Positively Jax: Former Jaguar launching nonprofit to help young, at-risk boys

Lonnie Marts Jr. pushing for Spring 2021 launch of ‘Level the Playing Field Leadership Academy’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts Jr. is taking what he’s learned on and off the field and is working to help young, at-risk boys by launching the “Level the Playing Field Leadership Academy."

Marts’ hope is to officially launch next spring.

Marts is open about how his life story began. He says his parents divorced when he was very young. His father later died when Marts was just 7 years old, leaving his mother to raise him.

“I really didn’t understand how difficult it was for a single parent to actually get out of poverty and raise a young man,” Marts said. “A lot of times, it’s moms. Moms cannot do that on their own.”

Marts says he learned a lot along the way, but there were tough times. In a YouTube video shared online, he shared that struggle.

“And watching my mom cry when she felt overwhelmed,” Marts said. “I determined the struggle and pain my mom and I went through would never be in vain.”

Marts' support system helped lead him through college and eventually to NFL stardom. Through the “Level the Playing Field Leadership Academy," Marts wants to change the lives of young men.

“The mission is actually to empower young male athletes of color, from single-parent homes so that they can have success on and off the field,” Marts said. “The reason that’s important to me is because that’s what I was.”

The goal is to lead young boys into reaching their full potential for a successful life. Marts says he wants to start small, by enrolling 15 middle school-aged boys, and later expand. The program will offer mentorship, academic excellence, support, mental health counseling, and financial literacy. Marts says it will be long term.

“This program is taking these boys from ages 10 to 13 all the way through 21,” Marts said. “We want to see them go through the years, and we want to provide safe passage for them to get to college and get into their careers.”

Marts says the end goal goes far beyond sports. It’s about preparing boys for life afterward.

“If you don’t know your transferable skills from playing athletics, how will you actually be able to pivot and do something else?” Marts said. “The day is going to come when you can’t do those sports.”

Knowing his mother did so much for him, with his mission, Marts has a message for the parents.

“That’s what we’re about,” Marts said. “We’re here for you and we’re trying to provide a better life, building better futures for young men.”

From the field to the community, Marts shows his mission has no limits. In fact, it’s going into overtime.

Marts is talking with the city of Jacksonville about securing a community center to use. He says to get his program up and running, donations and grants are needed. That’s just the beginning. Mentors, counselors, professionals, and volunteers are needed as well. To learn more about how you can help, click here.

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