It was yet another eye-opening, enriching and educational experience in Maurice Clarett’s metamorphosis. This July speaking appearance was a new wrinkle in Clarett’s ongoing comeback tour. It was to the venerable civil rights group co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC] at its 61st annual convention.
“This is like a history course,” said the 35-year-old former Ohio State All-American running back, who’d admittedly been largely oblivious of the civil rights movement. “After getting around those guys and listening to their stories, you put your life in context. It’s embarrassing, when you see what some people have sacrificed for stuff that you’ve taken for granted. How does this information get lost among Black people about who sacrificed for us?”
Clarett was in Atlanta, at the request of SCLC board member Marilyn Ford, for a screening of the 2013 documentary about his life, “The Youngstown Boys”, which chronicled his rise to college football stardom, and the fall that landed him in prison. Clarett was there to tell civil rights leaders and activists about his rise again.
“Maurice is a former star athlete who is now a star person," according to Professor Ford of Quinnipiac University Law School. "His career was stolen from him because of the unjust manner in which he was treated by the decision makers at Ohio State, who declared him ineligible to play and then by the judicial system when he challenged the NFL rule to go pro."
She adds, “Today, Maurice is an exemplary young man who has taken his talents and his life experiences and using it to help others make the best of their lives."
That’s why he has become a sought-after speaker at colleges and corporations across the nation, but Professor Ford was the first to offer Clarett such an opportunity. She was running a symposium at Quinnipiac University called "Disparity in Youth Education" and believed that Clarett would be a perfect fit for her panel, as she told Fox Sports.
Ford thought Clarett’s story — not so much his downfall but his efforts to turn his life around — would be a nice contrast to many of the professors and other academic minds.
"I had no idea if he’d be a good speaker," Ford recalled. "But I knew he had a story to tell."
Maurice Clarett has found a second life by sharing his first. “I think the biggest impact I’ve had is to get people who traditionally were not engaged in mental health assistance engaged,” he said. “I’m prouder of that than anything.”
Clarett has bounced back remarkably from his legal and personal woes that involved substance abuse and mental illness. He has figuratively gone from the end zone to the red zone. He is now a successful entrepreneur, real estate investor, speaker, and Founder/ CEO of The Red Zone.
“We are a mental health and drug and alcohol agency,” he explained. “We work with adolescents and inner-city schools, and adults with those issues. We grew a concept and idea that came from my life.”
The Red Zone services 700 outpatient inner-city youth with an assortment of psychological, social and cultural needs. Additionally, The Red Zone treats some 400 adults that have a variety of addiction issues. He employs 130 people including social workers, counselors, mental health specialists, licensed dependency counselors, and peer-to-peer support specialists in four different Ohio cities counting Youngstown and Columbus.
“I’m here to do nothing more than to share my journey,” he said of his SCLC speaking engagement. “The things that move you or the things that inspire you are stories. My goal every time I get in front of a microphone or camera, I’m just telling my truth and what I’ve been through.”
“My story is one of redemption,” he added. “I consider myself a leader to young men and women who look towards me. I'm grateful for every platform I have to speak my story, tell my truth and give advice when I can that may inspire somebody else."
Clarett is an eloquent, engaging and captivating personality who mesmerized and motivated his SCLC audience. “He’s very much the real deal,” opined public relations consultant Vic Bolton. “He’s been there, done that; hit the bottom, and bounced high. Now, he’s doing some things with his mind. He was throwing out multi-syllabic words today like a Scrabble champion. He did some serious work in prison.”
Clarett’s four-year incarceration for aggregated robbery in 2006 proved to be the gateway for his rebirth. “I was incarcerated for four years, but before you become incarcerated there are experiences that are happening in your life that actually put you in prison,” Clarett told this reporter. “Not having the ability to navigate your depression, your stress and mental health issues is the problem. Prison becomes a consequence of the bad decisions.”
Once incarcerated, Clarett used intense therapy and books to uncover issues within that had long been dormant. He now calls himself a source of inspiration.
“He’s taking on something that is ultra-important in our community, which is the mental health stigma,” said Bolton, an SCLC activist who laments that mental health issues are often taboo subjects in the black community. “We have long put that uncle with the problem over in the corner. It has hurt us for decades. Your candor in all this is going to change lives, and I want to thank you for that,” Bolton told Clarett. The audience applauded.
Once known as “Maurice The Beast” because of his strength and athletic prowess, Clarett is now a reserved family man and passionate mental health advocate. “I’m quiet, but I’m inspired,” said the father of a 13-year-old daughter, with another child due in December. “The respect is different. I’m looked at more like a coach and a source of inspiration. The respect is more tied to character; almost like ‘you’ve been through something we identify with more.’ When you are an athlete, you entertain us. But, when you go through prison, you go through poverty, you go through addiction and then you survive that; and then you come out and build a business and employ people, it’s a totally different level of respect. It’s more of a humane respect. That’s more fulfilling.”
The SCLC Convention proved to be yet another opportunity for attendees and others to express appreciation for Clarett’s business acumen and the aversity he’s triumphed over.
As for this college football season, Clarett predicts Clemson will repeat as the national champion. “If I had to give it to somebody, I’d give it to Clemson,” he said. “In college you can get a superstar, and he can tip the scales and make that thing go.”
He knows that to be true because that’s the life he formally led at Ohio State.