New Orleans Saints legend and Super Bowl XLIV champion Usama Young has always believed in the importance of providing hope for America's youth. He started the Usama Young Youth foundation in 2009, later changing the name to "Believe in U" with the goal to empower youth through mentorship and volunteering. For the past eight years, "Believe in U" has impacted numerous student-athletes by providing free football and cheer camps. Young and his foundation have taken thousands of students on college tours, including visits to the University of Maryland, Howard University, Virginia Union, Dillard University and the University of New Orleans, among others.
"It was 2007, when I arrived (in New Orleans) as a draft pick and I saw everyone doing so much work in the community from building homes, from volunteering, talking to students at different schools at charter schools, wherever it was, we were doing work as a team," Young said. "And I said, you know what? I'm doing so much in New Orleans and I'm doing so much in my hometown, I'd like to put a name on it and we can get something going that's more formal. In 2009, we started the Usama Young Youth Foundation, which was cool. But after every talk that I was having with youth, after every talk that I was having with these younger adults, we kept on telling them we believe in you. We would take them on a college tours and say, hey, you might go to school. You might be a professional. We believe in you, if your goal is this and that we believe in you. And I said, man, it's a nice little play with words. 'Believe in U', everybody calls me U. But at the same time, we're telling the youth that we believe in them. And we renamed it. We focus more on empowering our youth through education and volunteerism and civic engagement and 'Believe in U' has gone on to not only support communities and the areas that I played, but other communities throughout the nation."
In addition to operating "Believe in U", Young has served as manager of NFL player engagement at the league office since 2017, where he assists rookies entering the league with building their brands and managing their finances, to supporting their physical, mental and financial well being and preparing them for life after football.
"Well, one thing is they're going through something that none of us have been through," Young said when asked what advice he would give a rookie entering the league right now. "This pandemic has changed our society, has changed the way we do things. I don't think anyone on this phone envisioned themselves holding interviews like this during what is it, July now? And leading into training camp and not being too sure about what's to come with the level of uncertainty at its highest. I always say just be prepared, be prepared. And when I say be prepared, that was something that Dennis Allen told me years ago, Hey, look, be prepared. It's better to be prepared and not get the opportunity than to get the opportunity and not be prepared. And when I say that, it's pretty broad. It could be seen as vague, but staying in shape is something that's easy. Even if you can't do group workouts right now, even if you are limited to the gym, getting your wind up, being able to run four miles would be my advice to them, but also understanding that you've got to get in this playbook and take as many mental reps as possible. So be prepared, be in shape, get as many mental reps as possible. And when you get on that football field, it's gonna go fast. It's gonna go fast. So just be ready."
Young, who played a role in leading the Saints to victory in Super Bowl XLIV, praised his former teammates still suiting up in the Black & Gold and the culture of the organization that drafted him 13 years ago.
"It's an amazing organization," Young said. "New Orleans Saints, when I first got here, I had no clue. When I first got to New Orleans, I had no clue what type of tradition it was. What type of man Sean Payton or Dennis Allen, Mickey Loomis, Tom Benson, Mrs. Gayle Benson now as the leader of this team, the leader of the organization. To be able to spend the first part of my years in New Orleans, it was something that I didn't know how long it will last, but I was going to cherish it every day that I was there. Now you talk about those guys 13 years later that are still there and it's a tribute to what they built and what they put together. You've got the utmost respect for them because you see guys that you played alongside, that are now in the building. They might be coaching. They might be doing other things in media from Zach Strief to Leigh Torrence or Aaron Glenn. And then also having the coaches that were there while you were there and trainers that were there while you were there. And even some of the media, I'm seeing names pop up and I'm like, wow, I remember doing an interview with them. It's special. I think it's unique because if you look around the league, there's not too many organizations that are like that. It's a tribute to why you all have been so successful in New Orleans. I think that chemistry, it holds tremendous weight and it's one of the main reasons that you all have been successful."
Young has a knack for leadership, whether it's in the community or in the locker room with his teammates during his playing days, people follow his lead. He recalled his favorite Sean Payton story from the team's trip to London in 2008 when Young organized an excursion with his teammates.
"I was fortunate to go to London twice during my NFL years," Young said. "And the first time was when we played San Diego in 2008 and I wanted to host a trip. I wanted all the guys there, my boys to go to Amsterdam and take the train in different places in London, and to do this I wasn't going to ask for permission. I was just going to do it. So I organized all the guys and I was ready to go and before we got on that train, I get the call from our head of security at the time and he's like, hey, get back here. Sean (Payton) wants to see you. And I'm like, oh my goodness. I'm about to get cut in London. I'm about to get cut in London. And I get back, then we have a talk and he's like, we're already overseas. We're in a different continent. What are you trying to do? Where are you trying to go visit? I'm like, coach, I don't know if I'm ever going to come back to London. I don't know if I'm ever going to get to do this again. I just want to enjoy myself. And he reminded me at that time, this is a business trip. We were about our business and if we didn't win this game - he didn't say this verbatim, but I understood it - I would probably be cut. And that's Sean Payton to a T. Like, hey, this is business. We're going to handle our business, now after we win we can party. But while we're here, let's handle this. So, I mean, I've got several stories, but I gotta take him to when, uh, I'm glad we went out in London that week."