Doug Baldwin spent the early hours of the Seahawks players' only day off this week sharing a message of hope, leadership, and servitude to nearly 600 individuals seated inside the Lynnwood Convention Center, several of whom were wearing the wide receiver's No. 89 jersey.
Baldwin was a guest speaker at a benefit breakfast for Vision House, a social service agency based in the Seattle area that works to provide housing, support services, and child care for homeless families. It's an organization Baldwin said he was introduced to by close friends who are actively involved with Vision House's mission, and Baldwin felt "it was a good cause with great people behind it," which made it an easy choice for him to get involved, too.
"What it comes down to is the people behind it and the fact that these people are genuinely caring and want to do something better for their community to help other individuals," Baldwin said. "As selfless as that act is, you can't help but get behind it."
Tuesday morning's gathering was just the latest community effort Baldwin has backed. Most recently, and perhaps most notably, the 28-year-old announced a player-led demonstration of unity that would see the Seahawks lock arms during the playing of the national anthem, and he has also been at the forefront of the players' building bridges task force, as he and other Seattle players look to use their platforms at professional athletes to bring local law enforcement agencies closer to the communities they serve. Tuesday's social service outreach effort carried several of the same overall themes as those other off-day endeavors that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has said he "couldn't be more proud" of.
"I've been blessed with the opportunity to do different things in the community which have brought me the opportunities to talk to homeless people and to speak to families in those situations," Baldwin said. "And you get to realize that they're just human beings, just like us. Sometimes you put this blanket statement, or blanket thought over individuals when you see them in these circumstances and you don't really get to hear their story or feel their emotions, and I've been able to do that. It brings things back to earth and you truly realize that sometimes these situations are just from unfortunate series of events and they're doing the best that they can, and it's a struggle that you could see yourself having, you could see your family members having, or you neighbor having. So it makes it a very easy situation to connect with when you sit down and actually have an interaction with those folks."
Baldwin wasn't the only one preaching a positive message on Tuesday. The crowd also heard from Jim Shapiro, the head football coach at Seattle's King's High School; Melissa Gehrig, Vision House's interim executive director; and Shannon, a former Vision House resident who through the program's services "learned being responsible, accountable, showing up, working hard" and returned to school at age 43 to earn her associates degree. She noted that Vision House "saved my life and my daughter's life, and without them and without you my daughter and I would have been back out on the street." Baldwin's message to attendees, meanwhile, centered on "building hope" for those people in a position like Shannon once was.
"If you don't have hope you have fear, and if you have fear you continue to perpetuate the cycle," he said. "The idea, the message, the purpose is to eliminate these issues, or to help people get out of these issues so they're not reoccurring. And the only way I believe that you do that is by building hope. You build hope in terms of giving them something to look forward to, giving them a plan, you're giving them a goal so that they can work toward that and eventually get themselves out of the situation that they're in.
"It could be any of us, and all of us need help sometime."
On stage, Baldwin challenged the audience to "serve not only your neighbor, your families, your communities, but the world."
"Whether it be around the issue of homelessness or any issue in society, I think the most challenging, the most difficult thing, the most encouraging thing I will tell you as human beings to do is to look in the mirror," he said. "It's so easy for us to throw a blanket statement over individuals that we don't understand, or over situations that we don't understand and just say that, 'Oh, I would do it this way' or 'it wouldn't happen to me.' Well, quite frankly, it could happen to you, and quite frankly, you aren't in those shoes. And it's so easy for us to think that way instead of reflecting on ourselves and really having empathy for another human being.
"So what I do encourage everybody to do is to realize that there are stories of brothers, of mothers, of fathers, of sisters, of friends, of neighbors who have gone through tragic circumstances that have put them in situations that really they have no control over. Instead of judging them and throwing blanket statements over them, I encourage you to inject a few drops of empathy and respect the person next to you not only as asian, black, white, homeless, rich, poor. But as a human being sharing the same oxygen, the same space as you."
Every $60 raised at Tuesday's function goes to support one day of housing for homeless families, with the ultimate goal being to help spark meaningful transformation of lives. Before each table picked up its pens to make a donation, Baldwin left the group with one final thought.
"If you want to have a better community you have to be able to humble yourself for the greater good and ask what am I doing to serve my community," he said. "Vision House has the answers, they have the direction, and they're looking for progress. But they need leaders like yourselves, they need community members like yourselves to continue to help, to continue to build this platform and this vehicle to continue to build hope."
Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin was a guest speaker at an annual benefit breakfast for Vision House on Tuesday, October 18 at the Lynnwood Convention Center.