On a balmy afternoon in West Baltimore, Van Brooks and an exuberant gaggle of adolescents have gathered outside on a city sidewalk, preparing to race a soap box derby car.

Paralyzed former high school football star Van Brooks. (Screengrab from news video/safealternative.org)

The youngsters worked together to design, assemble and decorate the mini vehicle while learning about engineering at the SAFE Center, a community haven for youth that Brooks opened in 2015 in the neighborhood that he’s long called home.

“Are you ready?” he hollered to the kids, before deftly navigating his motorized wheelchair down the street towards a makeshift finish line. Amid shrieking and laughter from the children, the compact car—driven by a slender, brown boy who appeared ready for speed—lurched forward tentatively on its practice run. Everyone cheered. More….