Kendrick Lewis had been a Raven for a little more than a month, but it was important for him to get involved. He wanted to walk the streets and witness the damage and despair.

Joining teammates and other members of the organization who bused to West Baltimore to provide support after April's riots, Lewis spoke to students and local residents, carrying a story of his own.


Ten years earlier, Lewis nearly lost everything when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Lewis' mother's home was gutted, trophies and memories of his childhood lost; he was temporarily separated from his family, and his final high school football season appeared over before it started.

"I know when a city is in dire need of help. I've had that experience where I've had to go back and help my high school, help my city rebuild itself," Lewis said. "[Baltimore] was going through a tough time and I'm here. I have a platform where I can maybe open up some kids' eyes. I wanted to be a part of that. I came out here not knowing anything about this city, but I wanted to help."

If you watched Lewis over the first couple of weeks of training camp, you'd think that the team's starting free safety has been a Raven for his entire six-year NFL career. Whether he's waving his arms and directing traffic in the secondary, or just holding court on the sideline — his presence drawing a crowd — he has looked exceedingly comfortable.

"Ozzie [Newsome] and them couldn't have brought in a better person," Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "He's so made to be a Raven."

After spending four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and one with the Houston Texans, Lewis, 27, signed a three-year deal with the Ravens in mid-March. Once again, Lewis has embraced change, a constant in his life.

When damage from Hurricane Katrina forced his high school to temporarily close, Lewis moved to Georgia and went to Gainesville High, where after just five weeks at the school, the senior was voted homecoming king. He entered the University of Mississippi as a wide receiver and exited it as an All-Southeastern Conference safety.

Now, he's on his third NFL team in as many seasons, and the Ravens have entrusted him to bolster their secondary, which was in need of a solid and steady presence.

"We had heard that he was a very intelligent football player, but there are a lot of guys that are intelligent football players and you find out maybe they're not," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "He's everything as advertised and more."

Promise and progress

Growing up in the Algiers community of New Orleans, Lewis showed so much academic and athletic promise that many of the neighborhood's troublemakers left him alone, not wanting to drag him down.

"All his teachers told me, 'That boy is going to make you plenty of money. That boy is going places.' They took care of Kendrick," said Clarrissa Lewis, Kendrick's mother. "All he ever wanted to do was go to school and play football."

Lewis said football was what kept him in a box, shielding him from daily shootings, fights and arrests, what he described as the "worst of the worst."

"I made a decision that I wanted to go to college," he said. "I wanted to be the first out of my family to graduate from high school and to graduate from college. I did that for my mother, for my family."

Here comes the storm


Nothing could have prepared Lewis for the confluence of events that started in late August 2005. The weather was beautiful and that's what Lewis finds so odd even a decade later. It was sunny and calm, an ideal backdrop for the start of his final high school season at O. Perry Walker High.

In the locker room before his first game, Lewis didn't have a worry in his head. He was getting good grades. He had made an oral commitment to play football at Mississippi.

Lewis had heard talk that a big storm was on its way, but it was nothing that he hadn't heard countless times before. But his first hint that this one was different came when the locker room TV brought news that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had authorized a mandatory evacuation.

There would be no football that night, none for quite some time. Lewis, who was living at the house of his uncle and guardian, Sheldon Briscoe, on the Westbank, decided to wait the storm out with Briscoe. But when they woke up the following morning and saw the projections of danger and destruction, they packed up a few things and left town.

Lewis' mother, who lived on the harder-hit Eastbank, had already departed for Georgia. Briscoe and Lewis headed toward Houston, and a drive that normally took about 4½ hours took nearly 14.

"I was crying," Lewis acknowledged. "I was wondering what I would do. Football was my life at the time. That was my escape to make it out of that situation, to make it out of the bad neighborhood that I was surrounded in. Football helped me out in so many ways."

Family then football

Lewis first needed to know that his extended family was OK. Watching CNN, he saw footage of evacuees boarding buses in a local park where Lewis played football as a child. "As clear as day," he watched his grandmother, uncle, cousins and aunts file on a bus bound for Houston. He later learned that they had spent a previous night sleeping on a bridge after the hotel where they were staying flooded.

Relieved that his family was out of harm's way, Lewis reunited with his mother in Gainesville, Ga. Clarrissa had been set up in public housing and given a job in the cafeteria at the local high school.

Within hours of arriving in Gainesville, over 500 miles from his home, Lewis was at the school with a transcript and necessary paperwork in hand, and a strong desire to return to the football field. He feared that Mississippi would not honor his scholarship if he didn't play his senior season.

"The secretary called me and said, 'You better get to the front office and come down here right now.' She said, 'Believe me, this will be well worth your time,'" recalled Gainesville High football coach Bruce Miller, who had no idea at the time that Lewis was a nationally rated wide receiver and defensive back recruit. "He just dropped in my lap and what a blessing. He made me a very good coach for a year."

Miller marveled at how Lewis would come bouncing out of the locker room in the Georgia heat, excited to just be practicing. Lewis' enthusiasm was infectious, Miller said. His teammates and classmates loved him. He did what he was told, never asked for anything in return and never stopped expressing gratitude to the Gainesville community for welcoming his family.

"They accepted us with open arms. They bought my mom a house. They got clothes for me, my sister and my cousins. They helped me get in school," Lewis said. "I was just a kid showing up to their school from New Orleans wanting to play football. I bottled all my energy, all the things that I went through, and focused it on football. I let it out on the playing field. That's where I feel at home."

Turning the page


Months after the storm, Lewis returned to New Orleans to start picking up the pieces. His mother's four-bedroom Eastbank home was like "a [shell] of a house standing on two-by-four boards," Lewis said. He tried to recoup some family mementos, though it was mostly a lost cause.

"We lost all my kid pictures, all the trophies, all the rewards that I ever won, all the things that I earned in school being a scholarship student," Lewis said. "Those are things that my mom cherished. Those are memories. I used football as an escape to provide for the things I lost and to create new memories."

Lewis had already finished the necessary course work, so when O. Perry Walker High reopened, he re-enrolled and graduated at the school where it all started. He then finalized his plans to attend Mississippi despite some bigger-name schools courting him. Mississippi had been loyal to him and he'd return the favor.

"When the storm happened, it crossed my mind that he might not get to play [college] football," Clarrissa Lewis said. "That was his childhood dream."

Lewis was taken in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Chiefs. He started 10 games in his rookie season and 50 games over four seasons in Kansas City.

"He's been under the radar a lot during career, but he's the kind of guy you want being a leader on the team," said Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Lewis' former teammate and a close friend. "He's respected on the field and in the locker room."

Even though he made 84 tackles, intercepted two passes and forced three fumbles with the Texans last year, Lewis' signing by the Ravens generated little attention outside Baltimore. But that mattered little to Lewis. He felt wanted in Baltimore. He also felt needed.

"I was speaking to Coach [John] Harbaugh a couple of days ago out on the practice field. We were just talking football," Lewis said. "I just felt like God put me in this position. This was what was destined. I was always set to be a Raven because I fit in so well with the nature of the safety position here with Ed Reed. I want to take steps to uphold that position here."


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