Discovering purpose: Panthers WR shines spotlight on underserved youth, mental health

CHARLOTTE — D.J. Chark has discovered a purpose much greater than football.

In part, through the Chark Family Foundation, which the 27-year-old launched alongside his wife this past fall.  The two aim to provide resources for children and families who are often underserved, while shining a light on the importance of mental health care.

“I grew up in the area where people would say don’t go over there,” Chark said.

“I remember the times I was able to meet someone as a kid, and he came to me in a neighborhood that people don’t come to.”

The foundation marked its first event in late September, when Chark and wife Chantelle visited “Roof Above.” It’s a comprehensive homeless service in the Charlotte-metro area which serves approximately 1,200 people daily.

The Charks helped prepare and serve lunch, while interacting with Roof Above clients, volunteers, and staff.

“I think everyone has a purpose,” he said.

“Through my faith and faith journey, spiritual walk, just seeing that God puts us in certain positions in certain times for us to shine our light on others.”

As part of the NFL initiative “My Cause My Cleats,” Chark placed the spotlight solely on the Chark Family Foundation this past Sunday, while revealing his own journey to mental wellness.

For much of his life, D.J. Chark had been living with anxiety.

“The earliest I could think of was probably middle school.  Definitely when it came to sports and things like that. Also just ambition to want to be the best and just the fear of coming up short,” he said.

The Louisiana native said it wasn’t until college that he was able to identify his struggles by name.  He credits the training staff at LSU for pointing him in the direction of help.

“With my background, my family background we were very much push through people.  Just keep going and keep striving and it’ll work out.”

Chark says his current routine includes therapy once a week, an intense focus on positive thinking, while being present during his time with his wife and children.

“Just find different ways to take myself out of football and the things that I have going on that I have to deal with every day.”

The Panthers wide receiver said he’ll commonly check in with his teammates as well, if only to provide a laugh to someone who needs it, if not an outlet to be vulnerable.

It’s a comfort he’s found through his own self-work.

“It’s relatively new and accepted,” Chark said of mental health awareness.

“Before it was just get up, keep pushing, knock it off. Just giving them that 30 second, minute, or however long they want to speak about it.  To get it out,” he said.

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