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Torrey Smith and Aaron Maybin team up to launch leadership academy in Baltimore City: ‘This is just the beginning’

Whenever former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith would have conversations with former NFL linebacker and Baltimore native Aaron Maybin, they would never talk about their football careers. They had bigger things in mind.

Smith and Maybin’s discussions were about ways they could make a positive change in Baltimore City. Their occasional talks came to fruition when Smith and Maybin unveiled Wednesday the Level Up Leadership Academy, which is held at the Hilton Recreation Center in West Baltimore after it was closed for more than a decade.

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“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” Smith said during a virtual news conference. “I think we are trying to prove together that everyone can elevate another city or community that has its challenges.”

The academy is an eight-week program orchestrated by Level82, an organization founded by Smith and his wife, Chanel. Level82 is an organization that strives to empower members of the Baltimore City community while providing a gathering space to live, work and play.

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The camp focuses on providing boys and girls between the ages of 10-12 with student-focused academic enrichment, weekly leadership workshops, social/emotional learning and a collaborative community service project.

Former NFL player Aaron Maybin taught at Matthew Henson elementary school as an art teacher for five years. During his time he launched a curriculum geared towards students of color and launched an after-school program that served as a forum for children and their parents to talk about topics such as racial injustice and inequities within the Baltimore school system.
Former NFL player Aaron Maybin taught at Matthew Henson elementary school as an art teacher for five years. During his time he launched a curriculum geared towards students of color and launched an after-school program that served as a forum for children and their parents to talk about topics such as racial injustice and inequities within the Baltimore school system. (Kenneth K. Lam)

“The demographic of kids that we are serving will set the bar for every generation that follows,” said Maybin, a first-round pick in the 2009 draft who spent four seasons in the NFL, playing for the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.

In November 2020, Smith, a former Super Bowl champion and Maryland standout, announced a partnership with Baltimore City Parks and Recreation to help run programming at the Hilton Recreation Center.

“We chose this area for three reasons,” Smith said. “One, the facility was sitting still for years. Two, it has a strong school in the area in Green Street Academy. Three, it has a strong community associated with it.”

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The Ravens said Monday they would contribute nearly $400,000 toward recreation center upgrades such as new flooring, paint, furniture and technology equipment. The team explained in a news release that this is the initial phase of involvement for the Ravens at the Hilton Recreation Center.

“The Baltimore Ravens aren’t the only institution that can back a venture and help push it to the next level,” Smith said. “I think it’s time for corporations to think about the way they partner. So often people think of partnering with these big foundations that have been established, but there are smaller organizations that are doing a great job right now.”

Smith and Maybin’s relationship stems outside the football field. Smith always admired what Maybin has done in the community, from teaching creative arts and literacy to establishing art workshops in Baltimore City public schools.

“We never had a football relationship,” Maybin said. “Everything we did was about our community work. That’s how we got close. The more we found out what we had in common, there was like a synergy there.”

Even though Smith and Maybin are the household names of the program, they quickly point to the contributions Chanel, a former fourth-grade teacher, has made.

“It’s the village approach,” Smith said. “She is back in her element. We ended up creating our own curriculum. I watched my wife and Aaron go and create in terms of using their experiences and ability to relate to the students. That was special to watch.”

The camp is three days in and currently has 30 kids involved, Smith said. Maybin and Smith have noticed kids learning to socialize after being stuck in the house for a long period of time because of the coronavirus pandemic. They say they’ve seen children’s confidence increase, as they grow more comfortable with speaking and engaging with one another.

“Nothing like this existed when I was a kid,” Maybin said. “Our rec centers were not open, and the ones that were open had no kind of program that’s [like] what we are offering. I think it goes a long way to show how far we have come.”

For Smith and Maybin, there are bigger plans in store. For now, people have to stay tuned.

“We didn’t start speaking about this publicly until Monday,” Maybin said. “Imagine what else we are working on that you guys don’t know about. This is just the beginning.”

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