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Christian Gonzalez honors late friend while volunteering with Patriots teammates at recent mental health activation

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, the New England Patriots Foundation, Project 351, Cuerd@s and KyleCares partnered to host the Be Kind to Your Mind Green Bandana Activation at North Attleboro High School on Thursday.

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Professional athletes aren't immune to adversity, even if they appear to have it all from afar.

To get to that level, however, most know it's less about what happens to someone in life and more about how they respond.

That's the message Christian Gonzalez hoped to instill in students on Thursday, participating with the New England Patriots Foundation and his teammates at the "Be Kind to Your Mind" mental health activation at North Attleboro High School.

With the event winding down, the second-year cornerback felt compelled to stand up and share the meaning behind the initials he had just embroidered into a green bandana.

"So I initialed 'KM3' for Keith Miller III," Gonzalez explained. "We played together – Little League through high school and then went to Colorado together. He passed away about a month ago on April II. He was dealing with mental health struggles, and as a friend, there's so much more you wish you could have done to help with their battle."

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Gonzalez flew home a few weeks ago to attend Miller's funeral.

When he returned, he saw the volunteer opportunity being put on by the Patriots Foundation in collaboration with Project 351, Cuerd@s, KyleCares, and the North Attleboro student leaders from Active Minds. He didn't hesitate to commit.

"I'm just trying to live on his hame," Gonzalez said of his late friend. "He was always the guy that was the most funny person in the room and the life of the party. I'm trying to keep that alive, and that's what brought me to this event. I want to continue to volunteer in the community and do my part to help with mental health causes."

Gonzalez was joined by teammates Michael Onwenu, DeMario Douglas, Calvin Anderson, and William Bradley-King, visiting the local high school in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month.

"All month long, we've been running the Be Kind to your Mind initiative with Project 351, Cuerd@s, KyleCares and the New England Patriots Foundation," said Megan Burke, founder of Cuerd@s and manager of advanced leadership at Project 351.

"Today is our 'Green Bandana: Threads of Hope' activation, so every student and player is walking away with two green bandanas to show solidarity with folks struggling with their mental health. What's special about our event today is that they're embroidering a texture onto the bandana so they can equip themselves with a self-soothing tool as well."

For the players, embroidering wasn't something they'd done before.

Broken off into small groups, the players weaved yellow thread into the fabric as students asked questions about dealing with stress, going away to college, and being away from their support systems back home.

Similar to Gonzalez, Douglas also shared with students how two of his former college teammates had passed away after battling their mental health. Anderson told the story of how a bought with a serious illness almost took his life.

For the students, the players offered great perspective.

"I think it's important when you're in the NFL, having that huge spotlight on you and seemingly having everything you want, to still be vulnerable," Gonzalez said.

"My teammates and I did that today, and I hope the takeaway was that even people living out their childhood dreams are still going through things. All you can do is try to be a little bit better every day."

Watching the event play out, Burke had the same takeaway.

"As a society, and our young people especially, put our athletes on a pedestal and look up to them so much," Burke said.

"So to be able to hear that vulnerability as strength, not weakness, they're learning from a young age and from someone they look up to that it's okay to reach out for help, and it's also okay to experience adversity. You are allowed to struggle at times, and you are also empowered to reach out for help. It's transformative for this generation."

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