Even if he doesn’t play football here anymore, former Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy has made a home in Detroit and is starting a family here.

“Detroit has become my home,” Levy, 31, told the Free Press . “Detroit has grown on me, especially the last few years I’ve been here — the community, the people I’ve met, the culture here, kind of everything that’s been happening in the city.

“When you’re playing here in the city and you start to feel connected to it. You feel a responsibility to start becoming a part of the community as opposed to just being here. It kind of pulls you in.”

Levy grew up in Milwaukee and played for the University of Wisconsin before the Lions drafted him in 2009. He played eight seasons until the team released him to free agency in March 2017 following a string of knee and hip injuries. Among the more outspoken and socially conscious players, Levy said he has had enough of the NFL.

“I’m retired. There is no reason to be playing football or supporting football right now,” he said. “I can think of more reasons not to support it than to actually support it.”

He testified before Congress last fall about traumatic brain injuries in professional athletes and his concerns about developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

He has spoken out about easy access to prescription painkillers in the NFL, too. But now, Levy is turning his focus toward helping to give voice to survivors of sexual assault and violence, especially in communities of color.

“My role is more than just playing football,” he said. “You realize you have a platform. You have resources. … You inherit responsibilities because of that,” Levy said. “I think you’ve got to use your voice and speak for people and try to help put the spotlight on people who won’t be heard because they’re not an athlete.”

People like his wife, Desiré Vincent Levy, whom he met at college and married in 2016. She was sexually abused as a child, and for more than a decade she silently carried the trauma and guilt associated with that abuse.

“I didn’t tell anyone until I was in college because I was just really afraid to say anything,” Vincent Levy said. She was 21 when she finally called her mom from her dorm room told her what had happened years earlier. “She didn’t really know what to say. I think she was just in shock.

“I felt exposed,” she said. “I think only recently I can say I feel better, and that’s mostly because in my immediate circle and sphere of my life, I feel very supported now.”

Together, the Levys commissioned artists Sydney G. James and Askew One to paint a mural in Eastern Market at Rivard and Erskine streets in 2017 to encourage survivors of sexual assault and harassment to speak out, and to urge others to listen and to take their stories seriously.

The mural features the faces of three Detroiters and plays on the theme of the three wise monkeys’ directive: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. It shows caution tape slipping from their mouths and ears as if to urge people to speak up, listen to survivors and believe them.

“Seeing her view and her experience not just as my wife, but as a black woman in America who also is a survivor of sexual assault, that’s a very unique point of view,” Levy said. “It allowed me to just see the world from her lens.

“Everything you hear about survivors when they tell you how they’re blamed, they’re shamed. People don’t believe them. … When Desiré shared her story with me, it was me and her alone in the living room. She had no reason to lie or make up a story. No one was around.

“There’s people who attack her, but years have passed. There’s nothing to be gained from it. I think of her, but that’s every woman, every survivor that you hear about. Nobody believes them. Nobody stands behind them. People instantly blame them. It was just me and her in the living room. There’s nothing to be gained there.”

The Levys started a Crowdrise fundraiser and will personally match donations up to $25,000. The proceeds benefit Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit), an organization created to pay for the testing of 11,341 unopened rape kits found in an abandoned Detroit Police Department storage unit, as well as Wayne County SAFE, and the SASHA Center, which provide services and care to survivors.

To date, the Levys have already collected more than $40,000 for the cause.

“We’re in Detroit, and learned about the rape kits … and I was starting to see the issue everywhere,” Levy said. “It’s something where as a man, I have the privilege of not really having to think about that. . It just opened my eyes more and more, and I felt like I had to contribute any way I could.

“Especially with me being from this culture of football, being hyper-aggressive, being manly, I think that my words would ring further among that audience, that crowd, because I feel like that breeds kind of this power dynamic over women that a lot of men seek.”

They called their campaign “Our Issue,” because sexual abuse, violence and harassment aren’t just problems women face in society. It’s a cultural problem that affects everyone.

“It can’t just be focused on being a women’s issue,” Vincent Levy said. “Sexual assault happens to a lot of different people, and sometimes I think we don’t give space to have that conversation. (We don’t often consider) the men who this happens to and give them space to process it. … It happens to trans people all too often. It happens to undocumented workers.

“We’re saying it’s all of ours to own, and addressing the culture no matter who the victim is, no matter who the perpetrator is, and no matter who you are — it’s all of ours to own to fix and be thoughtful about and not be lied to.”

It begins with open conversations, Levy said, about the differences in how we speak to girls and boys.

“We always teach women and girls what not to do,” he said, suggesting that society pressures women and girls not to wear revealing clothes or walk outside alone at night to avoid sexual assault or harassment.

“But we never teach our boys what not to do or even what respectful relations with another person looks like,” Levy said. “We never tell them to avoid assault, to avoid catcalls. But we never address the other side of it.

“Having conversations throughout my life, everything I’ve heard throughout my years from high school to college to the NFL, being around adults it’s like — we still don’t get it. Some of the thoughts and beliefs we have as kids, men carry them into our lives and they’re never addressed.”

The #MeToo movement and public awareness about the prevalence of the problem, he said, “is making a lot of men probably scared. Just trying to have to … think twice about the things they say and the things they do. It’s in people’s heads now. Maybe it’ll change, maybe it won’t — but I have to think twice about how I approach a woman.”

The Levys are keeping their public awareness campaign going, and this year are selling T-shirts in collaboration with Detroit Hustles Harder at Murals on the Market, which runs through Sept. 22 at Detroit’s Eastern Market. The shirts feature the artwork from the Our Issue mural.

They’re also hosting a panel discussion Sunday afternoon about sexual violence. Speakers include Kalimah Johnson, executive director of the SASHA Center; Peg Tallet, chief operating officer of Michigan Women Forward/Enough SAID; Kimberly Hurst, executive director of Wayne County SAFE, and artist Sydney G. James.

For Levy, it’s about using his power and privilege and influence to make a difference.

“This isn’t just happening in Hollywood, with big powerful execs,” he said. “It happens in places like this all the time, where women don’t have the voice. It’s different if you’re not an A-list actress. … Your voice isn’t as strong; it isn’t as powerful. There’s a lot more to lose.”

And even though Levy is using his platform to help survivors of sexual assault and violence, he said he still has work to do.

“I’ve got to work on self-awareness and keep a constant check on myself and make sure I’m constantly addressing my privileges and my ways that I may subconsciously be contributing to a culture,” he said. “I think that’s a big thing for me at this point because this is still a process.

“By no means, because we did this work, can I portray myself as an expert or talking down. But, you know, using what I have to educate others and continue to address my own ways that I may be contributing in thought, action words, something as little as something you say. You know, just trying to consciously make sure that I’m not contributing, and adding any fuel to this fire that’s going on.”

With their first baby due in the spring — the Levys look forward to continuing to make a difference in ways big and small in Detroit and other places that matter to them, like in DeAndre Levy’s hometown of Milwaukee. But it might be more quietly.

“This will be our last big public-facing fundraiser,” Vincent Levy said. “We’re just wanting to turn our attention to other things going on.”


Source: The Associated Press

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