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Finding your rabbit: Deion Sanders inspires next generation of leaders

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Hundreds of guests dressed in their Sunday best attended the Steward Speaker Series Annual Gala at Lucas Oil Stadium in Downtown Indianapolis on April 11. Ready to soak up all the knowledge and inspiration from world-renowned athletes and business executives, the gala’s guest of honor was former NFL player and current college football coach, Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders.

President and founder of Steward Speakers, Matthew Steward developed the series of events while he was a student at Indiana University Bloomington. He was responsible for inviting notable guest lecturers like Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory and many other influential African-Americans to speak with the university community.

Following graduation, he created Steward Speakers with the support of local community leaders. Since 1986, the organization has been committed to enhancing the community by offering opportunities to engage with some of the world’s best leaders and visionaries.

Alongside hundreds of adult guests, nearly 500 students from Indiana schools attended this year’s annual gala. This year’s theme focused on sports and education. The 2023-24 speakers series featured Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, NFL Hall of Famer and entertainment personality Shannon Sharpe and other notable African-Americans in sports and entertainment.

The annual fundraising gala and oration was graced by the presence of numerous esteemed community leaders and Indianapolis A-listers. Among them were WNBA Champion and local business owner Tamika Catchings, Pacers CEO Rick Fuson, and Chief Diversity Officer at Indiana Motor Speedway Jimmie McMillian, all eager to hear the final speaker of the season: Coach Prime.

More Coach Prime: How Sanders is changing the game in Colorado

Deion Sanders; Coach Prime; AP; Colorado;
Deion Sanders holds up a jersey before speaking after being introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Colorado during a news conference Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. Sanders left Jackson State University after three seasons at the helm of the school’s football team. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Steward Speakers board president and philanthropy director for the State of Indiana at the American Cancer Society Kimberly Bostic spoke about the importance of future leaders hearing from people who look like them or have similar upbringings.

“When they [the youth] listen to Coach Deion Sanders, they will be able to talk about it and they will be able to connect it to how they can be the next Deion Sanders or Shannon Sharpe,” Bostic said.

Sanders, a Hall of Famer, eight-time NFL Pro Bowler, two-time Super Bowl champ, former head coach of HBCU Jackson State’s football program and current head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, is a man of many talents. He is the only person to have played in a World Series and Super Bowl. He was essentially the perfect person to provide insight into this year’s theme.

“I have no value in folks that don’t want to be the best, that don’t want to provoke change, that don’t want to dominate, or desire to live a blessed, peaceful, productive life,” Sanders said early in his keynote. “If you do want to live like that, then I am in the right place.”

Sanders discussed a multitude of things that empowered him and helped mold him into the “Coach Prime” (or ‘Prime Time’ for those who witnessed his NFL career) we know and welcomed with love and open arms. One of his more powerful stories was that of ‘finding your rabbit.’

During his youth in Fort Myers, FL., Sanders said that he loved sneaking into the dog track to watch the greyhounds race, wondering if they would ever catch that mechanical rabbit that they chase after.

Sanders suggested that we all need to have something to fight or strive for, similar to the dogs chasing the rabbit at the track.

“What is your rabbit? What are you chasing? What is that thing, that minute thing, that you cannot apprehend,” Sanders said. “What is your rabbit?”

Fuson, who is retiring from Pacers Sports and Entertainment later this Summer, spoke about the importance of getting white males in corporate spaces to get on board with diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I absolutely believe that Indianapolis wants to be better, but we have to get guys that look like me to understand that diversity, inclusion and equity is something we have to deal with every day,” Fuson said during his Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech.

Many guests were blown away by McMillian’s speech, which highlighted the importance of giving back and making a difference.

“What are you going to do to take your piece of the puzzle and fill in the gap in the kids who are shooting each other downtown? What are you going to do to fill in the gap in the kids who are not graduating from high school? The kids who are not graduating from college,” McMillian asked. Are you going to sit there while your colleague falls, fails or gets fired and do nothing, or are you going to take your piece of the puzzle and plug it in intentionally?”

By the night’s end, almost all of Lucas Oil Stadium was on its feet.

“Somebody has got to say something before we become Texas and Florida,” McMillian pleaded. “We can’t stop. Don’t sit back and be scared. Speak up. Don’t allow the progress that we have made, little bit it may be, to go away without a fight. We just got started. Don’t let them take it away from us.”

Those interested in supporting Steward Speakers or would like to learn more about the upcoming 2024-25 series can visit their website here.

Contact multimedia and sports reporter Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral. For more news courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, click here.

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