Fulcher dedicates life after football career to helping others

Risha Chada | The Chronicle

David Fulcher can be seen in the MHS halls interacting with students.

David Fulcher may be new to Mason High School, but he is not new to the meritorious task of changing the mindsets of adults and teenagers.
Fulcher, a former Cincinnati Bengals player and current media aide, mentors high school students and devotes much of his free time to volunteering at prisons throughout the state of Ohio.
Fulcher has seen prisoners plagued by their decisions, rocky childhoods and addictions, people who are often unable to reconcile with their past. Through discussion, time and commitment, Fulcher provides aid and support so that they can hit play on their lives once again.
“The prisoners volunteered to come, and as they were volunteering, it went from five to 30 in two months,” Fulcher said. “Since I’ve been doing this, I have probably talked to over ten to fifteen thousand men who are incarcerated, trying to make a change.”
After speaking at a meeting for a diversity panel in Ohio and connecting with some Mason teachers, Fulcher started building a program to help prisoners learn to fight negative thoughts and actions.
Previously, due to his professional football career, Fulcher interacted with the community by speaking at high schools or playing basketball against the high school teams.
His work with teenagers during his football career opened doors for him to make a difference in their lives—especially those who have had to deal with family dysfunction, alcoholism, drug addiction, and more.
“I grew up in Los Angeles around drugs, violence, and gangs, but I was never a part of it,” Fulcher said.
The memories Fulcher has of his tough childhood helps him to better relate to many of the people he talks to in prison; he said that many of the inmates did not have anyone to guide them when they were young, so they were led astray by negative actions and values.
A large part of Fulcher’s role in their lives is to help them come back into society with a different mindset. Fulcher said he believes that the problem in today’s world is a lack of discipline and respect for others, as well as oneself.
“When I was growing up, ‘no’ meant no, it wasn’t how many times I could ask to get a ‘yes,’” Fulcher said. “That’s where we struggle today, so I’ve learned that you [need to] communicate and talk to people, and treat people the way you want to be treated.”
It all started, according to Fulcher, during his time at a charter high school. One of the students Fulcher worked with was arrested, but instead of viewing him as a criminal or lost cause, Fulcher brought the student’s schoolwork to the juvenile detention center and sat with him until it was done.
“I didn’t want him to get left behind because he went to jail,” Fulcher said. “That day was the first day I started working at the jail.”
Mentoring Against Negative Actions (MANA) is the program Fulcher started to bolster his views of change. As part of MANA, Fulcher developed an 11-step program to discuss eleven topics crucial to helping the prisoners make amends and better themselves.
“These topics could be new beginnings, like when they get out of jail, or relationships, because a lot of relationships end when they go to jail,” Fulcher said. The overarching goal for Fulcher, however, is to teach the prisoners about respecting others as well as the rules, because the program needs to evoke a permanent mindset change, rather than a noncommittal effort.
Unlike many, Fulcher does not see a prisoner as the crime they committed, but simply as a person who made a decision. When Fulcher steps into the prison, it is not a matter of what they did, or what kind of person they are, but who they want to be.
However, Fulcher said he does understand that the prisoners need to break the bad habits that led them to prison in the first place before they can go back to their lives.
“First and foremost, [I] look at them as equal; I’m human, they’re human, and we all make choices,” Fulcher said. “It’s tough to come back into [an] environment that still has drugs, still has crime, still has violence, but that’s where [they] live. That still doesn’t mean [they] have to [engage] in it.”
While Fulcher works to amend the lifestyles of adults in prison, he also strives to develop some initial good habits in the teenagers he mentors at Mason High School. Fulcher said that holding a kid accountable for their actions can sometimes be the most effective tool. Yet, just as with the adults Fulcher helps, the students need to learn discipline and respect and apply it to all aspects of their lives.
“I love working with these kids, but sometimes I can’t tell the kid to go to class without some kind of backlash,” Fulcher said. “It’s hard work for them to stick to it, but if work was easy then everyone would do it.”
Fulcher’s time playing football contributes to his skill set when it comes to mentoring teens. The way Fulcher best learned, as a player, was when he was taught, not coached, on how to do something that he could then apply to all aspects of his life.
“If you can teach somebody something—like I try to do in the jail—I think they’d be a better person for it because they’ve been taught what to do, not [told] what to do,” Fulcher said.
As he works with the at-risk youth at Mason, Fulcher also takes into account that the kids he mentors today will soon be adults and making their own decisions.
With this in mind, Fulcher values teaching them the importance of improving their communities; often, the students he mentors know what they are supposed to do, but it is a matter of implementing those ideas to make their lives better.
“As a mentor, I want to guide them to make the best choices and decisions for them so that they don’t get in trouble,” Fulcher said. “Every kid in this school has a community, so let’s make Mason High School a better community.”

I look at them as equal; I’m a human, they’re a human, and we all make choices.
David Fulcher

Photo contributed by Risha Chada