When Shaquor Sandiford ’12 began planning a speaker series aimed at providing expert advice to young people in his hometown of Chelsea, he knew he could put together a formidable lineup from his playing days at Rivers. On July 27, Shaquor called upon fellow Rivers alumni Taariq Allen ’11, Ben Patrick ’11, and Azar Swain ’17 to share their experiences at the Chelsea Restoration Corporation’s second “Village Talk.”
Formed in 1977, CRC’s mission is to provide quality housing for the area’s low- and moderate-income families while empowering the members of the community to achieve their dreams of sustainable homeownership. After returning to Chelsea and working with students at Chelsea’s Excel Academy Charter School, Shaquor found that there was a demand in the community for role models who could share their stories of success and the strategies they used to overcome obstacles in their lives.
“Village Talks was born from the conversations I had with those kids and I realized the need for leadership and positive role models in this community,” Shaquor said. “Village Talks is a monthly discussion where we will bring in young professionals, entrepreneurs, photographers, athletes, and many other people who have overcome adversity and come out successful on the other side.”
First up was Azar, who spoke about his journey from Brockton to Rivers and how he approached challenges en route to achieving his goal of becoming an Ivy League student athlete.
“I applied to three private schools after sixth grade, including Rivers, because I knew that would give me the best opportunity to achieve my dream – and I have a quote I love that goes ‘a dream without a plan is just a wish’ – and I got denied from all three.” Azar recalled. “So I went to catholic school for a year, got my grades together, and then I reapplied to the one school I really wanted to go to – Rivers – and this time got in.
“When I got to Rivers, I was surrounded by such a different crowd than I was used to in Brockton. The way I needed to work in the classroom and in the gym had to change and I was surrounded by people that wanted to help me get where I wanted to go.”
Taariq then spoke about his experience as a student-athlete first at Marblehead High School, then at Rivers, and ultimately as a wide receiver for the University of Nebraska football team. Taariq sustained what could have been a career-ending injury during his first season with the Cornhuskers, but worked his way back to health to contribute to the team’s 2014 Gator Bowl win over Georgia.
“I’m all excited – we’re in the middle of a win-streak, I had just caught my touchdown the week before, there’s 90,000 people yelling and screaming – and I’m running down to make a tackle on the kickoff. I plant to change direction, get hit from behind, and that’s it. My whole knee, gone. Just my LCL in there keeping it together. Snap your fingers, it can be gone like that.
“After I graduated I tried out for a few NFL teams, some CFL teams, but didn’t make it. That’s fine, it’s not my path. Now I’m back here coaching at Rivers and training young athletes so that I can give back to the community and give kids the confidence they need to hold themselves to a higher standard so they can achieve their dreams.”
Finally, Ben took part in the panel discussion portion of the event alongside Azar, Taariq, former NFL player Keshaudas Spence of Roxbury and Catholic Memorial, and Bunker Hill Community College Men’s Basketball Head Coach Nkrumah Jones. Ben spoke about his experience at Rivers, remarking that he "wishes everyone could have the opportunity we had" while offering advice to the young athletes about how they can make the most of their opportunities both on the field and in the classroom.
The interactivity of the panel discussion highlighted the sense of camaraderie the four Rivers alumni shared. "Look at these four young men and the way they care about each other and keep in touch," Coach Jones remarked. "That is a testament to them, but also the kind of community Rivers athletics creates."