When it comes to motivating youth to think past challenging times Branden Dawson and Brandan Kearney know a few things about perseverance.

The former Michigan State University players shared moments of encouragement with school children this summer as part of the first annual Back-to-School Fest hosted by Brighter Detroit Community Center.

“One reason this is important is because there are a lot of kids that I grew up with who were in the same situation as the ones I saw and met at Brighter Detroit,” recalls Kearney, a Detroit native and Southeastern High School graduate. “They didn’t make it out.”

As former collegiate basketball players both learned what it means to push beyond current circumstances in pursuit of a goal. Kearney was a prep standout and somewhat of a journeyman player for several collegiate teams before becoming the second overall pick of the Moncton Miracles in the National Basketball League of Canada. Even when others might have buckled, he didn’t give up on a professional basketball career.

“It’s important to rely on yourself for your motivation,” says Kearney. “Just like someone can inflate you they also can deflate you.”

Dawson, a key player for the MSU Spartans until graduating in 2015, overcame significant injuries to etch a spot in MSU history as one of only three players to record 1,000 career points and 100 career blocks. He also capped his MSU career as the blocks leader with 142 total.

The 22-year-old looks back to his younger self as a reminder for why it’s important for those who are fortunate to live their dreams and become successful. Dawson says as an 8-year-old he was inspired by former NBA player and Gary, Ind. native Glenn Robinson. Later he watched former MSU teammate and current Golden State Warrior Draymond Green with admiration.

The Brighter Detroit event, he says, felt very familiar for him. There is much similarity between urban Detroit, Gary and Saginaw, from which Green hails.

“I think events where you’re able to give inspiration and backpacks and your time to children are definitely important, especially where I’m from,” says Dawson, a second-round selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. “When kids see someone from their same city who is doing and having an impact it gives them a different drive.”

Brighter Detroit Community Center is the vision of Terry Payne, Sr., a successful Detroit businessman who grew up in the same Gratiot Woods community where the old 4-H Center is located. He is paying back by paying it forward. Dawson finds that impressive and hopes to do the same with his NBA exposure.

“I want to be able to have a foundation or do something like what Mr. Payne is doing to benefit children,” Dawson says. “I actually enjoy doing outreach like that with children. I was in their shoes before.”