Singer Michelle Williams grew up in Rockford as a big-time Bears fan, so it stands to reason she’d be just as excited as the kids at St. Malachy School to see former Bears players when they pass out free Thanksgiving turkeys at the school on Friday.
“You need to ask what is it like for them to meet me!” the former Destiny’s Child singer cracked to Inc. about longtime friends and former Bears Adewale Ogunleye, Jerry Azumah and Israel Idonije, who will be joined by Bears alums Anthony “Spice” Adams and Alex Brown and retired linebackers Andre Davis and Akin Ayodele at the event at the West Side school.
For Williams, though, it’s really about the students and supporting “Wale,” her friend of 14 years, and his mission to spread messages of setting goals and shunning bullying.
“I always tell them about the difficulties I had growing up” in Rockford, she said. “The bullying I went through, that can leave a lasting impression. … Nowadays, it goes beyond the physical; they have social media. So I tell them about the imprint that they leave. You have to be careful about how you treat people.”
Ogunleye said those kind of bad habits stem from keeping bad company and failing to set aspirations at an early age, something he learned from his Staten Island upbringing (where he was Wednesday on a similar visit with students at his old school, PS 57).
“The basis of (my foundation) Goal Power is just to have these kids set goals for themselves, and start thinking big; the big picture,” he said. “I lived in New York City growing up in the projects. I look out my window and I see another building in front of me. I look to my left I see another building in front of me. I look to my right, there’s a building. There’s a bunch concrete and bricks. If I don’t have enough vision or dreams, or in this case, goals, I don’t see past the buildings.”
He added: “Those kids that are doing nothing now are the same guys that hit my phone up and say, ‘Hey … can I get two tickets to the game? Remember us in elementary school, junior high or high school?’ They’re the same guys that are still on the block to this day as 40-year-olds. Doing nothing.”
Ogunleye often invites professionals with various careers to meet with students and give them someone to model.
At the St. Malachy assembly Friday, Ogunleye and others plan to read essays the children have written about Thanksgiving, then reward a few of the best writers with holiday gift cards.
Ogunleye’s volunteers will hand out 125 turkeys at St. Malachy, and his New York group gave out 325 turkeys at PS 57.
“It’s tied around my favorite holiday, which is Thanksgiving,” he said. “Families come together and it’s a great example of giving.”