Richard Pellissier-Lush firmly believes in positive role models. He thanks them for saving his life.

And the 31-year-old has been paying it ever since.

Pellissier-Lush grew up in Winnipeg when it was the murder capital of Canada, also because of the violence of the gangs between the Indian posse and the Crips. Pellissier-Lush is Mi’kmaw and was recruited into high school by the Indian posse.

It was a choice.

He had gone through some initiations with his best friend, who was also being recruited.

However, Pellissier-Lush was also a footballer – he played on the offensive – and was inextricably linked with his friend who was the team’s quarterback both on and off the field. Pellissier-Lush adored him and did what he did.

The choice was whether to take the final step into a committed gang life.

“If I go to this thing, this is the life I choose,” he thought.

Pellissier-Lush was ready, but his friend said no.

“Look man. We can’t go to it. We can’t do that. We have to go to soccer practice. We have to focus on soccer.”

Pellissier-Lush looked at him.

“You’re right, man,” he said. “Let’s go and practice.”

That was all it took. They went to practice and turned away from gang life.

In 10th grade, Pellissier-Lush moved to PEI with his mother Julie to be closer to their Mi’kmaq culture and community on Lennox Island, where Richard’s aunt Darlene Bernard is the boss.

Eventually he joined Colonel Gray Colonels’ soccer team, where he played well enough to return to Manitoba and play for the University of Manitoba team.

His commitment to sport developed into coaching and in November, at the age of 31, Pellissier-Lush received the National Indigenous Coaching Award from the Aboriginal Sport Circle for his work coaching at PEI

“I was so proud. I was so happy, ”he said. “It was just a great honor and some of the people, the coaches who won it before were my mentors.”

“I firmly believe in having role models who do things actively and mentors who do things actively and involve them in the community and show the community and young people that one can be successful.”

– Richard Pellissier-Lush

Based on his experience, he now sees his role as a youth advocate, he said.

However, anyone can be a role model, he said. In high school, it was his quarterback.

“It’s not just mentoring and not just trainers and such. They are your colleagues. “

Because of the help he’s received from role models, Pellissier-Lush is working hard to give something back, he said.

“I firmly believe in having role models who do things actively and mentors who do things actively and involve them in the community and show the community and young people that one can be successful.”

Pellissier-Lush became this role model himself when he was young, said his mother Julie.

“He went to the back fields on Saturday morning and each of the little kids who wanted to learn to play soccer sat there and trained them.”

Julie Pellissier-Lush – SaltWire File

Richard was only 15 when he started exercising, but he was old enough to realize that other kids weren’t getting the opportunities he had, Julie said.

“He knew that the children in his community, the younger children, did not all have this access.”

Coaching is one thing some people should just do, she said.

“You can feel it in your heart that you have this ability. You can get the children to pay attention and learn all of these basic skills.”

Pellissier-Lush, who also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sport PEI, is preparing his Island Mariners soccer team for a championship run this spring. He is also the founder of the Island Demons female soccer team and two flag soccer teams in Scotchford First Nation.

“We are working hard to ensure that these children have opportunities that they may not have,” he said.

One thing he’s trying to do is emphasize the importance of the Mi’kmaq culture to the players, he said.

“Before every game we would be very cultural and we could smear it and pray for a successful game and we would do many culturally appropriate things for the children to show that sport and culture can coexist.”

He and his colleagues also renounce drugs and alcohol to demonstrate positive action, he said.

“We wanted to show the kids that alcohol and drugs aren’t going to help you with any of these calibres, and those things have done a lot of damage.”

The ability to be that role model for young people who need it keeps it going, he said.

“Those are the reasons why I do it. I come back because I know kids need it. “