“Shep” Shepherd came through the struggle. The Florida native grew up with 15 brothers and sisters. His father went to prison for murder before he was born, while his mother worked two jobs to support her family.
Even so, they often went without.
“We’d sleep in cars in grocery store parking lots. I’d have to get to school early to wash my face in sink at school because we didn’t have running water,” Shepherd told a group of silent football players in a video.
But rather than giving up, he dug in. Shepherd excelled on the football field, playing in both college at Florida Atlantic University and professionally with the NFL.
“I was the first man in my family to finish high school ... and then college,” he said.
It was never an easy road to walk. But it was the blaze of adversity that forged him into the man he is today. After retiring from professional football, he has devoted his life to changing the game for students who are walking similar paths.
Shepherd served as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Character coach for seven years, with tenures in Atlanta, at the University of Michigan, Pitt and the University of Arizona along the way.
Now, as the Founder and CEO of Keep the Change Inc., he now travels the world, offering motivational speeches in Europe, as well as across the United states. He frequently visits campus like the University of Georgia in Athens, where he speaks to players in an uplifting yet relatable way.
It’s something he has done repeatedly in the Golden Isles and will soon do again. Shepherd is returning to inspire local high and middle school students at a program jointly offered by the Gathering Place and the FCA. They will offer a large-scale setting — Glynn County Stadium — for the event, Fields of Faith, which will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
For Lucas Ramirez, CEO of the Gathering Place, bringing Shepherd to town once again helps further its mission of propelling students to reach their highest potential.
“For this to occur in the life of a student, they need catalytic experiences that awaken them to faith, purpose and a passion to create their future,” he said.
“These critical awakening moments can occur in the context of a quiet mentorship relationships, peer to peer influences, sometimes in the midst of hard times and in our experience, special events.”
That is certainly what Fields of Faith offers — a special night of spiritual inspiration. Working closely with the FCA, Ramirez said it allows the groups maximize resources and present a truly moving program for students.
“In partnership with FCA, we have organized the Fields of Faith event at the Glynn County Stadium to create these life-changing moments for young people. All it takes is a single moment, a powerful message and someone that cares to change the life of a young person forever,” he said.
“We believe that these positive life-altering moments can occur in environments like what we will experience on Oct. 17. Shep is one of the most dynamic communicators and he combines his radical life story with an magnetic energy. As a former NFL athlete, he now uses his platform to inspire others in a relatable and relevant way.”
That’s critical for today’s teenagers. The demographic is being bombarded by stimuli like no other generation before it. A solid faith in Christ, Ramirez said, grounds students as they move through a chaotic world, helping to instill in them a moral compass, as well as a purpose, identity and destiny.
“We live in a world hyper-focused on all things physical and visual. Because of this focus, we can easily forget the duality of our nature: like two sides of a coin, being a person means we are both body and spirit,” Ramirez said.
“At The GP, we lead conversations with students to help them realize the spiritual side of who we are deeply matters and cannot be ignored. We can spend a lot of time on our outward appearance, getting fit for the next sports competition or prepping for the next exam, but if we ignore the spiritual side of who we are, all of those outward accomplishments leave us cavernously empty inside.”