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Pitt

Orange Arrow, Pitt football point the way for area youth

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 9:18 a.m.

The marriage between Pitt football players and Orange Arrow, a nonprofit that aims to help preteen student-athletes develop off the field, starts with learning how to do the little things that don’t seem to matter.

Such as Pitt safety Damar Hamlin setting an example and choosing water over soda pop without being told what’s best for him. “Personal choice,” he said, proudly.

Or, setting a table for dinner and knowing where to place the knife and fork.

But it’s much more than that, and 13-year-old Corey Meyers of Carrick probably said it better than anyone Tuesday during Orange Arrow’s bowling party at the Zone 28 lanes in Harmarville.

“They teach us how to be respectful. How to be nice to people,” Meyers said. “You know how people use a lot of swear words? They teach us always check your language and don’t use 'um’ and 'like.’ ”

Orange Arrow also teaches the kids how to be respectful to women and girls, including holding the door open for them. “That’s something that’s very important and needs to be emphasized more,” said Pitt wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes, the leader of Pitt football’s group of about 20 Orange Arrow volunteers.

What’s even more unique about Orange Arrow’s mentoring program is how black men become role models for white kids To Araujo-Lopes ( Ra-Ra to everyone), that’s an important concept.

“Sometimes, there’s a negative connotation tagged with African-American males,” he said. “We can show them different.”

Shawn Robinson, a former Pitt defensive back who founded Orange Arrow in 2013, is proud of the diversity within his group.

“When I first started the organization, it was 96 percent African-American,” he said. “Right now, that number is closer to 59 percent black, 32 percent white, 7 bi-racial and one Native American and one Hispanic.”

It’s that white minority Robinson is trying to reach with black athletes.

“Where do they see black men? They see them on TV, LeBron James, Steph Curry. Entertainers, right?” Robinson said “Or, they’re talking about black men doing crime.

“I asked a group of them, out of 13 boys, 11 of them are white: 'Besides us, what other black men do you interact with?’ “They don’t see any others. When you start talking about building cross-cultural relationships, it’s important to build both sides so they can see that we’re actually more like them than we’re not.

“We have students in our program who both of their parents are physicians. We have students in our program who may be raised by their grandmother.

“Student-athletes from all different backgrounds, black, white, different economic backgrounds, enjoy Orange Arrow the same and are growing just the same.”

Arajuo-Lopes brought teammates Hamlin, Tre Tipton, Shocky Jacques-Louis and Maurice Ffrench with him Tuesday, and all interacted with the kids in bowling, laser tag and singing rap songs. Robinson joined in, admitting “I’m no rapper, but I’m willing to embarrass myself to get them excited and relaxed.”

One of the more dramatic moments of the party was when Jacques-Louis, a freshman wide receiver, lost at bowling. He paid off by doing 30 push-ups, finishing with the encouragement of the entire group.

Araujo-Lopes said he’s felt a need to help others as far back as Reedley (Calif.) College, the school he attended before Pitt.

“I kind of felt that if God gave me the opportunity I would try to impact people as much as I can. It’s kind of who I am,” he said.

“Seeing when that light bulb clicks on, that joy, that’s what has been worthwhile for me.”

Araujo-Lopes graduated from Pitt with a degree in public service and is now in graduate school, seeking a Master’s in public administration. Some day, he said, he might like to make social work his profession.

Meanwhile, he wants to focus on “where my feet are,” and mentor the young wide receivers on the team.

“I’m showing them the ropes, learning the detailed stuff, and also off the field (telling) them, 'Expose yourself to other things, care about things outside of football.’

“I’m really trying to grow them, grow their personal life. Being in the community. Empowering the youth. Simple things like (bowling).

“Not only does it impact the community, but it also impacts yourself.”

Tipton said he enjoys the experience because he’s with “the type of people who don’t really care what you do.”

“They just want to hang out with you.”

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