Students at Benjamin Franklin High School tackle real life onstage.
Sophomore Andreanna Mond peeks through the curtains, then turns around, outraged.
“That’s my boyfriend she’s kissing!” she screams as she rolls her head, thrusts out her right hip and folds her arms with the utmost attitude.
“Some people think that what they’re going through, they’re going through alone,” she says later, after rehearsal. “If they know it’s common, they’ll go get help.”
In real life, she isn’t the aggressive character she plays onstage, she says. She feels more akin to another character—one who spends extra long days at school because her home life is so uncomfortable. Mond, 16, lives in North Philly with her ailing 78-year-old father.
“School is an escape for me,” she says.
“I’m the same product as they are,” Bryant says of his students.
Bryant was raised west of Miami, in a poor town largely populated with recent arrivals from Haiti, Cuba and Mexico. He attended the former high school of four-time Pro Bowl runningback Edgerrin James. Bryant, the oldest of eight children to a struggling single mother, realized that sports could be his way to overcome life’s challenges.
“I never thought about going to college,” he says. “We seen Edgerrin James come back driving Bentleys. I wanted to play in the NFL.”
After winning two state football championships in high school, Bryant was recruited to play defensive back at Indiana. He devoted his life to football, with his eyes on going pro. Then he suffered a pair of concussions during preseason his senior year of college. His girlfriend got pregnant. He started playing scared, and he kept getting injured.
“I realized the NFL wasn’t going to come calling,” he says.
With little to fall back on, Bryant made education his priority.
“I knew I had to step up,” he says.
Ingram, the star football player onstage, was also the star football player at Franklin.
“It’s basically my life,” the 17-year-old senior says of his role.
The youngest of seven children to a single mother, the 5-foot-6-inch, 175-pound running back spoke to colleges about playing football.
But he couldn’t get in with his grades.
“People don’t know what I go through,” he says. “I come to school smiling, but that’s to cover my pain.”
His brother was shot—but survived—last year. He doesn’t see his father. And his relationship with his mother is rocky at best. An aspiring playwright, Ingram has already written five plays, and produced and starred in three of them. When Bryant, his football coach, told him about the school production, he jumped at the chance.
“It’s a lot of what I see at Franklin every day,” Ingram says of the play. “So maybe people will learn from us.”
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