Fame and fortune aside, Renaldo Nehemiah has faced challenges in life.
Nehemiah was born partially deaf in his right ear. At age 14, he lost his mother to breast cancer. When he was 34, he learned he had been adopted.
It’s his faith in God that got him through the tough times, Nehemiah told inmates Thursday in Alexandria at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center.
“I could choose to feel sorry for myself, or I could use to be inspired,” he said. “ … God loves unconditionally, and I learned that very early.”
Nehemiah, a 1984 Super Bowl champion and track and field phenomenon, spoke at the jail as part of a speaker series for adults involved in programs such as education, sober living or English language classes. About 100 men and women attended Thursday’s event.
While attending University of Maryland, Nehemiah broke 13 world records and was the first man to run the high hurdles in less than 13 seconds. He was a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers from 1982 to 1985 and was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1999.
Today, he manages and markets athletes. He came to the jail Thursday after speaking with Tony Briggs, the detention center’s mental health team supervisor, whom he attends church with in Chantilly.
Nehemiah told inmates that, like them, he’s done things he’s not proud of. But God is a forgiving God, he said, which allows him to forgive himself. And that’s what gets him through.
“For every action there is a reaction, and so, it’s important that, like I said before, you’re going to stumble,” he said. “You have stumbled. There are in things in my past that I’m embarrassed about, whether it’s personal or relationship-wise. But I also learned that I had to give myself a break.”
After hearing Nehemiah speak, inmate Jakia Carroll said she wanted to working in the community with children after she was released.
“Maybe that I can actually meet up with someone in the community who does the same thing so I can help other youth, not just about sports and things like that, but help kids to go the right way, and promote their education, which is really important,” Carroll said. “A lot of kids miss that when they’re into sports. I hope that they get the ability to know that, to see someone that has accomplished a lot of things and realize that their education is important.”
Inmate Jamar Dabney said the Nehemiah’s talk reminded him to stay with positive people “who have faith in you and believe in you.” “I’m going to prioritize it,” he said. “I’m going to believe in myself.”
Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who oversees the jail, said bringing in speakers helps inmates remember that people on the outside care about them.
“It also reminds them that there’s more going on in the world than what’s going on in their little world today,” Lawhorne said. “So, it’s important to always remind them of how important it is to know that people actually do care and they’re willing to take the time out of their busy schedules to come and speak to them. It gives them a little hope, a little faith in mankind.”