Gold Jacket Aeneas Williams Celebrates No One Eats Alone Day with Gallego Intermediate Students

On the morning of February 8, 2018, almost 1000 students gathered in the gymnasium of Gallego Intermediate Fine Arts Magnet School. Many of them had an inkling of what was coming. They were expecting a presentation for No One Eats Alone Day. They had listened to speakers the year before cover over the basics of social isolation and the negative effects that it can have on a person’s health. But for those who were new to the school, like the youngest students in fourth grade, and who had never had a No One Eats Alone Day assembly, social isolation may have been a new concept. 

We’ve all been there; that moment where you feel left out, are chosen last for the team, or no one wants to sit with you at lunch. However, social isolation is more than that.  It’s been shown to be a precursor to bullying in later years. No One Eats Alone Day, a student-led initiative from Beyond Differences, exists to help end social isolation in schools during these critical developmental years. 

This year, the students at Gallego Intermediate joined other students across the nation in pledging to help end social isolation in their school. To help them learn more about social isolation and how they can be kind to others, Paul Cicala of KVOA joined with Aeneas Williams, of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to deliver a hopeful and inspiring message to the students of Gallego.

While Paul Cicala is now a prominent sports anchor based in Tucson, it wasn’t always easy to see where he would end up, helping the students from the area where he was born and raised, right on the Tucson south side. He went on to say, “It means the world to me to know, I was sitting in the same seats you guys were at one time.” He continued on to discuss a bit about what social isolation is, how it can effect students, and why that’s a problem that the students right there in that gymnasium could do something about.      

After opening remarks, Mr. Cicala handed the microphone off to Aeneas Williams, of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to cheers from the students. Originally from New Orleans, Williams is one of a tiny percentage of football players to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He explained to the students that roughly 30 million high school students play football in the United States at any time. Of those players, only 25,000 to 35,000 go on to play in the National Football League. And of those players, less than 300 players have ever been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Williams began his No One Eats Alone Day talk relating to the students and letting them know he grew up in an area much like Gallego Intermediate, and that he went to a school in New Orleans much like the one that he was standing in right then. In fact, he was often told that he wouldn’t make it at anything or find any form of success because of where he was from, but he continued, “Now I know the truth, and the truth is you are the best.  The truth is there’s no one like you.  The truth is greatness is right here in this room”

Along with inspirational words, Aeneas Williams related with a personal story. He told the students about a time when he was in 7th grade, and he was bullied. In fact, he had a fellow student and fellow football player named Don Peters punch him unprovoked, because he was the new student in school. To this, Williams simply walked away. Later on, Don Peters picked on another student. Mr. Peters was later killed because of the choices he had made by picking on others. To this Williams said he wished Mr. Peters would have chosen differently and, “Instead of bullying me, help me.”  Instead of bullying, be the student who helps others when they are new or when they’re alone. Be the student that includes others.

To that effect, Williams asked for some music to be played and for all the students to join him is a “Touchdown Dance Celebration.” He noted that it doesn’t matter if you can dance or can’t, that everyone could join in together. As the music played, Williams started to dance. He pulled an 8th grade student, Jakob Durazo, out on the gym floor with him. At first Jakob was hesitant, but as Williams showed him a few moves that anyone could do, he joined right in. All the students clapped to the music and shared this inclusive moment together in celebration. 

While the students will be celebrating National No One Eats Alone Day on February 9, 2018 by eating their lunch with students they don’t know well, Aeneas Williams left them with these parting words: “Look in the mirror each morning and say, ‘I love who I am and I love you just the way you are.’”