Steelers receiver Hines Ward, seated next to Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, speaks about his role in mentoring a Clairton High School student at a news conference Thursday at the J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS -- Picked on as a youth by other kids in Georgia because he is biracial, Hines Ward stands tall as someone who was able to overcome prejudice and bullying to find success.
Now, he's trying to help others who find themselves in such circumstances as youngsters, and one in particular from Clairton has gotten a lift from Ward that has carried him into the world of music and television.
Ward is one of three NFL stars along with former coach Tony Dungy whose mentoring of four youngsters will be featured on the documentary, "NFL Characters Unite," which will be shown at 7 p.m. next Friday on the USA Network.
The other players featured in the hourlong documentary are tight ends Tony Gonzalez of Atlanta and Jimmy Graham of New Orleans. All four say they were victims of bullying and/or prejudice as youths.
The star, though, may wind up being teenager Carlton Dennis of Clairton High School. Ward was introduced to him in November and Dennis showed him some lyrics he kept in a notebook.
Ward encouraged him and helped him write a song. Producers flew Dennis to Los Angeles to record it, as writer and singer along with professional vocalist Heidi Rojas. The song about Clairton, "City of Prayers," went on sale Thursday on ITunes.
Ward and Dennis will discuss their story and the documentary on the "Today" show on NBC next Friday in New York.
"Carlton is a young, aspiring songwriter, maybe one day he'll be a rapper," Ward said. "Clairton is a low-income area itself. The negative stigma that comes living in a low-income area, so many people look down on them -- 'they'll never make it out, they'll never aspire, they'll never be anybody.'
"When I met him, I said let's write a school song, talk about the little things in their neighborhood, kids hanging out, what kids like to do in this neighborhood and what they want to grow up and be."
Dennis, a native of Trinidad, lived in Miami until his grandmother died. He and his father then moved to Clairton to try to make a better life for themselves, Ward said. Naturally, there was culture shock.
"Who he is got misconstrued by other kids," Ward said. "He didn't know how to deal with that. So he wrote a lot of songs, he had a notebook with a lot of lyrics on that. The day we went to school, we ended up making the song. I just heard it."
Ward said fellow Clairton students pitched in to help.
"That school came together and made this song. They're playing it every day in their high school now. It's very encouraging for me to have an impact like that. I'm excited to be part of that, excited about this opportunity."