This is where a Friday night symposium, which will include sessions led by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), comes in.
“For us, the symposium is really why we do the event,” Russell said. “When you look at football, to me it’s one of the greatest ways to teach kids character. When you look at the game itself, the things that you learn, outside of having fun, outside of playing the game of football and learning about football, football teaches people how to be good people. And the symposium for us is to overemphasize the character traits that you learn in football.
“And the 7on7 tournament, that’s all great. We want kids to come out and compete, but we know if we have a 7on7 tournament and we make the symposium mandatory that they’ll come. And our goal is to teach them about how to make great choices, if they’re in a negative situation, how do they make a positive decision in that situation?”
The symposium will take place Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Don Taft University Center Arena at Nova Southeastern University, near the Dolphins’ training facility. On Saturday, participants will be able to take part in the “It Takes All Colors” photo booth in Plantation's Central Park as part of the tournament.
The symposium will focus on character development, practical life lessons and specific skill training.
“We’re going to be talking about race,” Russell said. “Why should you not prejudge people? We’re going to have skits that kind of unearth some things for discussion, kind of stir it up a little bit and make the waters murky. And then we’re going to talk about some uncomfortable things. When you walk into a room and you see three people, why do we prejudge them? Why do we pigeonhole them? Why do we assume they’re a certain way? And then we’re going to talk about why that’s wrong. Why should we not prejudge people? We should give people an opportunity to tell us who they are, show us who they are before we each say, Oh, we’re not going to like that person because of the color of their skin or, we’re not going to like that person because they’re from a different city. We don’t like that person because they are not in our little group. And we’re going to have these conversations. We brought in RISE and we’re going to be talking about some hard things, but things that are going to make us better, make the kids better and make the country better.
“We’re going to have skits that deal with domestic violence, skits to deal with positive relationships. Race relations. We’re going to have breakout sessions that really get to the heart of some of this stuff so kids can ask questions. They’re going to be broken up by age group, so the younger kids will have the same subject, but they’ll have a different moderator that can deal with that age group and then the high school students will have a different moderator to deal with that age group.”
This is the ninth year of the symposium, and Russell said one minor change this year will involve breakout sessions so specific topics can be tackled. Among those will be prejudices and communication.
The keynote speaker will be noted motivational speaker Derek Greenfield.
"Our mission is to use sport as a vehicle to advance race relations and drive social progress,” said Ndidi Massay, the executive director of RISE, which was founded by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. "We believe sport provides a great platform to teach skills that can be applied not only to the team environment but also to improve race relations and create a more inclusive society.
“We're incredibly excited for this opportunity to work with the Dolphins and engage over 1,200 young athletes this weekend. Together we believe we can make a positive impact on the athletes and coaches that has the potential to extend to their families and communities."
For information on the activities this weekend, visit DolphinsAcademy.com and for more information on RISE, visit RISEtoWIN.org.