It’s been eight years since Bob Salomon started recruiting professional athletes to join him in his efforts to make a difference in the lives of children. Building on his lifelong interest in sports and using his book, Beyond the Laces, as a starting point, Salomon is bringing a positive message to America’s youth. “My mission is to inspire kids through kindness and encourage them to never give up,” says Salomon. “This is more than a book. This is a movement.”
It all started when Salomon was introduced to a children’s book called A Glove of Their Own, by Lisa Funari-Willever, Debbie Moldovan, and Keri Conkling. The story, which won a Benjamin Franklin Book Award, is about children who love to play baseball despite not having all the necessary equipment. Their passion for the game inspires a benevolent person to donate some used sports gear, allowing them to fully enjoy the game. Salomon believed in the book’s message and used it to begin a pay-it-forward movement. “I really felt the world needed to hear it,” he says.
After working as a corrections officer for 25 years, Salomon was fortunate to retire at a young age. “Since I’m not working, I’m able to devote myself to this project,” he says. “I’m blessed to have a pension. My wife and kids are healthy. There’s nothing more I could want. I want to do this and help kids.”
Eager to get the word out, Salomon approached Major League Baseball players about supporting the book and its message. “I realized that professional athletes have a big platform in this country,” he says. “These athletes have a huge impact on children and on American culture in general. If you have that kind of influence, why not use it for good? Why not lead with love and try to unite people?” Without any contacts in the professional sports world or any experience promoting, Salomon battled to be heard. “It’s a good thing I was so motivated,” he says. “At first, I called agents and I got hung up on so many times. If I actually got to speak with someone, they were only interested in hearing how teaming up with us would benefit them.”
Undeterred, Salomon continued searching for athletes to support him. “I knew that if I could get one of them to come to the party, they would all come,” he says. “Fast forward eight years and a thousand mistakes later and today we have over 50 athletes on board with us. They finally realized that I don’t need or want anything else from them but their support and that I use it to help children. It’s that simple.”
Today, Salomon has garnered support greats like Mark Brunell, Doug Glanville, Victor Green, Don Mattingly, Herm Edwards, Brian Dawkins, Jim Eisenreich, and Bill Bates, to name a few. “The list continues to grow,” says Salomon. “The word is getting out that we are up to great things and people want to be a part of that.”
According to Salomon, these athletes share his belief that kindness is the key to true success. “You can be rich, you can be famous, but if you’re not kind, you’re not really successful,” he says. “I think it’s an ingredient our society needs now more than ever. And I think that professional athletes have a special ability and opportunity to help spread that idea to the young people of today.”
To further his kindness movement, Salomon decided to create a book of his own. He assembled a team that includes co-author Rick Young, printer Charles Ambrogio, illustrator Ken Jones, and publicist, Matthew Gallaro. “We’re all Jersey guys,” he says. “They all saw my vision. No one is focused on the money. We’re all focused on helping as many kids as we can. Just like in sports, this is a team effort.”
The product of their collaboration, Beyond the Laces, is a poignant story about a sick child and his favorite football player. Once again, it’s a story based loosely about sports that harbors a deeper meaning. This one is about perseverance. The book elicits different reactions from readers. “One time, a woman cried in front of me for 20 minutes,” says Salomon. “Others are uplifted by it. It hits everyone a little differently.” While Beyond the Laces is technically a children’s book, Salomon says its appeal extends to adults. “The book is for anyone, from second graders to grandmas and grandpas,” he says.
Salomon and his supporters do book readings and appear at charitable events. Non-profit organizations and businesses are helping to disseminate the book. Salomon is also excited to work with partners like Kathryn Starke of Creative Minds Publications, who promotes literacy. “We’re getting so many people on board,” he says. “We’re visiting schools and hospitals. I’m working on getting some corporate sponsors. It’s taking off. When you do something good, it spreads. It’s not about me. It’s not about famous athletes. It’s about the kids.”
A portion of the proceeds from each copy of Beyond the Laces sold is donated to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a place near and dear to Salomon’s heart. “My son was a patient there,” he explains. “He had a cyst and we thought it was cancer. It wasn’t. It required minor surgery. The people there, the doctors and the staff are amazing. It’s the greatest place on earth you never want to visit.”
Looking ahead, Salomon says he and his team are considering writing other sports-themed motivational books for children, but that’s not a current priority. “Right now, we’re just concentrating on getting Beyond the Laces into as many kids’ hands as we can,” he says. “Our goal with this whole movement is to help change lives. We’re doing that already, but not on the scale that I want to yet. The sky is the limit.”
For more information about Bob Salomon and Beyond the Laces, visit www.beyondthelaces.com.
Article by Melissa Fales, Story Monsters Ink magazine, October 2016
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