GO! GETTERS: The Byron De’Vinner Foundation, Seeding While Leading

July 30th, 2009

By Ashley McDonald

By day, Byron De’Vinner is a State Farm Insurance agent. But his passion lies in mentoring children through The Byron De’Vinner Foundation.

“The mission of the Byron De’Vinner Foundation is to allow kids throughout the Southeast the opportunity to excel whether in sports or in the classroom,” De’Vinner said. “Through positive examples, we want to create better opportunities for kids to succeed in life.”

Growing Up

De’Vinner was raised by his great, great grandmother, Katie Gaiters, in Calera, Ala. Life for the two of them was not easy since Gaiters only earned $400 each month to provide for the two of them. His father was not a part of his life and his mother abused him physically, mentally, and sexually from age 5 to 14 years old. At the age of six, he suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his face due to an accident that happened while he was mowing the yard.

“I can recall the doctors advising my great-great grandmother that I would be permanently blind, and would never regain my skin tone,” De’Vinner said in The Struggle to Success, his life story told in his own words. “…Grace is the only explanation for me regaining my sight and for my skin being restored.”

Growing up in poverty and dealing with the trauma that his everyday life presented him, De’Vinner took his frustration and aggression out on the football field where he excelled tremendously. During his junior year the college scouts frequented Calera to observe his talents.

While he was scouted by Ole Miss and other top football programs, he admits that he forgot to focus on his education while going through all of the obstacles he faced in his childhood.

“I thought my dreams of going to college were ruined because I hadn’t applied myself the way I knew I could,” De’Vinner said.

He ended up graduating from high school and attending Alabama State University. After two years, he transferred to University of Alabama at Birmingham where he played football and ran track. His then teammate and Olympic Gold Medalist Vonnetta Jeffery Flowers helped him to realize his purpose of helping children to make their dreams a reality.

The Foundation At Work

Through all of the adversity that he faced, De’Vinner set out to make a difference in the lives of children; much like his great, great grandmother did for him. He wanted to be a positive example for children that may face difficult circumstances.

According to De’Vinner, the biggest challenge in starting the foundation was getting people to take him seriously. He spoke about how some people start organizations like his for a tax break or for other selfish reasons. But everything that he does is from the heart.

“It means a lot!” said De’Vinner, excited about his work. “It is my way, for one, to show my great, great grandmother that I appreciate what she instilled in me. Also, it allows me the opportunity to give back to our youth out here. I get a blessing when a kid remembers me in the community or at their school.”

While his love of football runs deep, the one message that De’Vinner continues to convey through his foundation is the importance of education. There are several athletes that work with the foundation, but rarely do they ever talk about sports. They emphasize the primary importance education and how it will take the further than the football field.

“You can be an average athlete and get a scholarship to a major Division 1 college if you have the grades,”De’Vinner said. “Or you can be a great athlete without a good education, you won’t get a scholarship and you won’t be able to go anywhere.”

This year’s football camp will be held on June 5th and 6th at Riverdale High School. Guest speakers include 2007 SEC Player of the Year, Shane Foster of Vanderbilt University; Artist and Painter for the Tennessee Titans and the SEC, Douglas Hess; and Jim Thorpe Award winner and former Cleveland Browns player, Antonio Langham.

The 3rd Annual Youth Summit will take place on Aug. 8 at the Patterson Park Community Center in Murfreesboro. The summit brings panelists together with students to discuss issues such as drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy, and gang violence. The panel consists of former athletes, doctors, judges, and lawyers.

His autobiography, The Byron DeVinner Story, is set to be released sometime in September.

“It will allow people the opportunity to really know what’s behind the vision of The De’Vinner Foundation and why I started it,” he said.

“Two thousand nine will be a banner year for The De’Vinner Foundation as well as my life.”

You can see DeVinner at work as the defensive line coach at Middle Tennessee Christian School in Murfreesboro this fall. He will also be featured on an episode of The Tyra Banks Show set to air on Sept. 9.


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