Greg Bryant’s journey, in his own words

Greg Bryant Sr. wanted his son’s voice to be heard. By publishing two of his papers while a student at Notre Dame, the father hopes Bryant Jr. can help other struggling athletes and parents.

Editor’s Note: Last week Greg Bryant Sr. reached out to Irish Illustrated after receiving four papers written by his late son while a student at Notre Dame. Bryant Sr. requested they be published to help young men wrestling with faith and fathers struggling with parenthood. Bryant Sr. also believes the essays allow the former Irish running back to tell his own story. Following an introduction with Bryant Sr., two of those papers – “My Journey” and “Death” – will run below, in full and unedited.

Three weeks after Greg Bryant Jr. was shot and killed at home in South Florida his father received four papers written by his son while a student-athlete at Notre Dame. One was authored for a theology course. Another was crafted for a philosophy class. Bryant Jr. also wrote his own prayer.

The papers changed the relationship between Greg Bryant Sr. and son, even after the former Irish running back’s tragic death on May 8.

The next day Bryant Jr. was supposed to return to UAB to restart his athletic and academic career.

The death ripped a hole in his father, who’d coached his son at American Heritage in Delray Beach and worked jobs in grounds maintenance and substitute teaching to help put him through private school. These papers, written during the running back’s final season in South Bend, helped Bryant Sr. begin to heal. They also showed him how much his son had grown, even before he’d leave Notre Dame, struggle in junior college and transfer to UAB.

“Unless you have a tragedy like this, you don’t understand,” Bryant Sr. said. “Sometimes parents don’t get to understand unless we get close to God. I know I was hurting to the point where I didn’t feel healthy. These papers soothed me. Everything is out in the open. I don’t have to speak. I don’t have to fight anymore. I got the message. Thank you God. I understand.

“Now I can concentrate on fighting for justice for Greg.”

Part of that justice is catching his son’s killer, and Bryant Sr. is working with an advocate and local law enforcement to push the case forward. But beyond the legal system, Bryant Sr. hopes justice is also delivered by starting a foundation in his son’s name. He plans to start a youth sports organization to help disadvantaged kids in South Florida build better life structures through athletics, academics and nutrition.  

Bryant Sr. contacted Irish Illustrated about publishing the papers to help people understand his son. He hopes Bryant Jr.’s fight to break out of South Florida can help other young athletes do the same. He hopes the father-son relationship detailed by Bryant Jr. may inspire fathers to be better parents.

“If you’re there every day for your son, you can change the culture,” Bryant Sr. said. “Some fathers don’t understand that. It’s a blessing to be Greg’s father, to listen to his voice. He’s going to tell you his journey. He’s going to tell you what his struggle was.

“I think there’s a lot parents out there hurting right now. They wonder if their kids understand what they instilled in them. I know everyone doesn’t get this comfort that I did.”

 “My Journey,” written for a Latino Spirituality course, details the father-son relationship, the struggles of Bryant Jr. to acclimate at Notre Dame and how faith became part of his foundation. “Death” was written for a philosophy course and sheds light on Bryant Jr.’s relationship with his mother and grappling with loss.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, you still have to work hard and believe in God,” Bryant Sr. said. “Greg was put in a lot of bad situations. Because of that it was hard sometimes to understand if he really got it. To receive these papers, I know he absolutely did.”

My Journey
Greg Bryant

In the beginning of my childhood my Dad was my guiding model of inspiration. Church didn’t give me much of a vision, but through constant failures in my life I realized that God was my healing. In order to make my prayers to the man above a reality it took moments of challenge that made me a man today. 

When I was about 12 years old, I felt like my Dad planted a vision in my head. He never gave me an idea that God was important in life but he preached to me the importance of education, success, and character. I did not live with my Dad at the time but he was still in my life while still paying child support to my mom. When I was 12, I didn’t realize how much he truly cared about me. He would pick me up from school on certain days and spend the whole day with me. We would go to the library, get food, and then go out on the field under the lights and throw the football around. I think what hurt him most about the long days that we spent together was taking me home at the end of the night. Instead of me driving back home with him, he always drove me to my grandmother’s house because my mom didn’t have her own house at the time. She had full custody of me because I was too young to make my own decisions. It hurt my dad inside to drive me there because he understood that the house was filled with under achievers with no vision in life. Usually he would sit in the car with me for hours telling me story’s about his own life and the tools I need to be successful in my life. It came to a point where he would cry in front of me telling me that he wants possession of me but my mom wouldn’t give him a chance because she has pride issues. Being so young, I didn’t truly understand what my dad was saying or the pain that he felt inside at the moment. My only thought was grabbing the door and getting out of the car to go inside my grandmother’s house with everyone else. My mom and Dad never got along because they never saw eye to eye, mainly because of me. The arguments that they had only referred back to me because I was most important to them both. Every time I would come in the house from spending a full school night with my Dad, my mom would always ask me “Why is he keeping you out there so long”? Being the young kid I was I always replied “I don’t know I hate it when he does that”. My mom always had something bad to say about my Dad, spreading rumors around my grandmother’s house. It became so natural to her that she brainwashed me to not like my Dad as much as a child just because of what they were going through. But, the whole time I was so young and dumb that I didn’t realize that my dad was one of the best things that had ever happened to me.

As a kid I was surrounded by drugs, violence, and financial issues living with my grandmother. She stayed on the Southside of Delray Beach where it was tough to survive. There wasn’t much of a spiritual influence in that environment. My dad’s main concern was me being another product of the environment. By the time I turned 14, I was starting to adapt to the way that people in my grandmothers neighborhood lived. All my friends were thugs who lived by my grandmother’s house, and they are either dead or in jail today. I could have easily been another statistic if I would have stayed on the same path that they were on. Luckily, I had a great dad and they didn’t. Even though I hated my Dad at times growing up, he showed me tough love that the other kids in the hood didn’t have from their parents which made me different. This was just like Jesus showed to the Jews of Jerusalem. For example, my dad would be upset when my mom let me skip football practices when I was younger. It was never an issue to her but it was always so important to him. I never thought that it was a big deal until I got older to understand. He was way wiser than my mom was because she only thought about present time. My dad was always thinking about getting me ready for the future. He would never let me skip a practice because he always said that was a sign of quitting. All my friends would never have to go through the same process that I went through with my dad because their fathers never cared as much about their futures. Now looking back, I feel like he was always watching over me, being the closest thing to God that I had.

Once I got about 15, I moved in with my Dad officially. I didn’t move that far away from my grandmother’s house but I was in a much better place living with my Dad. In only a couple months living with my dad, he completely transformed me into a new person. I had responsibilities, more of a vision to be successful, and I finally had structure in the way that I lived. He taught me how to work hard, grind for what I want, and the importance of interacting with different kinds of people who are nothing like the person you are. When I looked at my Dad from the ages of 16-17, he was my guidance. He was a godly figure to me. I looked at him as if he was God and I’m one of his disciples following his lead. But, once I turned 17 it was a transition for me because I didn’t look at him as this Godly figure anymore. He was more of a role model, my dad, and someone who I loved to death instead.

Football became a huge part in my life around the age of 17. For me, football is what led me to prayer because of the success I had. I was always a great football player and on another level than my opponents, but this is when I was at my highest. By the middle of the season in my junior year, I started doing things that I always dreamed of. I was breaking records left and right. And, I had almost 20 scholarship offers from different schools across the nation. The craziest thing is that I still had one more year of eligibility left to play in high school. I feel like all those accomplishments came from the importance of prayer. My high school team always prayed after practice when we noticed how good we were. At American Heritage high school, we had some religious kids, kids who believed in God, and some kids who just didn’t care. I was one of those kids who just believed in God and knew that he was there. Having my dad was a huge blessing to me because even though he didn’t preach about the importance of God, he always gave me faith to get up when you get knocked down. His words were really powerful to me. In my final year of high school, I took the initiative to pray a lot more at night on my own. I was living in the spotlight, everyone knew me, and I just felt like it was important to thank God for what he had done for me. I realized over the years that growth played a huge part in my prayer. The older I got, the more real I feel like God became.

By the time I reached college, I felt like I really needed to have that faith in God because without my Dad around, it would be hard for me to talk to anybody, especially being so far from home. I knew that it would be tough leaving my dad behind at home because as soon as I left I finally starting realizing how much he impacted my life. When I arrived here at Notre Dame, I knew that I would be out of my comfort zone. It often feels like I am being judged when we all are supposed to be equal. The clothes that I wear, the jewelry that I have, and the tattoos on my body really set me apart from people on campus. Not even just on campus but the people on my football team as well. When I first got here, it felt like a sense of rejection at parties, social gatherings, and life on campus. It was a struggle to meet other people if they weren’t on the football team. It kind of related to the Mexican people and how they were rejected and the only people that they can come to for advice was family. The only people that I could laugh and be myself with were the people on the football team. It was a struggle my freshman year. But, I didn’t hang my head low or quit, I stayed motivated.

Moving on to my sophomore of college it has been a great experience so far. I’m doing what I love which is playing football and starting to really realize the importance of education. I learned that you might suffer at first, but the ones who really want to live same the way as Christ did will prevail. That relates to anything in life. You will suffer, but how would you respond? Jesus responded by leading the people of Galilee to happiness. Happiness amongst each other, and hope. Latino spirituality has to be the class that taught me the most about God and struggle itself. At the beginning of the semester, I wasn’t as engaged in class as I am now but that’s mainly because I didn’t understand. I was listening but I didn’t understand.
The Guadalupe book that we read really changed my life. It changed the way that I looked at things, it changed me as a person, and it gave me a sense of what a true leader is. I never really cared to read the Bible. It was never something that was fascinating to me. What I truly enjoy about being in this Theology class is the fact that you don’t have to be Mexican to relate to the readings. If you can relate to the struggle and tough battles that they fought, you can relate that picture to your own life. I never knew where Jesus was from. When I read the book and found out that he lead the people from Galilee, it really motivated me. It motivated me how my dad use to motivate me when I was younger. I saw that he was a man of Christ, but I had to believe that I could be a man of Christ myself. When professor Matovina said this quote “God rejected rejection and helped the rejected”. It made me want to be more of leader myself. This quote will stick with me forever mainly because it makes me think about where I come from. It makes me want to be more of a leader to the community. It makes me want to be successful so that I can spread my word to the youth so that they can live a better life as well.

Growing up in my grandmother’s house was tough filled with more than 10 family members. Everyone in that house always thought that money was important. Every argument that I heard when I was younger was triggered strictly by money, which is sad because family is precious, family is love, and most of all family stick together. I realized the true importance of family reading about the Mexican people because it was one of the few things that they had. Even in the movie The Bean Field, the whole community was able to come together. They were able to figure out that money is not more important than the people that you love and generations. Love is important; playing music, dancing, and laughing with family is important. My value for this isn’t shared by my family members, which makes me upset. By seeing Jesus lead his people from Galilee and discover a change, it gave me so much motivation to go better my family at home. I want to go home and stand on a table to help them realize what’s truly important. Latino Spirituality changed the way that I value family and faith.

Now at 20 years old, my life has been a complete turnaround. I have been trying my hardest to make changes to the life that I’m living, mainly because I understand the importance of having God to proceed in life. I had to realize at this age of time that my Dad would not be able to guide me forever. I am becoming a walking piece of motivation to kids myself today.

Growing up and coming to Notre Dame has brought me to a new vision of being different. A vision that is worth way more than scoring touchdowns in the NFL, or even driving around in million dollar car. But, a vision that would impact other lives by the way that I live my life. Being where I’m from, most people don’t make it out the way that I did. Most of the kids in the neighborhood dream to get a high school diploma. Being from the same place and growing up in the same environment, I want to be the person to show the kids that it doesn’t matter where you come from or however many tattoos you have, you can make it out of the struggle if you work as hard as you can and honor God. The main reason why I chose to come to Notre Dame was to be that example to the hood that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Notre Dame is one of the best academic schools in the nation. I know for a fact that some people in the hood, and even at home takes advantage of that. They only think about the success I have on the football field. But, it makes me proud. Mainly because all of the pain and suffering that I went through in my life inspired me to get a Notre Dame degree. God put me through that suffering to make me regain focus to be a role model.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been trying my hardest to overcome using foul language around the locker room. It is a very hard task because I’m surrounded by a bunch of athletes that curse for the majority of the day. What made me make this transition in my life is the way the Jesus stood up for the people who was around him on his journey. He wanted to touch the people around him and better their life, by being the perfect example. He didn’t care what people had to say about his walk of faith and knew that everyone would not participate in his transaction. What I did was watch the things that I said around the locker room. And, I also questioned those who rejected women, or called them other names. We all are equal, and we all have a name why does a woman have to be called something other than her name? It created conflict between some people but they knew that I was right at the end of the day. That’s how I knew that I was changing the way that I lived because I didn’t care what anybody else said, I knew what was right. It wasn’t an easy task but I had to resist the easy, and overcome what was the problem. It was a major challenge to me because I had to tell my own teammates that it wasn’t right even though I used to behave the same way. That day was a moment of change for me. God was becoming a part of my lifestyle, and it felt good to realize it.

In the future, I see myself as a man of Christ and a family man. I know that I would be a great parent because my Dad was great to me. The same way that my Dad raised me would be similar to the way that I would raise my children. The only thing that I would stress to my children is the importance of God, and the importance of having family aside. That’s one thing that was not stressed enough to me. I had to realize how much it was important through the Mexican people. Moving forward, I want to continue being the leader that I am today in the community. When I see a young boy walking around Delray with his pants down to his knees, I’m going to stop him. But, I’m not going to tell him to pull his pants up I’m going to tell him that there’s so much more in life than walking up and down this street. Set your goals high because you never know what will happen if you live by Christ and work hard. He probably won’t listen to a word that I am saying just how I didn’t listen to my dad back in the day, but I will let that young boy know because I care. I was once walking up and down the street all day with no shirt on and my pants pulled down to my knees, I feel like that is culture coming from Delray. But, moving forward I don’t want to change the culture of the way that we dress but I do want to change the way how kids grow to be a product of the environment.

Through my spiritual journey, I have realized that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or how low you wear your pants, we are all equal and we all have a calling. The important thing is not necessarily who guides you because God is working through people. 

Greg Bryant

Many people limit their definition of death to be physical: the end of someone’s life. Even though it may seem sad for the moment you won’t mourn forever. Life goes on and you should continue to be happy because your turn for death will come eventually. In my short life I have yet to experience a physical death that has been meaningful to me but my mom’s time in jail made me better understand death.

In the 5th grade my mom always dropped me off to school in her little white Nissan. I remember looking forward to leaving the house early in the mornings because if we were ahead of time she always took me by Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. She never had to ask me what I wanted because she knew that my favorite was two vanilla sprinkled donuts and an orange juice. We normally jammed out to the radio in the mornings listening to 99 jamz her favorite radio station. Depending on how good the music was that morning depended on how enthusiastic she would drive. One thing for sure though no matter how her morning is going every time that I arrived at school she always made me feel like ill have a great day by simply saying “Have a good day boo”. If the car pool was not busy and she could drive straight through she always made me laugh by saying “Front door service”. The mornings with my mom were very meaningful to me because that’s when we spent the most time together.

One night on a school night my mother was taken away from me. She wasn’t kidnapped, murdered, or sick but she was taken away by the police. It was a sad experience because I remember the startled look that my mother had on her face. I was in the same room the police came and picked my mom up from lying next to her in her queen sized bed along with my one year old sister that was too young to understand. It was a sad experience for me because I felt like my mom was never going to come back. I experienced death emotionally because I had no choice but to watch my mother disappear from my life leaving me shocked and scared. Before I witnessed my mother forcefully being taken away from me I remember playing my video game in my room less than seven steps away. I remember trying to finish the same game that I put on pause when I left to go see my mom in her room but I was so hurt that my mom was gone all I could do is cry myself to sleep.

Adjusting to life without my mom was one of the hardest things I had to deal with overtime but it made me stronger. My baby sister and I was forced to live with my grandma about five blocks away from our original home after my mom was taken from us. My grandma was one of my biggest hero’s because she did everything for me when my mom was gone she cooked dinner, ironed my clothes, and she made her house feel like home for me overtime. Most importantly, she took me to school every morning the same as my mom did. As the days went on without my mom my grandma gave me so much to look forward to in the mornings on the way to school again. She drove a silver impala with 20 inch rims. My mom’s car was not as flashy as my grandmother’s car was so every time we went for a ride I was excited, especially going to school where everyone can see me. Dunkin donuts was always our first stop because she made sure that I was never running late. She was a smooth driver always nodding her head and smiling at me while I nod my head to the music too. Instead of listening to 99 jamz every morning my grandma played her favorite Trick Daddy cd that always got me hype to tell my friends about at school. The difference between my mom and my grandmother was when I pulled up to carpool at school she always kept the music loud she never turned it down. I thought it was really cool because everyone would stare at us as I open the door and she tells me “I’ll be here 2:00 love you”. Then I was finally starting to adjust to life without my mom while still maintaining happiness even though she was gone.

While I adjusted to living life with my grandmother I always talked to my mom on the phone through jail. It was really hard to hear her voice at times because I knew that she was hurt. I remember realizing it in her voice. She constantly mentioned how I should chase my dreams and go to school so that I can end up doing whatever I want in life. I took every word that she said as motivation because I missed her so much and I knew that she didn’t want to be in jail.

But, every time my mom would call me I begin to realize it was God calling me and giving me a sign to remain strong. I would imagine when you lose someone to death prayer is important because it makes you feel better, but I was too young to truly know how to pray so my mom was my calling. The phone conversations between us was like a prayer to listen too even though she wasn’t there physically. I say this because even though I was on the phone with my mom I still felt like she was gone to heaven because I wouldn’t be able to see her the next morning. She was still physically alive but emotionally it felt like I experienced death because I didn’t see her for another 2 months. God played a significant part in my life at that moment because even though I didn't know how to pray he gave my mom the job to preach me the Gospel to remain strong and keep moving forward.

Death to me doesn't always have to be physical because if you lose someone that means alot to you no matter the condition you will be hurt. Only the strong will survive. You have to accept God's plan of removing that person from your life and focus on the great life that you have ahead of you. Life goes on and in order to live a meaningful life you have to be happy and overcome the trials and tribulations from your past.

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