Brazilian author Paulo Coelho wrote "The Alchemist" to inspire its readers to look within themselves and follow their dreams. Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters has brought his favorite book to life by uplifting the youths of the community from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to present day Phoenix.
The Peters Educational Enrichment Project (PEEP) established a book club of which Peters is personally involved. Its purpose is to motivate children to read outside of a traditional class setting.
"The Book Club reading is one of our big tenets where we try to encourage students to read more," Peters explained.
"Not just read for education but read for fun as well. It is one of the things that we have learned is that how well a child reads directly affects how they do on standardized testing. Doing well on those tests is incredibly important."
Partnering with Scholastic, Peters has been able to select books with a deeper message.
"We try to cover a wide range of topics and find books that have a lot of interesting talking points, things that will raise discussion with the children. Books that will make them question things and make them learn about different cultures, countries and circumstances that people grow up in those countries. We try to pick thought provoking books that will make them want to have discussions, raise emotional responses from them so they can decide how they feel about these things before they grow up to be adults and go out into the world stronger with a moral compass and a thought process that allows them to get through anything."
After attending the University of Kentucky, Peters was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He would sign with Arizona as a free agent in 2015. His career is professional football, but he also has a deep interest in helping others through the values his parents instilled in him.
"I had really great parents, parents that filled in the gaps for me where the education system failed. At home, we did a lot of reading, assigned work that didn't have anything to do with the school, just stuff my parents wanted me to do. I think they allowed me to get a head start. After going through school and having friends that had parents that didn't do all the things that my parents did, I just wanted to help other kids with some of the same things. To give them the resources they may not have had and then also provide some mentorship to let them know that whatever they are aspiring to be, they can accomplish that."
In addition to the book club, Peters also contributes meals to the community, particularly around Thanksgiving, and also hosts football camps for children. The Cardinals organization has been supportive of his efforts, going as far as allowing him to host the aforementioned football camps at team facilities.
"I think they have been very supportive of me and everything that I have tried to do. I am very appreciative of that. I have also tried to be supportive of their initiatives. The Cardinals do a good job of getting out into the community with things that they think are important."
The defensive lineman has been vocal in the advancement of social justice and reform as well. The NFL has taken steps towards providing exposure for equality in recent years.
"I think what the NFL is doing most is raising awareness and putting it in front of everyone's faces. When you tune in to watch a football game, you see the logos and the messaging on the field, the helmet decals. I think the number one thing that they are doing is raising awareness, starting conversations. There is a lot of work that we all have to do and it is really on us as a society to take that step back and have conversations with one another, get a better understanding for one another and where we come from, the cultural differences that we have. I think if we all do that then we will realize we are a lot more alike than we are different."
Recent events around the league suggest there is still work to be done.
"In recent news, the Jon Gruden situation, we obviously have a long ways to go. This is an NFL coach and those private emails being exposed shows what he thinks about certain kinds of things -- not to vilify him, I'm sure if we all had our private conversations leaked, it could be embarrassing to a certain extent for everyone -- but to see those same thoughts and ideals as recently as yesterday leading an NFL team, it is obvious that those things are still prevalent, not only in this profession but I think in our society in general," he explained.
"I think it is going to be a process. The fallout from that situation, for example, is just a reminder that we are all accountable for the things that we say and what we do. The more people understand that and start to feel that, also with the understanding previously that the rules didn't always apply to everybody. Now that you are starting to see all of the fallout from not only that situation, but others, I think people will be cognizant of what they say and how they speak, and then be more sensitive to other groups of people that are not like you."
Each year, NFL teams recognize a member of their club for outstanding play on the field and in the community. Arizona selected Peters last year.
"It is just an incredible honor," Peters said about being named the Cardinals Walter Payton Man Of The Year. "When you are out and doing work, I think there is always the question of impact and how much is our work actually helping; that is one thing that I often think about or how we can make things better to reach more kids or the kids that we do reach, how can we have a greater impact with them. To be recognized for community work, I was incredibly honored because I know the men on this team and the work that they put in.
"A lot of guys on this team really are deserving. To win an award over those guys, I am incredibly honored. I do take it as a certain responsibility to continue doing good work, to make sure I am doing the right things and make sure I am upholding that standard that the team can be proud of and my brothers on the team as well," he finished.
The 33-year old, who is in his seventh season with the NFC West franchise, is providing stable play and leadership for the only remaining undefeated team. Football has brought him fame and fortune, but the satisfaction of being a beacon of light for others is the treasure Peters and others across the league have been seeking, much like the premise of "The Alchemist."