BALTIMORE — Ravens coach John Harbaugh, his players and former star linebacker Ray Lewis visited two Baltimore schools Thursday to help quell tension in the city following days of rioting.
In addition to unloading food and toiletries from trailers, members of the contingent spoke to students at Frederick Douglass High School and Matthew A. Henson Elementary School.
Several Douglass students were involved in confrontations with police on Monday, when violence escalated after the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died of spinal cord and other injuries while in police custody.
"I saw what everybody else was watching the last week. I saw people on TV that I knew or met down there making peace," Harbaugh said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "That's what inspired me; whatever we could do to be part of that."
Harbaugh said he and Lewis, who played 17 seasons with the Ravens, were texting each other in an effort to come up with a plan to help the city regain a sense of normalcy.
"We said our opportunity is going to come, and this is it," Harbaugh said.
They didn't go at it alone. The group included around 55 players, including quarterback Joe Flacco.
"We've got a bunch of guys on our team that care deeply for the city and believe in Baltimore," the coach said. "They just wanted to come down here and talk to them as well."
Members of the Douglass football team accompanied Harbaugh, Lewis and several players into the school.
Lewis, who was known for his impassionate, emotional speeches to the team during his playing days, used that skill in addressing the students.
"Ray just did a phenomenal job," Harbaugh said.
It was the beginning of a long day for Harbaugh, because the first round of the NFL draft was to be held that evening. But this was an opportunity that he wasn't going to miss, and afterward he was certain the trip was worth it.
"We had a great time. We were laughing with people," Harbaugh said. "There were some hard questions. The young people of Frederick Douglass, the elementary school we went to, even people on the street walking back and forth, these are talented, good people that care about Baltimore and want to make a difference and do things right."
Harbaugh believes he's got plenty in common with the people he met, including the desire for the Ravens to be a winner.
"We've got a bunch of people down there of all different races, all different economic backgrounds, just hanging out and having fun and talking and laughing and sharing stories with each other," he said. "Walking to the high school and back with the people in the neighborhood, we were high-fiving and talking about the draft today, talking about what we need to be doing with our offense.
"There's no question that the city is going to come out of this better and stronger than because of the heart of the people. It's going to be tough and challenging, but I know the people of Baltimore are going to stand up for the city."