When Mike Brown recently visited a suburban Philadelphia middle school to talk one-on-one with some troubled kids, it wasn't as some larger-than-life football star.
He came instead to offer a sympathetic ear and some real-world advice.
"I talked to three individuals who played football. They were very bright, but had some troubles," said the Philadelphia Soul defensive back, about his recent visit to the Charles Lewis Middle School in Blackwood, N.J. "I told them about my background. I grew up in Maryland in a melting pot of every race, religion and creed. We were lower class -- never on welfare but we didn't have a lot of money. But I respected my elders and [learned] to treat people with respect, even if they were different.
"I was getting real with them and when I walked away, I felt like I got through to them."
At times, going out there can get in the way of your schedule and players at times want to stay away from appearances. But (Brown) is always out there volunteering his time. Kids love him.
-- Soul coach Bret Munsey
Promoting diversity, education and bridging differences is important to the 30-year-old Brown, who comes from a multiracial background. And it's a way to give to his adopted Philadelphia community.
Brown's off-field work earned him this year's Al Lucas Award, presented annually to an Arena Football League player for community services and contributions to the league.
"I can't think of a more deserving guy," said Michael Tozzi, program director for Philadelphia radio station WJJZ-FM and a partner with Brown in several outreach efforts. "He's a great young man, very smart, very streetwise. And he has a great outlook on life. He's always looking to the bright side of things. And he's wise beyond his years."
Brown is a player to watch in Sunday's Arena Bowl as the Soul take on defending champion San Jose (ABC, 3 p.m. ET). The former Charleston Southern University standout is an energetic special teams player and defender who led the Soul in kickoff returns (60), kickoff return yardage (1,105) and had three returns for touchdowns. He was second on the team in tackles (67.5), including 57 solos.
"This guy is 100 miles an hour and he's going to bang you around," said Soul head coach Bret Munsey. "He's a fan favorite, a coaches favorite and a teammate favorite. If you could have a lot of Mike Browns on your team, you would be all right."
And after games or practices, Brown still has more to give.
"At times, going out there can get in the way of your schedule and players at times want to stay away from appearances," Munsey said. "But [Brown] is always out there volunteering his time. Kids love him."
The Lucas Award is named for the late Los Angeles Avengers lineman who also gave time for good causes. Lucas died after sustaining a spinal cord injury during a 2005 AFL game.
"This was huge honor," Brown said. "Al was such a great person and a role model. I didn't expect it. It's an unbelievable honor."
Earlier this year, the Soul and WJJZ-FM, a local smooth jazz station, kicked off campaigns promoting diversity, tolerance and conflict resolution. During his first three Soul seasons, Brown regularly participated in community events, fundraisers, schools visits and Habitat for Humanity activities. So he seemed a natural fit for the initiatives.
"He comes from a diverse family, so he knows diversity first hand," Tozzi said. "Just being around him, there's something about him. He looks kids straight in the eye and they really respond. He really has a magical touch with kids."
The "Diversity and Inclusion" efforts featured educational forums with area students at Philadelphia's National Liberty Museum, on-air and online awareness campaigns and a "Speak from your Soul" essay contest for students in grades 4-8.
Dubbing themselves "Mike and Michael," Brown and Tozzi both spoke frequently at the museum, local schools and on the air. They also personally read several hundred essays and selected a pair of $1,000 academic scholarships winners.
"One part is talking to kids about how we're different and how differences make us who we are," Brown said. "Communication is a big key to getting along. When you have a conflict or a bullying situation, it comes down to three sides of the story: your side, my side and by communication we come to our side of the story.
"Kids really respond to that."