learn something from them. They are kids from all over the world, Cambodia, Israel, Palestine, they're all these different kids working together within one community, doing so much change. For me to be able to support them is super cool. It's just super inspiring to be around kids who have that type of mindset at that age. Those kids are going to be leaders one day because they're already making change at this age."
Bennett's support includes not only interacting with the kids after a practice and a $5,000 donation, he has also gotten involved in the Seattle community himself in a number of ways, most recently hosting a benefit for the family of Charleena Lyles, a local mother who was killed by police officers who were responding to a call at her apartment.
"We connected with Michael, he's got a big passion for social justice as well as literacy, so it has been a great connection," said Laura Wright, a servant leader educator with WA-BLOC. "He is very active in our community, so he has been a great model for our scholars.
"Our scholars are really hard at work making a difference in their community. every day we're having deep conversations about roots of injustice and racism, so to have an athlete as high profile as him that's also in the community doing work, we're really proud of Michael for all the advocacy he has been doing—the Charleena Lyles case, that's something we've been talking about. We really appreciate having someone like him. It just affirms them and affirms the message that they can make a difference when they see someone like Michael doing that. And it's not just the message, we actually see him in the community, which makes a big difference."
Following Day 4 of Seahawks training camp, defensive end Michael Bennett played quarterback and wide receiver during a friendly game of touch-football with several youth on-site.