When people approached Gian Paul Gonzalez’s father with admiration in Union City, N.J., they weren’t angling for the autograph of someone who once played for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.
They wanted to thank him for teaching them English after they had arrived in the U.S. as immigrants, or express their gratitude for his dedication to the community as a minister.
“I was young, but seeing that flipped a switch in the back of my mind,” says Gonzalez, who will address the 2018 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference Sunday, Feb. 25, in Washington, D.C. “It’s not necessarily about your athletic achievements. It’s really a focus on what you can give to others, and how powerful that is.”
That lesson resurfaced at a critical juncture in Gonzalez’s life, when he decided to forego an NBA contract to be a public school teacher in his troubled hometown.
He went “all in” on this commitment, and his personal mantra has become the center point of a message that has inspired everyone from kids in juvenile detention to Super Bowl champions.
To find true fulfillment, Gonzalez says, you must throw your heart and soul into what matters most, relishing the trials and tribulations with the successes.
“When you’re ‘all in,’ it’s something personal,” Gonzalez says. “It’s something that drives you. Something that can’t be described by a slogan on a T-shirt. It’s something that comes from within.”
The NFL’s New York Giants went “all in” after hearing Gonzalez’s message in the 2011 season. To signify a commitment to giving their best effort, each player signed a poker chip.
The Giants went from a team in danger of missing the playoffs to winning the Super Bowl. They felt so strongly about Gonzalez’s phrase they put it on their championship T-shirts and invited him to their parade.
Since then, Gonzalez has brought his message to other professional sports teams and elite organizations, such as the FBI. Still, he continues to teach, and he founded and serves as executive director of the Hope + Future youth center.
That effort builds on his work years ago at a juvenile detention center. There, he made a remarkable impression on youth related to Giants employees, sparking his ongoing relationship with the team and opening the door for other opportunities.
“Being ‘all in’ is about looking in the mirror,” Gonzalez says. “If we really want to make a difference, it’s all about us.”