New York Giants linebacker Cam Brown stood at the front of the cafeteria, asking Hempstead elementary students if they knew what position he played.
“De-fense!” the students echoed back in unison to the third-year pro.
Brown, joined by Giants left tackle Matt Peart, greeted about 400 Hempstead students Friday, reading stories about Juneteenth and playing soccer as part of Barack Obama Elementary School’s field day. Brown and Peart were named honorary principal and vice principal of the day, respectively.
“It's an honor and a blessing to have this opportunity to get here, celebrate Juneteenth with the kids and actually get a face in front of them just so we can be an inspiration, sometimes mentors or friends,” Brown said.
The athletes made the two-hour drive from New Jersey as part of a visit on behalf of Athletes for Charity and the NFL Players Association to connect with the community.
Brown said it was important for the kids to have the opportunity "to talk to us and have fun and just … figure out that there's real people out there in the world that are doing the same thing they want to do. And pretty much use that as a springboard for education … going into the summer and figuring out things they want to do.”
At the school, Brown and Peart read the story about the first "grandmother of Juneteenth," Opal Lee, to first- and second-graders. They took part in trivia with students, asking them math questions, or where the players were from. They handed out autographed Giants stickers to some lucky students and gave Giants pencils to the rest of the kids.
Peart said his mother was a teacher in the Bronx.
“Being from New York, I always want to find ways to give back to the youth. That's just one small thing that I'm very passionate about. Because, you know, I was one of these kids growing up … watching guys on TV play football,” Peart said.
“It’s important coming back to give back, to spend time, and show that it's really a possibility for you to make it and actually get to where you want to go,” he said.
The athletes later handed out Juneteenth books to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and ran through field day drills outside.
The school’s principal, Kelly Fairclough, said students have been learning about the history of Juneteenth and the freedom of slaves in Galveston, Texas, in 1865. She said the players helped ingrain that knowledge as positive role models.
“It’s such a tremendous privilege for our students, for them to be able to see someone that they see on TV, inside of their school in real life and hear their story and have fun and engage in wonderful activities with them,” Fairclough said.