- Hal Habib Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Out in the Glades, there was initial sadness upon hearing that Anquan Boldin is retiring. Of course there was. He was the product of Pahokee who went so far, yet never forgot where he came from.
Sunday afternoons won’t feel the same.
But right behind that disappointment comes a different emotion, one whose foundation is built on the success Boldin built away from the football field — a foundation built on the Q81 Foundation, you might say.
Retired? Hikeem Banks, Ashley Wilson and Lature Allen wouldn’t quite call it that. They are beneficiaries of Boldin’s work, designed to show the youth of Pahokee and Belle Glade that you don’t have to be athletically gifted to rise above hard times (although it never hurts).
They know Boldin is retiring from football, not from his most important mission.
“I really understand he can extend his work,” said Wilson, a sophomore who received a $10,000 scholarship to help defray costs at Duke University. “He said his life is greater than football, that he has a greater purpose, and I really respected that. I know he can go on to much greater things.”
Ask Banks where he’d be today without a push from Boldin and he offers three scenarios, one just as bleak as the other.
“I’d probably be in prison,” Banks said. “I’d probably be dead. I’d probably still be out on the street using drugs. Who knows?
“I know I wouldn’t be a homeowner. I know I wouldn’t be married seven years. I know I wouldn’t have my own business.”
Banks, 32, was kicked out of school in the ninth grade, but his past and his present are a contradiction to one another because of a four-year scholarship to the University of Phoenix from Boldin’s foundation. Banks received a degree in business management and went on to become director of a nonprofit, advise students through his Balanced Living Mentorship, teach in the Port St. Lucie school district and become the father of three.
“I want to make him proud and also I want to be able to show him that his work wasn’t in vain,” Banks said. “Now, I can help somebody else.”
Over the years, Banks has traveled to London to watch Boldin play. Banks saw Boldin in the Super Bowl. Upon hearing the retirement announcement, Banks texted Boldin to say he’s available for whatever Boldin needs.
Boldin, who received the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2015 for philanthropic work, announced his retirement Sunday after 14 NFL seasons. He spent the first seven with the Arizona Cardinals, who drafted him in the second round out of Florida State in 2003, and was a member of the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens in 2012. Boldin made three Pro Bowl teams, is ninth on the all-time career receptions list with 1,076 and 14th in yards with 13,779.
Speaking on NFL Network, Boldin explained his surprise decision to walk away from the Buffalo Bills by saying, “It’s always been my life’s mission to help people.” He told ESPN he was making human rights a priority after the divisive, deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va.
“It seems like his work is just starting,” Wilson said.
In another way, so is Allen’s. He graduated from Glades Central, won an essay contest for a scholarship from Boldin and is a sophomore at Florida A&M, where he’s preparing to become an emergency room physician.
“I’ve just always had a passion for it — like Anquan Boldin,” Allen said. “I like to help others. That’s my way of doing it.”
Boldin also gave Allen a job with his summer enrichment program, tutoring students with their schoolwork.
Wilson graduated from Boldin’s alma mater, Pahokee High, with a 4.0 grade-point average. She’s studying for a career in health care in the Glades. When an opportunity arose for her to study in South Africa this summer, Boldin’s foundation stepped in to assist with the trip.
“The foundation has played a big role in my life,” she said.
Banks found it ironic he had been working for the Palm Beach school district. What once expelled him later employed him, thanks to Boldin.
“It’s been a long ride since Day 1,” Banks said. “It’s nothing new, because he’s already doing what he set out to do. This just allows him to have more time.”