- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2021

After retiring as a player in 2019, former Baltimore Ravens and Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith talked with Craig Singleterry, the team’s director of security, about Smith’s plans for the future.

The two men drove around the city, looking at different neighborhoods, having a conversation about the issues and challenges facing young people served by facilities like the Hilton Recreation Center in West Baltimore.

Smith wasn’t sure exactly how, but he knew he wanted to help.

“I remember when I was first drafted by the Ravens, I understood how important it was to be in the community and to give back,” Smith said Wednesday. 

That post-retirement drive with Singleterry was part of the inspiration for the LEVEL Up Leadership Academy, founded by Smith and his wife, Chanel. The academy, an eight-week summer camp for preteens that began Monday, is focused on reading and math as well as leadership skills with former NFL player Aaron Maybin spearheading the programming. 

Smith said they chose the Hilton Recreation Center to host the academy for three reasons: the facility sat “still” for years, the neighborhood has an active community association and there is a strong school in the area. 

“We wanted to simply be a part of a community, not try to come in and change anything,” Smith said. “Too often, people try to give the community all their answers in the way they think the community should be fixed or helped.”

To help Smith and his wife with the academy, the Ravens contributed nearly $400,000 to update the rec center with new flooring, paint, furniture and technology equipment. 

Smith, drafted by the Ravens in 2011, said the team was just as hands-on in the initiative as he was, not just handing him money to make the improvements. He said he would call Dick Cass, the Ravens team president, at all hours of the night when he had questions during the year-long process. 

Maybin, a Baltimore native, said he had never seen another NFL organization in his career help give back to the community like the Ravens. The ex-linebacker played for three teams during his five-year NFL career, including the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.

The two former players’ relationship grew from working together in the community and not from playing the sport. They met at a tornado relief event and it blossomed into a friendship. 

“We never had a football relationship, everything we did was always about our community,” Maybin said. “I think that’s how we initially got close, like ‘Oh, we speak the same language, we’re trying to accomplish the same things.’” 

Maybin said targeting 10- to 12-year-olds is a way to create role models for future generations.

“We also wanted to make sure that the demographic of kids that we’re serving set the bar for every generation that follows,” Maybin said. “The kids that we’re working with now and going forward will be the older kids setting the example for all of the younger kids that are going to follow.”

The goal for the duo is for their plan to eventually expand across the city in other rec centers before using the model on a national scale.

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