He now helps others thrive at the place where he found hope

Richard Starr

The odds were stacked against Richard Starr.

For most of Richard’s life, his father has been in prison. “He missed out on things like helping me ride a bike and throwing the football – things dads do,” Richard says. Two other male role models – an uncle and an older cousin – were also incarcerated. Richard’s younger brother got in trouble with the law; he was later convicted of murder and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Their mother worked two jobs to feed her six children.

“I had to be the one,” Richard says, “to break the cycle.”

And he did. Today, Richard, 26, is the director of the King-Kennedy Boys & Girls Club, the very place he credits with saving his life. He acknowledges there was a point in his life – even as he was earning a 3.8 grade point average at Cleveland‘s East Tech High School, winning all-conference honors in football and being selected class president – that he might have chosen a darker path.

Instead, Richard started hanging out at the club – a safe place with a positive atmosphere.

“The club gave me hope — the club gave me life,” he says. “I have been around the violence, the gunshots, the killing. I know what these kids experience every day. Now, I’m back to help them. It’s a wonderful day for me just to see these kids’ faces and know they are in a good place.”

Richard credits former club director Ron Harris with challenging him to use his leadership skills in a positive way and Ron Soeder, current president of Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, with “teaching me things that fathers should be teaching their sons. That’s why you’ll hear me call him Pops.” In 2007, Richard was named Ohio’s Boys & Girls Clubs Member of the Year.

Richard, who is now a part-time student at Baldwin Wallace University, greets children at his club with enthusiasm and energy. It is perhaps his own way of reminding himself of the important role he is playing in the lives of kids who are at an all-too-familiar crossroads.

“The game of life,” Richard says, “is bigger than me.”