On Saturday, the Steelers took part in Pittsburgh's Juneteenth celebrations and sponsored the Juneteenth Open Invitation Flag Football Tournament in Mellon Park, a free event for kids 5-15 throughout Pittsburgh and surrounding states.
The team provided equipment and awards for the 200 participants. Team President Art Rooney II and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster were on hand, with Smith-Schuster speaking with participants before the event kicked off.
"It's amazing to get all of the kids from our area and surrounding areas to be a part of this," said Rashad Colvin, the President of the Pittsburgh NFL League. "A lot of people don't even know what Juneteenth is so it is an education and a fun event wrapped up all in one.
"And to have the Steelers involved, just the name, Pittsburgh Steelers is everything. When you are born here in Pittsburgh all you know is Steelers football. The kids from the area are excited to see anything Steelers related. We love the Steelers, love the team. Having them a part of it is amazing. Any time you see the Steelers name, kids flock to it. We are just elated."
Colvin said while the primary reason for the football tournament was fun, educating the kids and providing a positive outlet for them was also key.
"I feel like this year will be the first year Juneteenth is really getting national recognition here in Pittsburgh," said Colvin. "We are having so many people from the outside, all of the events going on. This will be the first time that we can put that Juneteenth staple on Pittsburgh and people will see what we are doing. It will be an eye-opening thing. To have the youth a part of it will make it that much bigger. To have an event of this magnitude celebrating Juneteenth will shed more light on it.
"These kids will be the ones to carry the torch. To start them young and let them see this is our heritage, our Independence Day. They never learned about it in school. It might teach them to learn things outside of school. They might be out there seeking more knowledge. It's good to start that."
In addition to the football camp, the team also took part in 'I am My Ancestors' Wildest Dreams: Conversations to Encourage, Uplift and Inspire' with students, grades 3-12, from Propel Schools.
Alex Highsmith and Kevin Dotson both participated, sharing their stories of success in life, and why it would make those before them proud.
"I wasn't motivated when I first started high school," admitted Highsmith. "I cared more about playing video games and not working hard at my sport. Things changed for me my sophomore year of high school. I lost a lot of weight and had a growth spurt, grew five inches and had a good year. That set me up for camps and to have the opportunity to play college football. My goal was to get a scholarship coming out of high school because I had that dream to play college football and the NFL. That didn't happen for me. I ended up walking on at Charlotte the first day of school. I worked my hardest, earned a scholarship after my redshirt freshman year.
"Because I achieved that I knew I could do more, there was more to accomplish. I had a strong junior and senior season that led me to get drafted in 2020. That was a blessing as well. I also graduated, which was something I really wanted to do. God has blessed me on this journey, and I am excited to be where I am.
"I feel like I am my ancestors' wildest dreams. Just hearing the way they pushed through, the way they did things, that gave me motivation to be the best that I can be. To reach goals I had. I had these dreams since I was a kid. I have been blessed to do what I do for a living. It's a blessing to do what I love."
Dotson, who was also drafted in 2020 with Highsmith, also shared his success on the field, and in the classroom, things that meant a lot to both players.
"Coming from high school, getting a college scholarship, and a degree," said Dotson. "Once I got to college, I was able to earn honors and that helped me earn respect for what I was doing. Once I got noticed I got looked at by the NFL and that helped me with my goal. I got drafted and graduated with a degree in mass communications. Those are two things I am really proud of. Everything just is really coming in for me.
"I feel like I am my ancestors' wildest dreams as far as being able to accomplish the things I want to accomplish, even going through hardships in life, knowing they would push through and I could push through, being in the upper echelon of my sport, being able to do what I want without any type of pushback. I can accomplish anything I put my mind to."
The players took questions from the kids, some football related, some related to their journey and made sure to let them know they can do whatever they set their mind to as well.
"Fall in love with it and have fun," said Highsmith of doing something they enjoy. "The thing for me and Kevin, the reason we are where we are today is we worked hard to be the best hat we can be. If you do have the big dreams, whatever it is, a doctor, am athlete, you have to make the sacrifices to be the best you can be. You have to put in the extra time and work."
"Continue to dream big and have the aspirations and work hard in all you do."