Ray Lewis Says He Wants to Help Make Polk a Better Place

LAKELAND | Ray Lewis wants to bring back the times when there was unity in a community, a time when people cared about their neighbors.
An All-Pro linebacker for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens and Kathleen High School graduate, Lewis has returned to Polk County to help build his dream.

Speaking to about 350 people Thursday at CommUnity Celebration 2011, Lewis weaved through stories of how he used negative events in his life to become a better player — and a better person.

He said he didn't have the luxuries he has now when he was growing up in Lakeland. But through ­determination and effort, he was able to overcome his perceived shortcomings, he said.

"Many are called, but few are chosen," Lewis said. "What everybody is saying (is that ) we are in the greatest turmoil our country has ever seen. I call it a call of duty."

His foundation is an extension of that call.

Lewis is in town this week to kick off the inaugural activities of the Lakeland branch of the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation. He is having a charity bowling tournament today as well as a free youth fitness clinic Saturday at his alma mater. This is just the start of what he hopes to bring to the community.

"This has always been my dream," Lewis said. "This is the ultimate. We have all the beautiful people in our city come back for one common goal – not to make money or any of that stuff – but to affect lives.

"Sometimes life takes you in so many different ways," Lewis said. "When you finally get it, you know how to bring it back. What I built in Baltimore for so many years, I have that mode to bring it to this city. I know that this helps, this works, this changes lives."

Soon to be 36 years old, Lewis is arguably one of the best linebackers of all time. He was voted to the Pro Bowl 12 times, including this past season. But as he enters his 16th year, Lewis doesn't know when his final year will come.

Even when he is done, his work will continue.

In Baltimore, he is known for his charitable work, including food drives and back-to-school events. In May, Lewis was rewarded for that work when the city named a portion of North Street as Ray Lewis Way.

Now he is extending his foundation to Lakeland.

"Anything that I've built, it's about educating somebody," Lewis said. "If you surround yourself with more good than evil, then you will have a better chance to survive. ... My journey is to give somebody hope."

Lewis hasn't had many poor performances on the football field but admitted making poor choices off of it when he was younger. He said hanging with the wrong crowd led him to being charged with double murder in Atlanta in 2000. Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice, was fined $250,000 by the NFL and sentenced to one year of probation.

And while his reputation took a serious hit, Lewis said he gained something else out of the experience.

"It removed me from a bad crowd," he said. "What you have to be careful is entertaining what people want you to entertain.

"I don't want to be liked," he said. "I live to be respected. If you're going to be respected, I can assure you there will be trials and tribulations you go through. No matter what you go through, it's your mind-set when you go through it that determines the outcome. What I lost then, I gained back double-fold from a respect angle."

And now he's giving back.

"We have a chance to create a model," Lewis said. "I'm not here to compete with anybody. I'm here to make it a better place."

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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