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Rich Gardner Says Chicago Is Diversity and Resilience

Written by on December 2, 2019


Rich Gardner is a former NFL athlete, performance coach, mentor and community leader raised on the South Side of Chicago.

Rich is the co-founder of Maroon Village, a non-profit geared towards promoting resilience among student athletes using physical and mental training.

We sat down with Rich to talk about his Chicago roots, his non-profit Maroon Village and the mind-body connection.

To stream this interview on Spotify, click here.


Where in Chicago did you grow up?

I was raised here in Chicago, from the South Side from Lowden Homes Projects. The Lowden Homes Projects are located 95th and Harvard, about a half a mile from the Red Line. Man, my childhood experience was wonderful. Growing up, we had a tight community, always actively playing in the neighborhood. We all looked out for each other.

In high school, I played football. I thought I was great. Not a lot of other people thought so. Senior year, I sent out game film to all the Big Ten schools, and Penn State offered me the opportunity to “walk on” for their team. There was a headline in the Sun Times, highlighting that decision and me putting all that work in – finally getting a chance.


What do you love about Chicago?

You know what they say – what don’t kill you, build you. And that is Chicago. Facing a lot of challenges, it just made me resilient. The diversity is beautiful here. We talked about the west side community, how resilient they are. Much love to Ed Brown, who passed away a few years ago, but he was a boxer out there. When I think of the west side, I think of him, I think of resiliency. A part of going to school near there is going to Dr. Wax and being a part of the hip hop culture. We have a Polish community here. My father-in-law is polish, he is second generation from the concentration camps in Poland.

Diversity, I appreciate it. I embrace it.


Tell us about your company, Maroon Village. 

Maroon Village – the name comes from the Jamaican Maroons. It was popular in the 17th, 18th century. They created autonomous villages in the mountainous regions of Jamaica, in contrast to British and Spanish rule. So, Maroon Village was inspired by that … to create a nonprofit geared towards student athletes, in that light.

We promote resiliency among student athletes using performance training and yoga. I realize, as a performance coach, that training is more than just the physical aspects when it comes to performance. There’s psychological aspects, there’s other environmental aspects. So, this city forced me to be creative and implement a program, reaching out and seeking other partners, trying to make the program a little bit more holistic.

It also forced me to educate myself. I’m in school right now. I realized that I need more tools. I’m in grad school at DePaul getting a masters in sports, recreation, and leadership to continue my journey.


At the end of the day, what would you like to give back to Chicago?

I would like to give Chicago the gift of being authentic. I just want to remind everyone that they are not the logos that they were. They are not their traumatic experiences. And most importantly, they’re not the stories that the mainstream media narrates. Being authentic is speaking truth into the world. Maroon Village encourages dialogue so our student athletes can speak truth and speaking truth will help liberate them, help them be resilient and become successful community leaders.



Photographer: Tom Gavin

Audio Producer: Fyodor Sakhnovski

Transcript edited by Elise McGannon

Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.

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