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Bears, Kevin Warren welcome students from Obama Foundation's Future Series to Halas Hall

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"Be proud of your story. No one has a perfect family. No one has a perfect background, but do not cut your life short."

Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren shared that sentiment with 25 students from Hyde Park Academy High School on March 15. The Obama Foundation requested Warren, on behalf of the Chicago Bears, host an event for the group of students who are a part of their Future Series program.

The program for years has introduced groups of Hyde Park Academy students to various career fields and roles they may not have access to otherwise. The Obama Foundation coordinates with organizations to curate inspirational programs to motivate students to be what they see.

Warren welcomed the program to Halas Hall for a Q&A session, a tour of the practice facility and a pair of panels with staff members of several departments such as equipment, player personnel, ticket sales and corporate partnerships. The students learned about what it takes to work for an NFL club and how they can pursue their career dreams, specifically in the sports industry.

Warren dedicated nearly an hour of his time to sit down with the students for an intimate conversation. He shared his personal story, which included both his challenges and successes in rising to his current role, while answering a dozen questions from the group.

Warren's main message to the students was: "I challenge you all to dream incredibly big. I challenge you to embrace, own and share your story and take advantage of every single day."

Warren demonstrated those sentiments by telling the students about his near-death experience at 11 years old when he was hit by a car while riding his bike. The accident forced him into traction and a full body cast for several months. Warren opened up about the mental health struggles he faced following the accident and encouraged the students to take their mental health as seriously as their physical health.

Those messages quickly resonated with the Hyde Park students, including senior Sedrick Deon Washington.

"My main takeaway was that it's always good to be yourself," Washington said. "Growing up I went through a few challenges, and I always struggled with having role models around me to let me know it's okay to be myself. Just knowing that someone who looks like me is able to come in and tell me that was [important]."

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The Obama Foundation's director of Chicago programs Erica Hubbard said the experience at Halas Hall was "absolutely amazing and mind-blowing" for the high schoolers.

Hubbard felt the discussion between Warren and the students is one that will stick with them for life.

"I could see, just from the students' engagement with Kevin, they see themselves in him and that's so important," Hubbard said. "He described where he comes from, very similar to the environment that many of our young folks find themselves in. It was great to hear about the village that he had that helped him, but then you hear about his challenges, and you also hear about the wins.

"I think sometimes we focus in on the wins, and we don't see that back story. We don't see what it took for him to get here. So many of our young folks are going to walk away with that story. When he said to 'believe, believe, believe,' I'm watching them watch him and it was so powerful for them to see that and hear his story."

Hubbard and the students were also "amazed by the number of roles we were introduced to today." The group heard from staff members who have been with the club ranging from six months to 30 years, giving them valuable insight as they begin to shape their own careers.

"From their standpoint, they're seeing the players on the field, they're watching the games," Hubbard said, "but they don't understand the business and the operations behind it — what does it take to make this all happen? How does this organization run? Them seeing they can build a career with the organization is extremely important.

"This exposure is something that's truly unique. They don't get this often — as Sedric was saying, not having these role models around. This is so important to them. That's why with the Future Series we say, 'if you can see it, you can be it.' That's why we do this."

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