The youngest of two boys, Carr said the importance of education was instilled in him at a young age, in particular by his mother, a long-time public school teacher. He knew he wanted to help children, too — as a child himself, Carr said he had staked out a career as a pediatrician.
Instead, Carr developed a talent and grit for athletics, and excelled on the football field while at Carman-Ainsworth High School and Grand Valley State University. In 2008, he was the Kansas City Chief’s fifth round pick.
Still, as he worked his way through school, Carr said he knew his future success on the field would go hand-in-hand with his performance in the classroom: if you didn’t make the grade, you didn’t play. Today, Carr’s foundation is working to instill that mindset in the students it reaches, especially when it comes to reading.
“My mom always preached, ‘There’s more to life than playing sports,'” he said. “I was taught at a very young age that if you don’t got the grades, then you can’t do anything… so if you have any talent they won’t even see you because you can’t even pass classes.”
After starting his career in Kansas, in 2012 Carr signed with the Dallas Cowboys and made the move to Texas, taking with him the dream of doing something to give back. Having participated in a number of football camps for kids, Carr said he wanted to do more for future generations.
He started the Carr Cares Foundation and partnered with schools in his native Michigan, as well as Dallas, and, when he signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2017, again started working with local schools.
The organization focuses on initiatives and events that support childhood literacy, like its Reading Buddies program, as well as promoting a healthy lifestyle through sports and exercise.
“I was like, ‘What’s the biggest piece we can help with the youth and giving back, and trying to get kids on the right track?’ And literacy was a big component,” Carr said. “The numbers were just alarming as far as kids who weren’t reading proficiently at each school grade level.”
In 2015 Carr opened three reading centers at his former Flint elementary schools, where students can get daily tutoring lessons.
The students who have worked with Carr’s foundation have reaped the rewards of their hard work, too, he says. Students who were once below grade level in reading have significantly advanced ahead by the end of the school year, increasing not only literacy skills, but students’ self-confidence, too, he said.
“Literacy is at the ground-floor, it’s at the bottom level as far as the foundation — that can pretty much determine the success of a young student,” he said. “Literacy is a bigger issue to me; if we can give a kid the power to read a book or to understand what’s going on around them [by reading], I feel like it’s a confidence booster as well, and that can, in return, help the kids become better students.”
“[Literacy is] the start of bigger things to come for strengthening and improving the self-esteem for our young students.”
Now a father of two himself, Carr said he more often than not finds his nighttime reading consists of “Curious George,” “Clifford,” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” over books a bit more his speed, like Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers,” but that’s just fine by him. He knows how crucial literacy skills are at a young age, and how reading is truly a facet of family life and being part of a community.
But, he knows not all kids and teens are privy to the same means, and he’s doing his own “small part” by making sure those who now peruse the same elementary school libraries that he did as a boy, among other places, have the confidence and knowledge they need for success.
For those struggling with reading: “Trust the process” and work toward the light at the end of the tunnel, even when it might seem the cards are stacked against you, Carr said.
“Nothing was built overnight,” he said. “It’s just going to be a process of getting better… And I understand it is tough to get those resources and you might feel like you’re at a disadvantage, but at the same time, why can’t your story be the story that you read where the person prevailed through all those adversities?”
Get more information on how the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education’s Orton-Gillingham training is transforming the lives of young people across the country through literacy here.