The Family Events Committee of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls recently hosted its 5th Annual Men’s Bears Watch Party. More than 30 people, including youth, coworkers, and guests enjoyed an afternoon of camaraderie while rooting on the Chicago Bears and feasting on pizza, chicken wings, and other tailgate fare.

The yearly get-together, a fan favorite around Mercy Home, helps foster relationships between our young men and positive male role models. Although the Monsters of the Midway didn’t pull out a victory, this year’s gathering was still a winner, full of fellowship, bonding, raffle prizes, and an encouraging halftime speech by Arthur Ray, Jr.

Chicago native and Mount Carmel High School alum Arthur Ray Jr., a former college and NFL football player, inspired our young men by giving a rousing motivational speech at half-time. He spoke about facing adversity in his life, on and off the gridiron, particularly the wisdom and determination he gained while overcoming his battle with bone cancer.

Bears Event

As an elite high school athlete, Arthur accomplished everything. He was showered with accolades and scholarship offers. He was on top of the world. But a week after he signed to play at Michigan State, he was diagnosed with bone cancer.

“That might have been one of the most devastating moments in my life, but it was a great teacher for me,” Arthur said. “It taught me that, sometimes, things aren’t guaranteed. It also taught me that just because someone says a door is closed, that doesn’t mean it’s closed.”

As he endured a year of chemotherapy, hair loss, and nine surgeries, every doctor told him his football career was over. But Michigan State kept him on scholarship. The following year, Arthur hobbled back to East Lansing on crutches, determined to prove his doctors wrong.

“Dealing with that kind of adversity at such a young age was definitely tough,” he said, but he found motivation in his strong support system. “And not just my family, but my extended family. My family at Michigan State, and people I didn’t even know.”

His supporters inspired him to focus hard on rehabilitation and training. “I used that pain and all the [negativity] that was happening in my life, and I allowed it to fuel me,” he said.

In 2011, now cleared to run, Arthur walked back on the football field, ready to join the offensive line.

“After four years of turmoil […] I overcame it,” he said. “I stayed true to my faith.”

Arthur played in three games that season and graduated from Michigan State in 2012 as the first person in his family to graduate college. But more challenges lay ahead. To boost his stock with pro scouts by getting more playing time, Arthur signed on to fulfill his remaining two years of eligibility at Ft. Lewis College in Colorado. While attending graduate school, Arthur was voted a team captain and a Division-II All American. But during a game his second year, with an Atlanta Falcons scout in the stands, he tore his meniscus, thus branding him as “injury prone.” But after surgery, he was back on the field in two weeks and finished the season. Eventually, he secured an agent and signed with the Miami Dolphins.

“It shows you, with perseverance, with a great mindset, and great faith, you can accomplish great things,” Arthur said, addressing the young men of Mercy Home. “Your pain might not be bone cancer at 17, but I think all you guys here know that mental pain — it all feels the same.”

Although Arthur got cut before his first preseason game with the Dolphins, he remains actively involved in the sport he loves as a football coach for De La Salle High School in Chicago. Arthur’s journey is one of tenacity, courage, and faith, all of which he incorporates into his burgeoning career as a motivational speaker and co-author of “Guide to Rare: How To Ignite The Power Already Within You,” a book he wrote with Michigan State teammate Jordan Benton.

“There are two kinds of people in this world in the way they handle adversity,” he said. “You’re either going to whine when stuff doesn’t go your way — you’re going to point fingers and blame everybody else — or you’re going to be a grinder, where you take ownership and say, ‘Okay, I’ve been dealt this hand, how can I make the best of it?’ ”

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