PAKHOKEE, Fla. – For many growing up in Pahokee, Florida, the storyline has been, a future is defined by what happens on the field.
“When I was growing up. It was either NFL or the streets,” said Hikeem Banks.
To an outsider, it might seem like football is the bright spot in a city that’s been ranked as one of the most dangerous in that part of Florida.
"Here in Pahokee, we’re football savvy,” Banks said. “Ricky Jackson, Anquan Boldin, Janoris Jenkins, Pernell McPhee.”
"Football means a lot. Most people use football as a way out,” said Pahokee football player Geoffrey Mckelton Jr.
Banks is working to change the storyline in his hometown.
“If you’re not from here, and you read stories about it, you would think that it’s a horror place,” said Banks.
He’s working to make sure this generation has more options than he did.
“I’m 5’5” so NFL wasn’t going to work,” Banks said. "I got caught up in in the system doing the wrong things which got me to be kicked out of school in the 9th grade. Resorted to drugs, abusing alcohol.”
Banks fought to get his life on track. He earned his GED and college degree. He's now a teacher.
Banks started Balanced Living Mentorship. He works with young people, many members of the Pahokee High School football team, to teach them about life.
“I believe every kid needs a balanced life outside of football. If you don’t have grades, you can’t go on to the next level,” Banks said.
“He’s teaching us to be a better person in life, not just for football,” said Pahokee football player Albert Johnson Jr.
Like many who take part in the mentoring program, Johnson Jr. has NFL aspirations, but he also dreams of owning his own tech company one day.
“Like they say, the NFL is not for long. And there are a few people who make it the NFL,” he said.
"Once football is all said and done, what do you want to be? Who do you want to be?” head coach DJ Boldin asked his players during a mentoring session.
"It’s good to know that there is a generation that is starting to realize that, so they won’t feel like football is the end all be all,” Boldin said.
Football will always be a big part of Pahokee’s makeup, but Banks wants the makeup of those who play it to be so much more than that.